Confused About Health Supplements for Your Pet?

Story at-a-glance -

  • Bill Bookout is the president and one of the founding members of the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC)
  • The goal of the NASC is to protect and enhance the integrity of the animal health product industry
  • Manufacturers can’t simply “buy seals” from NASC – they must meet very rigorous standards and submit to routine onsite facility audits
  • Membership in NASC means that you can trust the purity and quality of products because their labels have been vetted by NASC

By Dr. Becker

Today I'm chatting with Bill Bookout, who is the president and one of the founding members of the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC). The problem for pet supplements is two-fold:

  • The regulations for pet products are not well defined, thus it is easy for poor quality manufacturers to sell their pet products
  • The safety of pet products is not always monitored

NASC has helped overcome both these problems by devising a process that has been accepted by the FDA for pet supplements. Membership in NASC means that Dr. Mercola's pet product labels have been vetted by NASC.

In addition, all Dr. Mercola's pet products are enrolled in NASC's adverse event monitoring program. This is critical to help ensure the long-term safety of the products.

Two Reasons Bill Became Interested in Animal Supplements: His Black Labs Lancelot and Cinder

A little background on Bill - he grew up in Wyoming, and all he ever wanted as a youngster was a bird dog.

After college, he got into the medical device and drug business, and he finally got his wish – a black Labrador Retriever he named Lancelot. Lancelot was such a great dog that Bill got another black Lab, a female, and named her Cinder.

Bill had heard that large breed dogs were prone to hip problems, so when Lancelot was two years old, he took him to the veterinarian. He learned the dog's hips were fine – Lancelot was a stocky, heavy-bodied dog.

A few months later Bill took Cinder to be checked out and learned she had bilateral hip dysplasia, and it was severe. He didn't know what to do to help Cinder, and by the time she was seven, she could hardly walk. Ultimately she had two total hip replacements, with an excellent outcome.

Bill's experience with Cinder's hip dysplasia led him to a career change. He left the medical device and drug industry to accept a position at the third largest animal referral center in the U.S., All-Care Animal Referral Center, which is a specialty referral veterinary hospital in Fountain Valley, California.

Around that same time, Lancelot was diagnosed with cancer. Bill worked with leading veterinary oncologists to provide his dog with surgery and radiation therapy. The treatment was successful, but when the dog was 11 years old, the tumor returned. Lancelot was given just three months to live.

Bill went looking for help for Lancelot, and met Dr. Ihor Basko, who he describes as "a great friend, and a tremendous clinician and veterinarian."

Dr. Basco prescribed some supplements for Lancelot, along with dietary changes, and the dog lived another two and a half years with a good quality of life. "It wasn't long enough, but I was very thankful," says Bill.

The experience with Lancelot's cancer inspired Bill and Dr. Basco to form a company called Genesis Resources. Bill incorrectly assumed the supplements he'd used with his dog were regulated like human dietary supplements, but he learned they were not.

In 2001, there were public statements circulating that veterinary supplements were going to be removed from the marketplace. That's when Bill founded NASC with 18 companies.

The goal was to try to engage federal and state regulatory agencies, including the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, to identify and implement a system of responsible conduct. As Bill puts it, "I didn't want to be viewed as selling snake oil."

NASC Works to Insure the Quality of Animal Health Products

When it comes to pet supplements, "People don't know what products to pick," says Bill. There are so many available on the market. Pet owners search the Internet and consult "Dr. Google" looking for guidance.

The good news is that the National Animal Supplement Council has, over the last 13 years, implemented Best Manufacturing Practice Standards. They have a database with over a hundred billion bytes of data, including real-time tracking of over 2,000 ingredients and over 7,000 products.

They've also implemented truth in labeling, so "Nobody's out there claiming to cure everything from parvo to cancer," says Bill.

NASC conducts onsite audits similar to an FDA audit. They inspect facilities to verify that companies are doing what they say they're doing. There are also requirements for continuing education so that when veterinarians and pet owners see products with the NASC seal, they can be assured they are good quality.

NASC also conducts independent product testing. They buy a product off a store shelf and test it to make sure it meets label claims. What the NASC is doing is forcing transparency in the animal supplement industry so that companies interested in providing excellent products have a way to stand out from the crowd.

This is really helpful for both veterinarians and pet owners, because not only are there a ton of products out there to choose from, there's also plenty of room for manufacturers to hide low quality ingredients behind flashy packaging and advertising.

Animal Supplement Companies Are Thoroughly Vetted by NASC

Currently there are 135 companies that are members of NASC, which is about 90 percent of the total animal health product industry. NASC is the leading trade association of its kind in North America, and perhaps even the world. "We're very narrowly focused," says Bill. "We only do supplements that are similar to human dietary supplements for dogs, cats, and horses."

A new program they've recently introduced is total supply chain management. They've implemented a preferred supplier program. As Bill describes it:

"You have to start with quality raw materials or a quality ingredient of known potency period and concentration to formulate the products properly, and then put that together by a system that's repeatable. That's called process control. That allows you to have a consistent outcome."

It's important for manufacturers to have written policies and procedures to insure they're doing the same thing the same way every time, starting with raw materials. If they don't start with quality raw materials, they're not going to have a quality outcome.

"The other thing that we've done is we have engaged the regulatory agencies," says Bill. "The FDA and state regulatory agencies have been totally transparent. In fact, I just came from the FDA. We meet with them every six months. They come to our annual meeting. Everything that we have done or planned to do, we run by FDA and we work very constructively."

The NASC Seal Assures the Quality and Purity of a Product

I asked Bill if he ever has supplement companies come to him, fail, and then NASC works with them to get them up to standard. Bill explained that first of all, no system, including theirs, no matter how rigorously defined, is perfect. If all such approval processes were perfect, we wouldn't have drug recalls.

There are things that will be known tomorrow that aren't known today. Bill says NASC has a responsible system that gives a high degree of confidence, but just as importantly, they are engaged in a process of continuous improvement. As they identify and learn more, they continuously improve their system.

Fortunately, the industry has embraced the NASC program. Companies realize if they aren't proactive, they are destined to be reactive. The government will then dictate the standards, and that might not be what's best for the industry or the animals it serves.

In order for a company to be considered for NASC membership, they must have a direct interview with Bill. He asks about the products they manufacture, quality standards, and the company's philosophy. He insures the company will be willing to adhere to NASC standards by having them sign a written contract.

There's also a code of conduct document they must sign. It's not just a matter of paying a fee and getting a supply of NASC seals to slap on their products. Each company must meet very rigorous standards, including undergoing an onsite facility audit every two years.

Many Thanks to Bill Bookout!

I'm very grateful that NASC is holding the animal supplement industry to a high standard, and I appreciate Bill's work and dedication in setting up the council. NASC has made and continues to make a tremendous difference in the lives of millions of animals in this country and around the world.