Developing supplement ingredients for pets?


Here’s what you need to know.

Photo © Rudyk

Photo © Rudyk

Humans have been sharing their lives with cats and dogs for a very long time.1 Now more than ever, pet owners are aware of the importance of nutrition to their pets’ health and welfare—and with more people taking supplements themselves, they are thinking about supplements for their pets.

Many companies selling ingredients or products for human use are looking to expand their service offerings to the companion animal space. Something we often hear from our clients is, My food ingredient or dietary supplement has been shown to be safe in humans, and therefore I must be good to go into companion animals, right? Unfortunately, the answer we give is likely not what they want to hear: “Not necessarily.”

The good, and maybe bad, news is that your path forward to show that your product is safe and efficacious for companion animals can vary considerably based on the ingredient and the information you already have. When thinking about marketing an ingredient for companion animals, there are many things to consider to ensure that you not only have the data you need but that you plan the path forward correctly to avoid potential duplication and delays. While this article is not about regulatory options for your product, one point to consider is that from a regulatory perspective, there is no category for supplements in the companion animal space in the U.S. like there is for humans.

In this article, we will cover only a few of the many things to consider as you plan your product’s path forward into the exciting world of companion animals. Also consider: What species are you interested in marketing your product to, now and possibly in the future? It’s a key consideration, because there are some important differences between species and within species as well. This article will focus on only cats and dogs and is not intended to be a detailed comparative physiology session but rather a general discussion regarding some of the things that you may want to consider depending upon your product and its intended use.

It is also important to decide if your product is intended to be consumed by the animal on a daily basis as part of its regular diet or if it is something that will be given on an intermittent basis. A consideration is that cats prefer to eat multiple small meals throughout the entire day and even at night, while dogs are often fine with one or two meals a day. Of course, it is important to remember that it is hard to generalize feeding behavior, and possibly preferences, for dogs or cats as a whole. Another important consideration for dogs, which is not as evident in cats, is the intraspecies variation. Our dog population is very diverse—think Great Dane vs. the Chihuahua—and often “one-size nutrition” does not fit all. This is also true for cats to some degree, but not to the same extent as for dogs.

These details are important to consider as you plan out the supportive data you need to show that your product is safe and appropriate for the target species.

It is also important to realize that there are significant differences between life stages regardless of the species, and it is strongly recommended that you determine which life stage or life stages you may be interested in addressing before moving ahead with your program. Evaluating the safety of your ingredient in a puppy is very different from evaluating the safety of your ingredient in a healthy adult, and different again if, for example, geriatric dogs are your target population. The life stage is important when planning both your safety and your efficacy studies. While there are many reasons that this is important, one consideration is that as pets age, they may be less willing to eat new foods, or they may develop a preference for more-highly-palatable foods.1

The unique nutritional needs of cats as compared to dogs may be important to consider for certain ingredients as well. While there are many species differences, one to consider is that cats, unlike dogs, are obligate carnivores, which means, among other things, that a cat’s diet should not be high in carbohydrates. They also have a lesser ability to regulate amino acid metabolism and have a higher requirement for dietary protein than dogs.2

There are also interesting similarities and differences between cats and dogs in their taste and texture preferences. For example, while dogs show a preference for sucrose, cats do not seem to be attracted to sweet flavors—but both seem to find foods with a higher fat content more palatable.1 It is also important to think about calories, in particular if your product will be given in addition to the pet’s regular diet. Pet obesity is becoming a serious concern and risk to our pet population.

While you contemplate all of these things, and more, it is also important to consider the needs of the owners and what may appeal to them. You may have the greatest ingredient ever with outstanding health benefits, but if, for example, it imparts an odor that, while appealing to a dog is not appealing to the owner, it may never make it to the dog dish.

About the Author

Margitta Dziwenka, DVM, DABT, is the director of preclinical and companion animal services at Nutrasource/GRAS Associates (Guelph, ON, Canada; Dziwenka is a registered veterinarian as well as a board certified toxicologist. She has many years of experience with companion animals as a practicing veterinarian in addition to experience in laboratory animal medicine. Dziwenka also brings extensive experience in designing and conducting preclinical research studies, including safety, pharmacokinetic, and efficacy studies, both as a study director and study monitor, in a variety of laboratory species. She is well versed in regulatory aspects including Good Laboratory Practices, submission of Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) dossiers, and New Dietary Ingredient (NDI) notifications. Dziwenka has managed a large Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC)–accredited university facility and has over 10 years of experience as a member of Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees.


  1. Case LP et al. Canine and Feline Nutrition: A Resource for Companion Animal Professionals. 3rd ed. Mosby; 2010.
  2. Legrand-Defretin V. “Differences between cats and dogs: a nutritional view.” The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, vol. 53, no. 1 (March 1994): 15-24
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