Barking up the Right Tree: Navigating the Law around Pet Food Claims

Sharon Givoni Consulting Consumer Law, Copyright
Credit: Marek Szturc (Unsplash)

Barking up the Right Tree: Navigating the Law around Pet Food Claims

Did you know that dogs are Australia’s most popular pet, with owners spending over $20 billion dollars on their dogs in 2021?

Whether it is health formulas, skin formulas, digestive aids, weight management formulas and even vitamins for urinary health, Australians seem to be spending whatever it takes to keep their dogs pampered and healthy.

We are frequently approached by pet businesses seeking our expertise in reviewing their products and packaging to ensure legal compliance. Understanding the laws surrounding pet products is essential for maintaining customer satisfaction and avoiding potential business challenges.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA)

In Australia, therapeutic products for dogs are regulated by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) (for therapeutic claims) and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) (for advertising and marketing claims).

In the realm of therapeutic pet food products, manufacturers and suppliers are bound by stringent regulations and guidelines. These measures are crucial to guarantee the safety and effectiveness of such products – answering questions like, do these offerings deliver on their promised outcomes?

Case study on point – Therapeutic Pet Treats

Imagine that a pet food company is selling “Stress-Relief Doggie Bites” but they had no evidence or studies to back their claims. The packaging states that their biscuits have a calming effect on anxious dogs and reduce stress.

If they get challenged, the company may need to revise their labelling and remove the misleading claim.

Even worse, they could face legal action and suffer serious damage to their reputation.

Or what if a company labelled its dog food as “Joint Care Formula” and claimed it promotes healthy joints and can manage joint-related pains in older dogs.

With a lack of scientific evidence or without registration as a veterinary medicine with the APVMA, the APVMA or the ACCC could take legal action. This could potentially result in fines, product recalls and a loss in consumer confidence.

Finally, say a dog company markets pet food as a “Skin Health Boosting Formula” and says that it enhances a dog’s coat and promotes healthier skin. If there is actually no scientific evidence or studies to prove its effectiveness, that would be legally problematic and can result in fines, recalls and investigations.

Credit: Tamas Pap (Unsplash)

The problems with unsubstantiated therapeutic claims

The above hypothetical examples demonstrate how easily a pet food business owner can unintentionally get pet food claims wrong by making unsubstantiated therapeutic claims or engaging in misleading conduct.

In this blog we consider some of the relevant regulations that ensure pet food products are backed by scientific evidence and comply with the necessary legal requirements.

Regulation of Pet Food Claims

The APVMA (Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority) plays a pivotal role in evaluating and registering veterinary medicines within Australia. To secure registration, manufacturers are obligated to furnish scientific substantiation endorsing the product’s efficacy, safety, and quality. Additionally, they must meet stipulated manufacturing and labelling prerequisites.

Broadly, manufacturers are mandated to provide scientific validation for any therapeutic assertions they attribute to their pet food products. This scientific substantiation is crucial to establish the product’s effectiveness for its intended purpose while ensuring that it does not pose any undue risks to the health of animals.

The product labels must also accurately reflect the product’s ingredients, intended use, and any therapeutic claims. Misleading or false labelling can lead to regulatory action by the ACCC.

Nestle Agreed to Revise Pet Food Labelling After ACCC Concerns

In 1997, Nestle Australia Pty Ltd, a prominent pet food company, agreed to relabel its “Salmon and Oceanfish” variety of Friskies Go-Cat food to “Oceanfish and Salmon flavour” following an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

The ACCC found that the current labelling of the product was misleading and deceptive to consumers, as the major ingredients were chicken and beef, with a small percentage of salmon, contrary to what the label suggested.

Despite a full product listing on the rear of the label, the ACCC maintained that the more prominent representation on the front remained misleading.

What if you get it wrong?

Failing to adhere to these regulations could potentially trigger legal action by the ACCC, carrying the risk of fines and penalties. Moreover, products that don’t meet compliance standards might necessitate recalls, compelling manufacturers to implement corrective measures for safety and labelling concerns.

Equally important is the potential harm to a manufacturer’s reputation, as this can undermine consumer trust in their products.


One – As a pet food business owner, understanding the regulatory landscape surrounding therapeutic pet food products is crucial to avoid legal pitfalls. With the increasing demand for products like calming pet food and skin health formulas, it is important to navigate this space responsibly.

Two – When marketing therapeutic pet food products, it may be tempting to make certain claims about a product to attract customers. However, the Australian regulatory framework requires all claims to be substantiated with scientific evidence.

Three – Misleading claims can lead to legal consequences and erode consumer trust. Transparency and honesty are vital to build a strong reputation in the pet food industry.

A commitment to quality and compliance can help set your pet food business apart and contribute to the well-being of pets everywhere.

Disclaimer: This article provides general information and does not constitute legal advice. To address specific legal matters, consult a legal professional.