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Understand pet supplement labels to give your pets the best nutrition

Updated: Jul 2, 2022

Many pet owners feel more comfortable consulting with a vet when choosing a supplement for their cat or dog, but there is power in having the knowledge to do your own research and confidently select products you trust. A key piece of that research is reviewing pet supplement labels in detail, but you have to know what to look for.



The two types of pet nutraceuticals

Like human nutritional supplements, pet supplements augment an animal’s diet to optimize overall health. Up to a third of cats and dogs in the U.S. take a nutraceutical to ensure a balanced diet or aid with a health issue.



General health maintenance, growth, pregnancy, and lactation are common reasons pet owners supplement. According to the National Library of Medicine, the most widely used supplements for dogs target joint health, digestive health, cognition, skin and coat health, and heart health. The most popular cat-specific supplements target urinary tract infections and kidney disease.


The National Animal Supplement Council (NASC), a nonprofit trade association, separates pet supplements into two categories: feed supplements and dosage-form animal health products.



Feed Supplements vs. Dosage-Form Animal Health Products

Not sure if a pet product you’re looking at is a “feed supplement” or “animal health product”? It’s easier to distinguish than you think. All pet supplements have to include the word “supplement” on the label while animal health products are not allowed to use this term. They are usually referred to as “products” or “formulas.”


The difference between the two is simple. Feed supplements are designed to fortify a pet’s diet while animal health products are designed to target a specific health need outside the scope of simply providing nutrition.


According to the NASC, feed supplements fall into these categories:

  • Vitamins and minerals, essential fatty acids, essential amino acids

  • Skin and coat

  • Hairball and fiber

  • Tartar and breath control

  • Digestive support

  • Weight control products

  • Electrolytes

  • Treats

Salmon Oil and Gastro Pro Plus are two examples of feed supplements.

Animal health products fall into these categories:

  • Hip and joint support

  • Calming aids

  • Antioxidants

  • Organ-specific support, such as heart, bladder or brain

  • Immune support

  • Most herbal products

A few examples of an animal health product are Joint Support Plus, Allergy Support Plus, and Bladder Support Plus.



Yes, pet supplements can be incredibly beneficial to your pet’s quality of life, but they are not intended to treat or cure diseases, even if they are recommended by a veterinarian. Both feed supplement and animal health product labels will make this clear. Feed supplements will also state that the product “is intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only.”


The main differences between feed supplements and animal health products

Each of the two types of supplements plays by different label rules. Because feed supplements are more closely associated with food, their labels require a Guaranteed Analysis. The analysis is “guaranteed” because a lab can analyze the contents and confirm the nutrients listed. Identical to food product labels, feed supplements list all active and inactive ingredients by descending weight.


Alternatively, animal health products are allowed to include proprietary blends, which means the pet company doesn’t have to disclose ingredient quantity. Instead, they disclose how much of the proprietary blend is in the formula and list the blend’s ingredients in descending weight order. Inactive ingredients are then listed in alphabetical order. This is how companies keep others from replicating their recipes.


How are pet supplements regulated?

Pet supplements are regulated at three levels—by the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA-CVM), state departments, including the Department of Agriculture, and the NASC. The NASC works with the two other levels to make sure all pet supplements are safe for consumption before going to market. They also work directly with manufacturers to promote the use of safe ingredients.


Feed supplements alone are regulated at an additional level by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) which is the same organization that regulates pet food.

Pet supplements that include the NASC Quality Seal on the label have been approved as safe by the NASC. Luckily, an increasing number of pet supplement companies are committed to high-quality standards and securing NASC’s stamp of approval.


Active vs. Inactive Ingredients

Looking at lists of ingredients on both feed supplements and animal health products, it’s important to consider which ingredients are active versus inactive. Active ingredients are those that will have a positive impact on your pet’s health. Product formulas are created for their active ingredients. Inactive ingredients are added to the product for non-health related reasons.

In many pet products, inactive ingredients are often fillers, binders, or preservatives. Some are more harmful to your pet than others. Cornstarch, cellulose, silica and sucrose are just a few of the red flags to look out for. These ingredients are often unnecessary or can cause digestive issues. Look for pet companies that are intentional about every active and inactive ingredient included in product formulas. pawTree is one company that promises every ingredient in every recipe contributes to the pet's well-being.


Want to figure out the active vs. inactive ratio? Add the amounts of active ingredients listed on the label together and subtract from the recommended serving size you are administering. The difference will show the amount of inactive ingredients in a serving.


Essential vs. Non-essential Nutrients

Most pet supplements include essential nutrients, such as omega-3s, Vitamin C, and Calcium, but many also include non-essential ingredients. Non-essential ingredients are still beneficial to pet health, but they can live a healthy life without them. All non-essential nutrients are indicated on supplement labels with an asterisk.

Look out for unnecessary ingredients

If you see any of these ingredients on your pet supplement (or food) label, just know there are better product options out there!

Wheat, casein, gluten, ash, dextrose, corn, soy, sugar, and any additives, preservatives, or fillers, don’t need to be part of your pet’s diet. Be on the lookout for any ingredients your pet might be sensitive to as well. Be aware of additives including BHT, BHA, TBHQ, absorbic acid, and ethoxyquin. These are common additives, but aren’t included in more natural pet products.

How do I know if my pet supplements are the highest quality?

The truth is that pet nutraceuticals aren’t as strictly regulated as many other consumption products. The FDA-CVM generally approves of a pet supplement if

“(1) there is a known need for each nutrient ingredient represented to be in the product…,(2) the label represents the product for use only in supplementation and not as a substitute for good daily rations, (3) the product provides meaningful but not excessive amount of each of the nutrients that is represented to contain, (4) the labeling should bear no disease prevention of therapeutic, including growth promotional, representations, (5) the labeling should not be otherwise false or misleading in any particular, and (6) the product is neither over-potent nor under-potent nor otherwise formulated so as to post a hazard to the health of the target animal.”

Therefore, purchasing pet supplements from a company you know and trust is always the best option. Do your research on how different pet companies source ingredients. Understand that low product prices could indicate the use of more inactive filler ingredients than nutrient-dense active ingredients.


If you have any questions about your pet’s feed supplements or animal health products, call the manufacturer’s number on the label. All nutraceuticals are required to include this contact information so you can seek peace of mind about the products you’re feeding to your beloved pets.

 

ABOUT KRISTI DIAZ

Dr. Diaz’s nurturing nature led her into medicine where she became a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. While she loved her career and her patients, she also wanted to be a stay-at-home mother. After retiring from her practice and achieving her goal of being a home-based parent, Kristi began looking for ways to give back to her community. At the same time, she and her husband were looking for home-based business opportunities.


Kristi knew she found the perfect opportunity when she discovered pawTree. The value Kristi placed on diet and nutrition for health and wellness, coupled with her family’s love of animals, aligned seamlessly with pawTree’s company values.


Dr. Diaz’s philosophy is that diet, genetics, and luck all work together to create the quality of a pet's life. While owners can’t control their pets’ genetics or luck, they can control their diet. Pets have no choice but to count on their owners their entire lives for great nutrition. Feeding dogs and cats high-quality food and supplements will give them the best chance to live healthy, vibrant lives.

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