pexels cup of couple 8473518

Health Claims on Pet Food, Treats, and Supplements… What to Believe?

August 1, 2022 Dr. Bradley Quest, DVM

There are a lot of products on the market, that make claims to help improve the health of our pets. Some examples of these are joint health benefits, digestive health, improves skin and coat, oral health benefits, immune system support, and even heart health benefits.1 Sometimes, it may be hard for the pet parent to differentiate what is backed by science, nutrition, and verified through clinical studies versus what may be health claims on products that are made without valid substantiation. 

First, let’s talk a little bit about how pet food and treats are regulated, which can play a role in how claims are utilized. In the United States, all pet food and treats are regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Most states also have their own regulatory agencies. The FDA works with state regulators and has a presence in AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials). AAFCO is a volunteer organization made up of state, federal, academic, and industry officials, which help to decide what ingredients can be used in pet food, the nutrient requirements of pets, and approval of new pet food ingredients.2  AAFCO is not a regulatory body but most state regulatory agencies, as well as the FDA, usually recognize AAFCO guidelines as a template for regulator’s oversight of pet food and treats.

Pet supplements, on the other hand, are not generally as closely regulated when it comes to health claims. This may be partly because the FDA differentiates pet products as being either food or a drug.  If a pet product claims to help cure or prevent a medical condition then it is categorized as a drug, according to the FDA. This is where it can get tricky. For human products, there is a classification for health supplement claims that have been referred to as “structure/function” claims, which the FDA allows on human products, and can include how a health supplement may affect organs or body structures, but these claims cannot describe a specific disease or treatment thereof.3  This classification does not currently exist for pet health supplements, but pet health supplements are typically a low priority for regulatory officials. This all may sound confusing and, in many cases, it can be. So, does that mean that pet supplements aren’t regulated? Regulation of pet supplements is done voluntarily through the NASC (National Animal Supplement Council). Companies that produce pet health supplement products can be members of the NASC, which means they follow the council’s guidelines for quality control, good manufacturing practices, and follow certain claim requirements. Many state regulatory agencies recognize NASC requirements.

If a pet food, treat, or supplement has a claim to help improve a pet’s health, there should be credible substantiation of that claim to ensure that the pet can benefit from it. One example would be a product that claims to help with skin and coat health for a pet. There is scientific evidence that specific omega-3 fatty acids can benefit skin health.4,5,6 However, the key is making sure the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the product are adequate, based on the controlled research. This could be supported in the form of a company performing scientific research themselves or it could be a company citing research from other sources and then substantiating why their product is comparable to the product that was tested in the cited research. How strong the claim is dependent on whether the product is marketed as pet food, treat, or supplement. If it is food or treats, then it falls under the regulatory scrutiny of the FDA and state pet food regulatory officials. If it is a pet supplement, and it does not claim to cure, mitigate, or prevent diseases then the product can potentially be marketed with a perceived low risk.

Another common example is pet foods and treats making claims to help prevent oral health problems. Claims, such as freshens breath, controls tartar, controls plaque, and helps promote healthy gums, are usually allowed on pet foods and treats by the FDA and state regulatory officials. This also follows the recommendation from AAFCO. However, a voluntary organization, Veterinary Oral Health Council, (VOHC) also exists. It is an independent international group of board-certified veterinary dentists who have developed pre-set standards for clinical testing of pet dental products. If a company follows the VOHC testing guidelines and the testing results meet the VOHC’s standard, then the product can carry the VOHC Seal of Acceptance.7 Unlike other claims discussed, dental claims can be loosely regulated and the only real way a pet parent can tell whether a product making those claims are credible is to look for the VOHC Seal of Acceptance on the product.

Products making joint health claims are also common in the pet space. Even if a pet food or pet treat has credible studies to back up a joint health claim it is much harder to make those claims and not fall into regulatory scrutiny by the FDA or state regulators. Pet supplements can make joint health claims if there is no direct mention of the actual disease processes. In either case, a credible claim around joint health should include a controlled research study to back up the claims or at a minimum demonstrate equivalency to a product that has controlled studies to show benefit.8 

Urinary health claims, especially in many cat products are claims often seen. The FDA is very specific on how claims related to helping control feline urinary pH are allowed and regulated in the United States.9 More recently pet foods making urinary claims have come onto the market claiming to help urinary health in cats through control of concentrations of certain minerals that contribute to urinary problems, as well as taking into consideration urinary pH.10 In either case a product should have viable clinical testing to back up urinary health claims.

There are many other health claims made for pet products such as hairball control in cats, digestive health, immune system benefits, and calming effects. Whether the product is categorized as pet food, treat, or a supplement will dictate how the claim may be regulated.  However, in all cases, the pet parent needs to look for clinical studies or data provided by a company to help substantiate why a product can deliver health benefits to pets.  If this data is not available on the company’s product label or website, a good practice is to contact the company to ask if they can provide data to substantiate their product’s claim. It is also important to consult with a veterinarian whenever considering a product that has a health benefit claim. They can often be the best resource to help in selecting the right pet health products.


  1. Report PF. Pet Supplements in The U.S., 6th 2016
  4. Logas, D., Kunkle, G.A. 1994. Double-blinded crossover study with marine oil supplementation containing high-dose icosapentaenoic acid for the treatment of canine pruritic skin disease. Vet. Dermatol. 5:99–104.
  5. Popa, I., Pin, D., Remoué, N., Osta, B., Callejon, S., Videmont, E., Gatto, H., Portoukalian, J., Haftek, M. 2011. Analysis of epidermal lipids in normal and atopic dogs, before and after administration of an oral omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid feed supplement. A pilot study. Vet. Res. Commun. 35(8):501-9. Doi:10.1007/s11259-011-9493-7. Epub 2011 Jul 23.
  6. Combarros, D., Castilla-Castaño, E., Lecru, L.A., Pressanti, C., Amalric, N., Cadiergues, M.C. 2020. A prospective, randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled evaluation of the effects of an n-3 essential fatty acids supplement (Agepi® n3) on clinical signs, and fatty acid concentrations in the erythrocyte membrane, hair shafts, and skin surface of dogs with poor quality coats. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, and Essential Fatty Acids. 159:102140.
  8. Bland, S.D. 2015. Canine osteoarthritis and treatments: A review. Vet Sci Develop 5.
  10. Queau, Y., Biourge, V. 2014. Lower urinary tract disease. Vet Focus. 24(1).

About the author: Dr. Bradley Quest, DVM is the Principal Veterinarian at BSM Partners. He has practiced clinical veterinary medicine and has developed, studied, and clinically tested pet health products for the past two decades.

Follow us on LinkedIn for the latest updates on all things happening here, at BSM Partners.

This content is the property of BSM Partners. Reproduction or retransmission or repurposing of any portion of this content is expressly prohibited without the approval of BSM Partners and is governed by the terms and conditions explained here.