AVMA Weighs in on Pet Supplement Use in the United States


A recent JAVMA news release on the pet supplement market in the United States reveals that although supplements are popular with pet owners, concerns about efficacy and industry regulations remain.

In 2015, consumer market research company Packaged Facts published its fifth report on pet supplement use in the United States.

Pet Supplement Use

The reported included several key insights:

  • One-third of dog owners give their pet supplements.
  • One-fifth of cat owners give their pet supplements.
  • Two-thirds of pet owners purchase supplements through their veterinarian, although the frequency of veterinary consultation is unclear.
  • Joint health supplements are the most common type of pet supplement purchased by pet owners.

The report indicated that pet owners spent approximately $541 million on pet supplements in 2014. For several reasons, though, the pet supplement market has not experienced significant gains in recent years. First, increased interest in pet supplements has not led to increased product sales. Also, pet owners are beginning to prefer nutraceutical treats (e.g., soft chews) over traditional supplement formulations (capsules, tablets, powders). Lastly, given the lack of clinical evidence supporting pet supplement use, veterinarians are more likely to prescribe medications than supplements.

In response to these challenges, makers of pet supplements are now looking to mimic the techniques used to market human supplements. They are also developing more palatable and enticing supplement formulations.

AVMA Weighs in

Previously, the AVMA developed a policy on glucosamine. However, the AVMA Board of Directors rescinded this policy in 2016. The AVMA’s Council on Biologic and Therapeutic Agents (COBTA) and Clinical Practitioners Advisory Committee recommended rescinding this policy because “advocating for enforcement discretion for unapproved drug products based (on) a long history of use without significant safety concerns, but without efficacy data, does not reflect the AVMA’s science-based perspective.”

Although the glucosamine policy is now defunct, the AVMA has maintained its policy regarding the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. This Act, which mandates the wording that must be included on human supplement labels, does not apply to animals; the policy states AVMA’s belief that “the Act should not be modified to include animals.”

Pet supplement regulation continues to cause confusion. In the news release, Dr. David A. Dzanis, secretary of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition and CEO of Regulatory Discretion, Inc., explained that some supplements (vitamins, minerals) are regulated as food; others, such as herbs and metabolites, are classified as either unapproved food additives or unapproved animal drugs. Dr. Lisa M. Freeman, a clinical nutrition professor at Tuft University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, expressed concern that unclear regulations raise questions on the safety, dosage, and quality control of pet supplements. Despite the need for clearer regulations, Dr. Dzanis said that time and money pose significant challenges to gaining approval of supplements as food additives or animal drugs.

In addition to unclear regulations, the clinical efficacy of pet supplements remains a concern. As Dr. Freeman noted, although some supplements may provide clinical benefit, many others “have absolutely no effect or have potential harm.” For example, glucosamine could disrupt glucose regulation or cause digestive upset.

Given the questions surrounding regulatory and clinical efficacy of pet supplements, Dr. Freeman and Dr. Jennifer L. Burns, who sits on AVMA’s COBTA, provided recommendations for veterinarians in clinical practice:

  • Conduct a thorough nutritional assessment during each visit.
  • Use evidence-based medicine when evaluating supplements.
  • Take the lead role in recommending supplements to clients.
  • Recommend supplements that have undergone independent quality-control testing.

Dr. Pendergrass received her doctorate in veterinary medicine from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. Following veterinary school, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Dr. Pendergrass is the founder and owner of JPen Communications, LLC.

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