According to petfoodindustry.com, Americans spent $36.9 billion dollars on pet food and treats in 2019. Meanwhile, comparecamp.com suggests that this year, those figures will rise to over $38 billion dollars. On a micro level, Petpedia.com says that pet owners in this country spend an average of $300 per year on pet food. However, over 40% of pet owners spend two or three times more than that, in part because their veterinarians prescribe a special diet to improve such things as digestive health and urinary tract ailments. In truth, these specialty pet foods do contain healthy ingredients, but they are not deserving of the name “prescription.”

A prescription, by definition, is “a written order, especially by a physician, for the preparation and administration of a medicine or other treatment.” However, there is no medicine contained in any prescription dog food. And that brings me to a 2016 lawsuit that was filed in California by plaintiffs who alleged that the accused pet food companies were, “in violation of antitrust and consumer protection laws for making certain veterinary diets available by prescription-only, in order to willfully overcharge consumers.” Plaintiffs also charged that these companies mislead consumers, “into believing the foods contain some kind of drug or controlled ingredient to justify the prescription labeling.” 

A California District Court dismissed the lawsuit in July of 2017, but in July of last year, an Appeals Court ruled that the case could continue. In that ruling, the Appeals panel concluded that plaintiffs, “sufficiently alleged that the sale of the prescription pet food exclusively through vets, or with veterinary approval was a deceptive practice. In addition, plaintiffs satisfied the heightened pleading standard for fraud because they alleged sufficient facts to show that prescription pet food and other pet food were not materially different.” 

In reporting on the lawsuit for iheartdogs.com, Dina Fantegrossi wrote, “They (the plaintiffs) feel that the prescription-only status misleads consumers into believing the foods contain some kind of drug or controlled ingredient to justify the prescription labeling. In truth, veterinary prescription diets do not contain any ingredients that cannot also be found in conventional foods.”

And while there has been a recent surge in the sale of so-called prescription pet food, the underlying problem is anything but recent. 

According to truthaboutpetfood.com, prescription diet pet food companies have enjoyed a long-standing relationship with veterinarians, dating back to the 1960s. In fact, By the late 1980s, these companies even began supplying vets with prescription pads as part of their marketing effort. That alone should have alerted the FDA to the alleged fraud, but, as dogsnaturallymagazine.com reports, “While the FDA practices enforcement discretion when it comes to veterinary diets…the FDA has not reviewed or verified the health claims on any veterinary diet.” 

And speaking of prescription pads, if you should run out of “prescription” food when the vet’s office is closed, there are a couple of chain stores that sell it, but only if you have (you guessed it) a written prescription. It’s like trying to buy Sudafed. It’s not really a prescription sinus medicine, but I can’t buy it without showing a driver’s license, because the government thinks I’m going to start a meth lab in my basement. Likely as not, the FDA will eventually mandate that greedy pet food companies stop calling their products “prescription.” which, in turn, could lead to a lowering of the inflated prices being charged for these non-medicinal foods. It’ll be a win/win for everyone unless your dog needs Sudafed. In that case, he’ll need a driver’s license.

Jim Longworth is the host of Triad Today, airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).

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