NASC: Understanding Nutritional, Animal Health Supplements

Amanda Ensinger

You probably already know the supplement aisle can overwhelm some pet parents, particularly when they have a pet they are concerned about. The product landscape is vast and conflicting information rules the Internet. The deeper the dive into a Google search, the more confused your customer may feel when they surface. But this can be your shining moment! By improving your understanding of the role supplements play in pet care, you can turn perplexed customers into confident purchasers who will rely on you again and again for information and advice.

“Pet owners want for their pets the same thing they want for themselves: to live a long, happy healthy life,” said Bill Bookout, president of the National Animal Supplement Council. “When we look at supplements in this context, we must think of them as an element of whole animal care.”

As Bookout explains, a pet’s health and wellness is a three-dimensional sphere that includes several interdependent parts including a high-quality diet, regular exercise, routine veterinary care, a loving home, and supplements to support health. Each of these parts work together for the benefit of the animal.

Supplements fall under two categories, which also determine the ingredients they are allowed to contain because products are regulated based on intended use (benefits), ingredients and the delivery form. Supplements in either category discussed below are “targeted” with specific ingredients in sufficient amounts to achieve a positive outcome for the majority of animals:

  • Nutritional supplements are products intended to make a nutritional contribution to all animals, including healthy animals, as a component of a complete and balanced diet. Products that fit into this category include
    • Vitamins and minerals
    • Skin and coat products
    • Fiber-based products
    • Essential fatty acids
    • Digestive support (enzymes and probiotics)

“Pet food is required by law to be nutritionally complete and meet the daily basic requirements that have been scientifically substantiated,” Bookout said. “The key here is basic and minimum. We learned during the COVID-19 pandemic that higher levels of vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and Zinc can help maintain a strong immune system for pets and people, and nutritional supplements can help provide that support.”

  • Health supplements are dosage-form products with a non-nutritional benefit that come in delivery forms including tablet, capsule, pill, powder, liquid and chewable (like soft chews), and deliver targeted ingredients for specific health benefits. Products that fit into this category include
    • Joint products
    • Calming products
    • Antioxidants
    • Immune support products
    • Organ-specific support (liver, kidney, heart, eye, brain, etc.)

“Health supplements are targeted toward non-nutritional health benefits associated with the normal aging process,” Bookout said. “A specific amount of an ingredient or a combination of ingredients is formulated by the company with a specific positive response from the animal in mind, and when that occurs it helps to create customers for life.”

Functional pet treats are another type of product marketed to support pet health, but from a regulatory standpoint these products may contain ingredients that are not approved for animal food, which could lead to a stop sale for retailers. Products labeled as treats should be used to reward or train a pet, and supplements should be used to help achieve a therapeutic effect.

“Supplements are not magic bullets; however, they can be a very beneficial component of a comprehensive health and wellness program for our furry family members,” Bookout said. “In my opinion, supplements formulated by knowledgeable companies using quality ingredients that will help achieve the desired outcome of maximizing the quality of life are the very best choice for this important piece of the puzzle.”