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Objective—To establish the types of initial questions used by veterinarians in companion animal practice to solicit nutritional history information from owners of dogs and cats, the dietary information elicited, and the relationship between initial question-answer sequences and later nutrition-related questions.

Design—Cross-sectional qualitative conversation analytic study.

Sample—98 appointments featuring 15 veterinarians drawn from an observational study of 284 videotaped veterinarian-client-patient visits involving 17 veterinarians in companion animal practices in eastern Ontario, Canada.

Procedures—Veterinarian and client talk related to patient nutrition was identified and transcribed; conversation analysis was then used to examine the orderly design and details of talk within and across turns. Nutrition-related discussions occurred in 172 visits, 98 of which contained veterinarian-initiated question-answer sequences about patient nutritional history (99 sequences in total, with 2 sequences in 1 visit).

Results—The predominant question format used by veterinarians was a what-prefaced question asking about the current content of the patient's diet (75/99). Overall, 63 appointments involved a single what-prefaced question in the first turn of nutrition talk by the veterinarian (64 sequences in total). Dietary information in client responses was typically restricted to the brand name, the subtype (eg, kitten), or the brand name and subtype of a single food item. When additional diet questions were subsequently posed, they typically sought only clarification about the food item previously mentioned by the client.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Results suggested that question design can influence the accuracy and completeness of a nutritional history. These findings can potentially provide important evidence-based guidance for communication training in nutritional assessment techniques.

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in Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association