Regulatory and compliance

'Vet-ting' medicinal claims in Great Britain: top tips on advertising pet products with health benefits

Published on 9th May 2023

Complying with regulatory requirements and ensuring that advertising and marketing copy is accurate increases consumer confidence in brands

Recent statistics have shown that over 62% of UK households now own a pet (with a significant increase since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic), and accordingly over £4 billion was spent on veterinary and other services for pets in 2021.

It is therefore expected that the spending on pet "health" products has also increased, with a particular focus on animal weight management, skin care and digestive health. Accordingly, pet owners are an increasingly important part of manufacturers' business plans.

Advertising budgets are increasing with manufacturers keen to target and attract customers within a lucrative marketplace. However, it is important to ensure that any claims made in relation to a product's benefit and effect on animal health are not misleading.

Medicinal claims (such as claims about products that can "treat" or "prevent" disease) can only be made in relation to veterinary medicinal products that hold a relevant and valid GB market authorisation.

Veterinary medicinal products are those that are either medicinal by presentation (that is, giving the average person the impression that the product treats or prevents disease) or are medicinal by function (that is, the product is used on animals to restore or correct an animal's physiological functions).

Misleading or inaccurate advertising under the Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2013 can lead to unlimited fines or imprisonment of up to two years. We have therefore put together some top tips for manufacturers to take into account when advertising the benefits of their products.  

Refer to the summary of product characteristics

When applying for marketing authorisation for a veterinary medicinal product, a summary of that product's characteristics is submitted. This includes information such as what animal the veterinary medicinal product is targeted at and what it is used for.

All (and any) medicinal claims made when the product is placed on the market need to be compliant with the information provided as part of the marketing authorisation (including updates as relevant).

Do not mislead

As with all advertising, medicinal claims should not be misleading.

For veterinary medicinal claims, this could include avoiding claims stating that the general product is "essential" for an animal's health, or claims that exaggerate the success rate of the product (such as "guaranteed to prevent ticks").

Human medicines are not for animals

There are separate authorisations for human medicinal products and veterinary medicinal products. Even if a market authorisation has been obtained for a human medicinal product, this must not be advertised for use by animals.

While human medicines may be cheaper to produce, some medicines for humans contain ingredients that can cause severe allergic reactions to animals. Market authorisations are provided on a specific species-basis, noting that even within animals there are vast differences on what is acceptable between species.

If it is not a veterinary medicinal product

If the product is not a registered Veterinary Medicinal Product (meaning that medicinal claims cannot be made), additional care must be taken.

Avoid words that are medicinal by presentation

Words deemed to be “medicinal by presentation” (such as “allergy”, “cures”, “relieve” or “remedy”) should not be used in relation to the product, if it is a registered veterinary medicinal product.

Check whether a nutritional claim can be made instead

If the product is not a registered veterinary medicinal product but is instead a feed product, it is worth checking EU Regulation 2020/354 (retained law on General Provisions for feed for particular nutritional purposes) and whether the product meets any of the listed requirements for specific nutritional claims.

If the product meets those requirements then consider making nutritional claims instead, such as "Support of renal function in case of chronic renal insufficiency" if the certain requirements laid out in EU Regulation 2020/354 are met.

Osborne Clarke comment

Manufacturers need to be clear on the intended classification and purpose of their product, and market it accordingly (either as veterinary medicinal product, if it has received the required market authorisation, or as a feed product with a nutritional claim if appropriate).

For veterinary medicinal products, the marketing authorisation provides pet owners with the confidence that their pet is receiving a safe medicine that has been approved by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate's (VMD) safety, quality and efficacy standards.

Following the increase in pet ownership, and consequently the demand for pet products, there will undoubtedly be corresponding scrutiny from regulatory bodies in relation to claims that are being made on products and regulatory compliance.

Manufacturers will to keep a close eye on the Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2013 and any guidance from the VMD, especially in relation to the recent consultation in relation to the regulations (about which, see our Insight).

Manufacturers should also ensure that their advertising and marketing is accurate and compliant which will, in turn, increase consumer confidence in their brands.

This article is part of our "Legal Paws for Thought" series of Insights on the world of pets and relevant laws

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* This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

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