Scrutinize product claims when choosing supplements to sell or recommend

Product claims on packaging can be very misleading. Be sure to do your research before recommending a health or nutritional supplement to your clients.

When reviewing health and nutritional supplements to carry in your practice or recommend to clients, it’s very important to pay close attention to product claims on packaging and marketing materials. Marketers know you’re busy, and that they have very little time to capture your attention and convince you to take a closer look. The language they use can make all the difference. Unfortunately, some brands take a “say anything” approach to selling that misleads buyers 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 the majority of 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.

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 Example: “Protects against chronic pain and inflammation”.
  • Claims disguised as product names. Example: “Inflamm-Relief”.

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 company 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” claims on supplements are typically simple and concise. They communicate that the product helps support the normal structure and function of a 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 inflammatory response”.

Supplements are not a magic bullet. If a claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Selecting products with the NASC Quality Seal will help ensure you are dealing with 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.

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