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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Features January 2016 Issue

Structure/Function Claims on Dog Food

Only a couple of health claims are allowed on dog food. One of them has to do with improved dental health; some foods have a scrubbing action on the teeth as the dog chews them. The other is about urinary health. All other health claims are illegal.

So why is it that so many dog foods have claims like “supports brain development” or “helps muscle function?”

The reason: statements like these are not considered health claims but, rather, structure/function claims. Huh?

Here’s the distinction. A health claim links a specific food to a specific outcome later on in the dog’s life: feed this food, and your dog’s oral hygiene will be in better shape down the line.

A structure/function claim, on the other hand, can masquerade as a health claim but is actually a statement that can be made for any food. What dog food approved by AAFCO wouldn’t “support brain development” in a puppy or “help muscle function?” After all, such phrases do not claim that the food will help prevent, cure, or treat a condition or disease. They’re just saying that eating — calories — help the brain, help the bones. It’s true. Your brain and your bones can’t function without food, so such statements slip in through a health claims loophole.

Don’t be fooled. Recognize structure/function claims for what they are — marketing ploys — and look instead for AAFCO’s Statement of Nutritional Adequacy, often fine print at the bottom of the package, or on its side.

If it says that the food is for “maintenance” or “all life stages,” or, in the case of a puppy, “for growth,” you’re good to go.

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