If you ask contract research organization Nutrasource Pharmaceutical and Nutraceutical Services (Guelph, ON, Canada) about how dietary supplement ingredient suppliers are doing in terms of researching their ingredients for the pet health space, there is room for improvement, the company says. At November’s SupplySide West trade show, Nutrasource representatives discussed why the company thinks it can make a difference in elevating the quality of science done to ensure that nutrition ingredients aren’t just safe and effective for humans but that they are also safe and effective for companion animals.
“One of our big initiatives at Nutrasource is advancing in the pet supplements space,” said Susan Hewlings, PhD, RD, director of scientific affairs, at SupplySide West. She said that Nutrasource stays in close touch with the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC; Sun City West, AZ), the leading animal-supplement association whose self-described mission is “to promote the health and wellbeing of companion animals and horses that are given animal health supplements by their owners.”
How does Nutrasource feel it can help improve quality in the pet supplements industry? Much as it does in the human supplements space, said Hewlings: by helping companies perform clinical trials on their ingredients and products, and helping them substantiate any health claims they make.
Scrutiny and research lags in the pet supplement industry compared to the human supplements industry, she said. “A lot of people think that because it’s pets, they can just say what they want and do what they want, and that they don’t have the same accountability that they do for human supplements,” Hewlings said. “Because pet supplements aren’t covered under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act [like human supplements are], it’s like the Wild West out there…”
When Nutrasource works with companies to study pet supplements and to provide regulatory advice, “we’re holding those companies to the same standards [as we do for humans],” she said. Substantiating health claims and investing in clinical research to bolster those claims is increasingly necessary as the pet supplements market grows, Hewlings said.
For many suppliers of ingredients for human nutrition supplements, the burgeoning pet-supplements market is full of opportunities. But taking a human-supplement ingredient to the pet market isn’t a simple endeavor. One can’t assume that just because an ingredient is safe for humans that it is safe for pets. Too often, ingredient suppliers on the human health side need to learn more about the unique needs of pets, Hewlings said, including specific needs in research studies.
For instance, she pointed out, when it comes to the potential impact of nutrition ingredients on companion animals, “It has to be species-specific. It really does, [because animals] have species-specific nuances that could very well affect metabolism…and also, of course, safety and toxicity.” According to Hewlings, there are still not enough ingredient suppliers are doing enough of this kind of species-specific research.
Also, she added, “When you look at a lot of the safety research that’s been done on ingredients, they’ve been done on rodent models—because we do toxicity studies in rodent models. We’ve questioned how that translates to humans. Well, how does it translates to cats and dogs? And there’s a big question out there about that right now.”
Nutrasource’s goal is to help companies improve the rigor and breadth of their ingredient science for the pet space. “We would like to become the place where people think of first for establishing that which we’ve been speaking of—efficacy and safety, and also education and outreach,” Hewlings said.
For instance, “We’d like to interact more with veterinarian groups and individual veterinarians to get education and information out there” on how supplements can benefit pets, she said. “A lot of that space is advancing without the input from the veterinary profession, which I think is concerning.”
Right now, she added, “this market is taking off in advance of really what the veterinarians know.” For instance, the market for pet supplements containing probiotics and hemp cannabidiol (CBD), as well as calming ingredients, is especially skyrocketing, she noted.
In addition to working with NASC, Nutrasource would like to get more associations from the human-supplements space involved in the pet space, she said. “Again, because we source a lot of ingredients from the same places, it makes sense that there would be a lot of crossover.”
And while Nutrasource services currently focus heavily on dogs and cats, “we’ll certainly be expanding in the future, because people have pet foxes and pet raccoons and pet pigs,” she said.
There is also room for enhanced corporate social values in the pet supplements market. For instance, she said, “We’re putting millions of cats and dogs down every day. I’d like to see [our industry] support that side. I think it can be done. I think that would be a way to do the corporate values aspect for this space.”