As people have become more concerned about their own health, their pets are not far from mind. At least 72% of pet owners feel that their pets are family members and want to care for them the best they possibly can. That is why, as the market for human health supplements has exploded, so too has the market for pet supplements.
A Growing Market
In the U.S., the pet supplement industry grows larger every year. In 2017, pet owners were estimated to have spent around $1.6 billion dollars on pet supplements alone. As people become more health conscious, they also think of their pet’s health too. If a pet owner is buying gluten-free or non-GMO products for themselves, it is likely they will buy gluten-free or non-GMO products for their pets too. This is especially true since the majority of consumers see their pets as family.
So it doesn’t come as a surprise that the pet supplement market is following the trends first set by the human supplement market. Along with the rising numbers of health-conscious owners, this growth can also be attributed to increased understanding of pet supplements.
Target Audience & Purpose
Another reason why the industry has exploded is that the majority of pets in the U.S. are adults or seniors. Just like humans, as animals age they begin experiencing digestion issues and joint pain that can lead to decreased mobility. Because of this, consumers with adult or senior pets may turn to supplements as a way to give their pets a good quality of life as they age.
While issues usually plague adult or senior pets, pets of any age can experience problems like:
- seasonal allergies
- itchy and flaky skin
- dry or brittle coats
- obesity or unmanageable weight
- joint problems
- irregular digestion
That is why consumers are so eager to turn to pet supplements. Consumers see these products as viable options to help their pets maintain normal mobility, normal intestinal function, and healthy condition of their skin and coat. With pet discomforts eased, both owner and pet can go about their daily activities.
The Pet Supplement Industry Today
With cats and dogs on one side and horses on the other, the pet industry is almost evenly divided 50/50. There are so many pet supplement brands, with more emerging in the marketplace every day. When the industry first came about, it was solely regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). The industry became too expansive for the FDA and CVM to regulate. So the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) was created.
The NASC now helps oversee the regulation of animal supplements put out by new brands in the market. In addition to regulating new brands, it can also approve brands to be NASC-certified. This certification system has worked so well that around 95% of supplement brands on the market in the U.S. are NASC-certified. After a brand is approved by the council, it can put the official NASC seal of approval on its products.
Are Pet Supplements a Food or Drug?
In the U.S., there is no such thing as a ‘pet supplement’, at least not to the FDA. Supplements for animals are either considered to be a food or a drug. Sometimes they are considered to be both. This classification all depends on the intended use of the product.
Even if the product is described specifically as a food on the label or in advertisements but is described or shown being used in any other way, there could be a problem.
For example, if a brand puts out a food-labeled dog biscuit and then shows testimonials that claim the dog biscuit can cure cancer. In this case, the FDA will intervene.
This is because the FDA considers products like this to be unapproved animal drugs rather than food items. Just like with ingredients for human food, all ingredients in animal food products must be FDA-approved. However, the entire animal food product itself doesn’t need to be approved before it is marketed and sold.
The regulations for both human and animal drugs are much stricter. As defined by the FDA, any drugs are “articles intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease in man or other animals” and “articles (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals.”
So, based on this definition, an unapproved animal drug is:
- Any product that meet this definition but does not have FDA approval to market and sell.
- Food products that do not meet this definition, and do not have FDA approval, but market and sell product claiming to have the benefits of a drug.
Keep in Mind
Because the regulations are so strict, pet supplement brands can find themselves in trouble with the FDA and CVM if they aren’t careful about how they market the intended use of their products. To make distinctions between foods and drugs as clear as possible, the FDA does not even allow brands to use structure – function claims on product labels or in marketing efforts. Pet supplement brands are only allowed to make claims about the basic nutrition, taste, and/or smell of their products.
Another important point to remember about marketing pet supplements is that, veterinarians don’t have enough influence to sway the FDA. Even if veterinarians are recommending a certain brand of pet supplement to treat or prevent health issues in pets, the brand can’t use that in their marketing, testimonials, etc. A seal of approval from veterinarians doesn’t make a supplement a drug. Only FDA approval can do that.
The Future of Pet Supplements
While pet supplements currently don’t have their own official category, the popularity of the market may change that. As more pet owners rely on supplements to support their pets’ health, the FDA may reassess its stance on these products.
For now, the market continues to grow. Some established brands are even innovating to create better products. Since many pet owners find it hard to give their pets supplements without treats as bribes, companies are rethinking their products. It is likely that companies will see this niche opportunity and begin to offer chewy and flavorful supplements. Tastier supplements would feel more like treats, making healthy living easier for both pets and owners.