Pet Food Claims Allowed to Be Deceptive

Normal advertising laws don’t apply.
By Karen B. London PhD, August 2009, Updated June 2021

The Federal Trade Commission requires that advertising can’t be deceptive and that it must be truthful. It’s not clear why this does not apply to pet foods, but apparently it doesn’t. In fact, according to the American Association of Feed Control Officials, the labels on pet foods can have qualified or unqualified claims, and these may be direct or indirect. In other words, pet food labels can say things, such as “balanced nutrition for a long life,” or “natural complete nutrition,” or “helps maintain healthy body weight” whether these statements are true or not.

This seems odd given the regulations on advertising in other areas, including human food. What if candy wrappers had claims, such as “balanced nutrition for healthy body weight” or “it’s just like eating spinach.” Surely this sort of misleading and deceptive advertising should not be allowed on pet food labels either.

Obviously, avoiding commercial pet food in favor of raw food or other diets more closely related to what dogs ate several decades ago is one way to avoid the problem of misleading advertising altogether. Still, for people who use prepared dog or cat food regularly or even occasionally, truth in advertising could help keep pets healthier.

 Image: Shutterstock

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life