Product claims on packaging can be very misleading. Be sure to do your research before investing in a health or nutritional supplement for your animal companion!
When shopping for health and nutritional supplements for your dog or cat, it’s very important to pay close attention to product claims on packaging and marketing materials. Marketers know they have very little time to capture your attention and compel you to buy — maybe a minute or two if you’re comparing products online, and mere seconds at the store shelf. The words they use can make or break the sale. Unfortunately, some brands take a “say anything” approach to selling that misleads consumers and casts a negative shadow on the entire supplement industry.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine regulates animal health and nutritional supplements, and follows the law established in the Federal Food Drug & Cosmetic Act regarding product claims, in order to protect consumers and animals. The good news is that most pet supplement suppliers understand and follow these rules and are careful to make credible claims allowable by law. Many of these suppliers are members of the National Animal Supplement Council and have access to succinct labeling guidance to help them follow the law and avoid making errant or egregious claims.
Animal parents should keep a careful eye out for suppliers that disregard the rules for product claims. They are fairly easy to spot when you know what to look for:
- Words that state or imply the product will treat, prevent, cure or mitigate a disease
Example: “Aids against UTIs and bladder infections”
- Use of any disease name or reference to a disease
Example: “Fights gingivitis and periodontal disease”
- Any stated or implied comparison to, or replacement for, pharmaceuticals
Example: “Reduces the need for prescription pain medication”
- Any reference to a chronic condition
Example: “Protects against chronic pain and inflammation”
- Disease names disguised as product names
Keep in mind that product and brand marketing are an extension of the label, and are therefore subject to the same rules. Apply the same cautious scrutiny when visiting a product website as you would when looking at the product package. This also applies to internet advertising, trade show materials, social media posts, blogs, e-newsletters and YouTube channels, as well as more traditional advertising like radio, TV and print ads.
Allowable or “good” health product claims are typically simple and concise. They communicate that the product is helping support the normal structure and function of your dog or cat’s body rather than trying to correct an abnormal condition or disease. And perhaps most importantly, allowable claims don’t rely on absolutes or language that over-promises outcomes. Allowable product claims include:
- “Contains ingredients to support a healthy urinary tract”
- “Promotes normal periodontal health”
- “Maintains healthy liver function”
- “Supports a healthy immune response”
Supplements are not magic bullets. If a claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Selecting products with the NASC Quality Seal will help ensure you are buying from suppliers that responsibly produce and market their products within the bounds of the law, rather than preying on consumer vulnerabilities in the name of profit.
Bill Bookout is president and founder of the National Animal Supplement Council. He has more than 30 years’ experience in the animal health industry and holds a bachelor’s degree in physical sciences from the University of Wyoming, and a master’s degree from the Pepperdine University Presidents and Key Executives MBA program.