Several manufacturers of canine and feline prescription diets, as well as PetSmart, Banfield Pet Hospitals and Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners have become the targets of litigation. A class action lawsuit alleges that Hill’s Pet Nutrition (makers of Science Diet), Nestle Purina (makers of Purina Veterinary Diets), and Mars Petcare (makers of Royal Canin Veterinary Diets) have engaged in price-fixing along with PetSmart and veterinary clinics owned by their companies.
The case was filed in the US District Court of Northern California in December 2016. The plaintiffs claim that the accused companies are in violation of anti-trust and consumer protection laws for making certain veterinary diets available by prescription only in order to willfully overcharge consumers.
They also 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.
The suit further alleges that making the foods available by prescription-only is a tactic to force customers to purchase from veterinary clinics – some of which (Banfield and Blue Pearl) are owned by Mars Petcare.
“They control the sale of prescription pet food from manufacture to veterinarian to retail, which has allowed their deception and price-fixing conspiracy to be implemented and perpetuated with minimal risk of detection or defection.”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs stress that the lawsuit has nothing to do with the efficacy of prescription pet foods. It is about the companies’ use of the term “prescription” to justify charging as much as 40% more for their products than premium non-prescription pet foods.
As for the other side of the story, the pet food companies counter that their veterinary diets are in compliance with FDA guidelines and that an FDA “compliance policy guide” even recommends advanced veterinary approval to prevent owners from misusing their products.
“When these products are marketed directly to pet owners, there is a greater potential for product misuse and/or misunderstanding of the role of the product in the disease treatment. For example, owners of diabetic dogs and cats may misinterpret claims to ‘control blood glucose’ to represent that the product is the sole treatment required for diabetic dogs and cats when, in fact, these animals may require insulin therapy or other treatments to adequately control blood glucose.”
Another concern with making prescription diets freely available to the public is that some do not meet the recommended nutrient standards for healthy pets. Depending on the disease they are designed to manage, they may contain unusually high or unusually low levels of protein, amino acids, sodium, or other nutrients.
Making the diets prescription-only forces an initial veterinary consultation about the diet and compels owners to return for script renewals, which allows vets to monitor their patients’ progress.
Have you had experience – good or bad – feeding a veterinary diet to your pet? What do you think about the allegations in the class action lawsuit?