Animal nutritionists aim to increase and promote the understanding of the effect of diet on the health, wellbeing and productivity of animals.
They are active mostly in the field of agriculture, where they provide advice and information on animal nutrition as well as designing and evaluating the diets of the animals in question.
They may also be involved in the production of food for zoo and companion animals (pets), and give advice on issues related to feeding them. Some animal nutritionists choose specialise in one type of animal.
Animal nutritionists have expertise and an interest in science and animal welfare and often need strong business management and communication skills.
They can be found working for:
- government departments;
- agricultural advisory bodies;
- international development agencies;
- educational and research institutions;
- animal food production companies;
- themselves as freelance consultants.
Animal nutritionists generally fall into two categories, those who work directly with farmers and those who work for feed companies.
Typical tasks will vary according to the exact position but will include some of the following:
- evaluating the chemical and nutritional value of feeds, feed supplements, grass and forage for commercial animals and pets;
- formulating diets and rations to maximise growth, reproduction, health and/or performance;
- assessing the relative nutritional and economic value of feeding systems;
- researching the effectiveness of dietary regimes;
- conducting animal-based studies and laboratory trials;
- supporting agricultural consultants in their work;
- liaising with producers and clients to understand their targets and objectives, and the specific needs of the market;
- monitoring feed formulations to meet quality performance and animal health standards;
- providing advice on nutrition to farmers, other animal owners, veterinarians and government bodies;
- rationalising animal feed manufacturing techniques;
- expanding existing ranges of animal food products and developing new ones;
- supporting commercial teams in producing and launching new products;
- carrying out sales and marketing strategies following the launch of a new product;
- balancing a growing consumer interest in quality with the need to develop competitive agricultural systems;
- maintaining expertise in nutritional trends and keeping up to date with regulatory changes;
- using computer software to formulate diets, conduct research and generate reports;
- investigating nutritional disorders and the safe storage of feeds, often in conjunction with veterinary surgeons.
- The range of typical starting salaries is between £17,000 and £20,000.
- Range of typical salaries for PhD holders between £23,000 and £31,000.
- Typical salaries for those with several years' experience is between £35,000 and £50,000.
Jobs in sales and marketing are usually better paid than working directly with animals.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are varied and may be irregular if visits to farms or clients are required in the evening. Weekend or shift work is not common.
What to expect
- Self-employment and freelance or consultancy work may be possible once you have built up a reputation and some substantial experience.
- Consultants often work from home, although jobs are available in most parts of the UK, especially in rural areas.
- It may be necessary or possible to build up a portfolio career, including a combination of employment in commercial research, advising on a freelance or consultancy basis, and teaching relevant courses in an agricultural college or university.
- In some jobs, animal nutritionists may spend much of their time working alone, with team meetings every one to two months.
- Farm visits may be made to plan the nutritional aspects of existing animal husbandry systems, or to assess the value of a particular feedstuff.
- There are opportunities to specialise, for example, in poultry or dairy cows, although this varies according to demand.
- Clothing requirements vary and usually include a white coat for the laboratory, smart formal wear for meetings and waterproof outdoor clothes and boots for work on farms.
- An up-to-date tetanus immunisation is recommended.
- The work may involve a high level of stress because of heavy workloads and financial pressures.
- A driving licence may be essential for travel between clients.
- Travel within the working day is often required but is dependent on the type of job. Overnight absence from home may sometimes be necessary.
- Opportunities to work overseas include employment on ranches in the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, as well as projects in the developing world.
Due to the nature of the work, a range of science-related degrees are relevant such as:
- biomedical sciences;
- health sciences;
- dietetics and physiology;
- agricultural, food and sports sciences.
The following subjects may open up more opportunities because of their focus on animals and/or nutrition:
- animal management;
- applied animal science;
- public health nutrition;
- agriculture (animal science);
- animal welfare and behaviour;
- animal studies;
- animal/equine science;
- animal production science;
- veterinary science.
Those with a HND in nutrition hoping for a career in animal nutrition are recommended to transfer onto a relevant degree course to study nutritional science in more detail.
If you have a more general biology or science-related degree, it may be necessary to specialise in nutrition at postgraduate level. This is also an option for career changers.
A PhD is necessary for some posts and in order to undertake advanced training in nutritional research at MPhil or PhD level, you will need a strong degree (first or 2:1) or a relevant Masters.
Professional registration with the Association for Nutrition can help to give you a competitive edge. Associate registration is available for newly qualified nutrition graduates with little or no experience. Full registration is available for those with a nutrition degree and approximately three years' experience. You can also apply for full registration without a nutrition degree but only if you have around seven years' professional experience.
Once registered you will be on the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN) which shows you have met certain ethical and quality standards. See the Association for Nutrition website for further details.
Search for postgraduate courses in animal nutrition.
You will need to show:
- an understanding of the scientific basis of nutrition;
- familiarity with analysing data and writing reports;
- ability to conduct research in a safe, ethical and reliable manner;
- the capability to formulate and communicate ideas;
- the capacity to form long-term relationships with customers and clients;
- an appreciation of the interdisciplinary nature of science and the validity of others' viewpoints;
- business management, time management and personal development skills;
- advanced numeracy, IT and internet skills;
- drive, perseverance, dedication and a willingness to work long hours.
Valid experience is also valued by employers and clients and so gaining experience in related areas, such as animal feed sales or practical farm experience, or having a farming background should be an advantage.
It is recommended that you should approach experienced nutritionists for work shadowing opportunities or to talk to them about the various areas of nutrition. This will help in choosing specialisations and in understanding current industrial trends.
In the commercial sector, most feed retailers and pet food manufacturers employ animal nutritionists. Roles may range from product development to sales and marketing jobs.
Opportunities may also exist in:
- agricultural consultancy organisations;
- overseas development agencies;
- public relations (PR);
- the media.
Animal nutritionists are employed as research scientists and on a consultancy basis by:
For those preferring an academic route, there are opportunities for teaching and research in universities and agricultural colleges. Delivering health and science education in schools and colleges is also an option, for which a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) (or equivalent) would be a requirement.
There are a small number of openings for experienced animal nutritionists to work for non-governmental organisation (NGO) projects in the developing world.
Animal nutrition for pets and in zoos, apart from posts with pet food manufacturers, is largely in the hands of veterinarians, who may call on nutritionists for advice when necessary.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Farmers Guardian
- Farmers Weekly
- Horse & Hound
- New Scientist Jobs
- Scottish Farmer
- Local press - for broader farm labourer work.
Specialist recruitment agencies handle some scientific vacancies.
Conferences often provide valuable sources of contacts. Through networking, jobseekers can hold informal meetings with key contacts in established organisations.
In this fast-moving area of science there is an increasing emphasis on continuing professional development (CPD).
Training opportunities may include a variety of in-house courses, as well as specialised external courses, on subjects such as relevant new legislation and scientific advances.
If you are an associate member of the Association for Nutrition, you should provide evidence of CPD after three to five years of receiving associate status in order to transfer your membership to full registered nutritionist status. You should also maintain a record of your CPD activities throughout your career.
Many opportunities for professional networking and updating your knowledge and skills are available through attending conferences and events organised by a range of bodies. For details of events and short courses see The Nutrition Society.
You will also be expected to take responsibility for keeping yourself up to date by reading technical and scientific journals and subscribing to online resources such as:
After gaining some experience as an animal nutritionist it is possible to become a specialist field consultant, or gain a post in technical sales or marketing in an animal feed production company within the commercial sector.
Nutritionists who have started out with one of the smaller manufacturers can progress by moving to a larger multinational company, where there is likely to be greater scope for promotion and/or for a more varied role.
You may also find an opportunity to specialise in a particular species, such as poultry or horses.
MSc Courses in animal nutrition and production, accredited by the Association for Nutrition, are available at some universities and may be used alongside specialist work for certain government or feeding industry roles.
The career path of an animal nutritionist within research and academia is likely to be very similar to that of other research scientists.
Post-PhD careers might include research on an EU-funded project, lecturing in animal nutrition, researching animal management for a feed additive company, and product management for an international breeding firm.
For experienced animal nutritionists, there may be opportunities available for working in community projects in the developing world with organisations such as Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).
Alternatively, if you have built up a strong and loyal client base, you might find work in community development in the UK or as a freelance independent consultant.
There may also be opportunities to move into human nutrition or dietetics. Courses approved by the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) are recommended. See the British Dietetic Association (BDA) for further details.