Animal Testing in the Pet Food Industry: Which Brands Can You Trust?

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On the surface, the subject of pet food animal testing sounds silly because we would all want pet food tested before feeding it to our pets.  And the idea of cats & dogs testing food doesn’t sound a bit cruel. But in the case of pet food, the testing is not what is cruel. The problem is how these tests are done. In many cases test dogs and cats are held in captivity in laboratory cages for their entire lives. It’s hypocritical to subject other dogs and cats to captivity for the sake of our pets.

In this post, you’ll find information on the testing procedures, as well as a list of pet food brands that do and don’t test on animals.

A brief lesson in animal testing in the pet food industry

Before a new pet food enters the market, it must meet FDA standards as well as the standards of each state in which it plans to sell. Most states model their standards after those set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

AAFCO is not a regulatory board. Its main purpose is to establish nutritional standards for animal feed and pet food. The FDA uses AAFCO standards to regulate the pet food industry.

Pet food must meet the nutritional profiles specified by the AAFCO in order to be considered “complete and balanced.” These nutritional profiles are broken down in 2 categories:

  1. Adult maintenance – for adult dogs and cats.
  2. Growth and reproduction – for puppies, kittens, and pregnant mothers.

If the pet food meets both profiles, then it’s considered to be formulated for all life stages.

There are 2 ways of testing that the food meets AAFCO nutritional standards:

  1. By laboratory testing only.
  2. By animal feeding trials and laboratory testing.

Luckily, the testing method is noted in the packaging. If it’s tested by laboratory only, you will see a label that reads like this:

(Brand name & recipe) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO nutrient profiles for (puppy, adult, all life stages, etc…)

If the food undergoes a feeding trial, the label will read like this:

Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (brand name & recipe) provides complete and balanced nutrition for (kitten, adult, all life stages, etc…)

Note that not every formula under a brand has to undergo feeding trials. Therefore, it is possible to have one formula with a “formulated” label, and another formula with a “animal feeding test” label.

Feeding trials for adult dogs and cats consists of the following:

  • At least 8 test animals; only 6 need to complete the trial.
  • Must be at least 1 year old.
  • The test food must be the only source of nutrition for at least 26 weeks.
  • Body weight is measured weekly.
  • Blood work is done to determine that certain blood parameters have not fallen below the minimum.
  • At the end of the trial the animals must not show any signs of a nutritional deficiency.

Overall, feeding trials are not necessarily cruel or inhumane. The cruelty comes behind the captivity and the unknown conditions in which the test animals are kept.

In the early 2000’s, PETA did an undercover investigation of a lab that was contracted by Iams to conduct feeding trials. You can see the video of the investigation here(WARNING: GRAPHIC)

PETA found sick dogs and cats locked in cages without veterinary care. They found dogs thrown in a cement floor after having chunks of their leg muscles cut out. These are just a few of the atrocities.

Honestly, I do not know if tests of this kind are still conducted, and I do not know if such abuse is still common. Most big brand pet food companies are not transparent about their procedures.

One of the few transparent companies is Hills Pet Nutrition, the makers of Science Diet. Hills gives tours of the testing facility where the lab animals are kept. Check out this post by PawCurious for details of what they saw in the tour.

Pet Food Lab Animal Testing - Beagle

Hills purchases test animals from a breeder that only breeds lab animals, mostly beagles. The lab animals live in what they call “pet colonies,” where they have access to the outside, play areas, and they even get to spend quality time with the employees. After the animals are done with their “tour” they are put up for adoption.

But for every Hills, there are probably dozens of labs that do not give their animals a quality of life. Some animals are born in the lab, and die in the lab, never to see the light of day.

Whether the lab testing is done humanely or not, the bottom-line is that when you purchase pet food that undergoes feeding trails, you are supporting a lab animal breeding facility.

Are feeding trials really necessary?

Veterinarians consider the feeding trial method to be the “gold standard” because it’s the only way to know that the food will sustain your dog over time.

Still, some veterinarians find feeding trails to be flawed:

Just because a diet can sustain a dog in a laboratory environment for about six months without causing illness or abnormal blood values doesn’t mean it will perform the same way for dogs who may lead a much more active and stressful life, and for years on end.

Now, and this is my opinion, I’d like to think that the pet food industry has been around long enough to know what causes and what doesn’t cause nutritional deficiencies to cats and dogs. After all, the nutritional standards are already set.

If the pet food industry collectively decided to use quality ingredients, I am sure that testing on lab animals would not be necessary. However, most pet food companies use low quality ingredients (like by-product from dead, disabled, or diseased animals) to keep their costs down, which is probably why they prefer to use the feeding trial method.

If they used high quality ingredients they’d be able to stand behind their product without subjecting an animal to captivity and testing.

What are other testing options besides feeding trials?

Some companies are choosing to conduct testing in a home based setting with their own pets or pets of select customers. Personally, I think that if a company is willing to test a new formula on their own pets, then they must be very confident of their product.

The foods listed below use this method.

Pet food brands that DO NOT test on lab animals

If you want to go cruelty free,  you should also consider the welfare of farm animals. Open Farm and Tender & True (listed below) are the only pet foods available that do not test on animals and use ethically raised and sourced meat.

* Read about Certified Humane & Global Animal Partnership.

Pet food brands that DO test on lab animals

Here I am including some brands that do not test on animals but the parent company owns other brands that do. For example, Royal Canin (owned by Mars) does not test on lab animals, but other Mars brands (like Iams) do.

These brands clearly state on some formulas that feeding trials were conducted…

  • Big Heart Pet – Natures Recipe, Meow Mix, 9 Lives, Natural Balance, & Kibbles & Bits.
  • Colgate – Hills Science Diet, Hills Prescription Diet, & Hills Ideal Balance.
  • Just Food For Dogs
  • Mars – Nutro, Pedigree, Iams, Whiskas, Royal Canin, Eukanuba, Sheba, Evo, & California Natural.
  • Nestle – Merrick, Castor & Pollux, and all Purina foods (Alpo, Beneful, Chef Makers, Dog Chow, Fancy Feast, Felix, Friskies, Gourmet, Purina One, & Purina ProPlan).

The brands that follow do not use the “animal feeding test” label for reasons that I do not understand, but yet they test on lab animals. I’ve included snippets from my correspondence with them or quotes directly from their websites.

Ainsworth Pet Nutrition – Rachel Ray Nutrish, Dads, & Better Than

Thank you for contacting us. Here, at Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, we work diligently to ensure that your furry family member and ours get nothing but the best of everything… Our Creekside Nutrition Center operates much like any pet boarding facility. We only observe the palatability of pet food. The USDA inspects us on a yearly basis, and we guarantee that we offer our furry family members best-in-class animal and medical care from our in-house Veterinarian and attentive on-site staff of licensed Veterinary Technicians who specialize in caring for their health and wellbeing.

Blue Buffalo

Thank you for taking your time to contact BLUE. We understand your concerns and want to assure you that animals are only used for palatability and stool testing. This is necessary to ensure that pets like the taste of the food.  We use independent testing facilities that have runs for dogs to go outside several times a day in an open play area.  Cats have a common room (indoors) where they can socialize. Please know that we do not participate in any food trials… Please note that Blue Buffalo does not do any invasive animal testing.

Diamond Pet Company – Diamond, Taste of the Wild, Professional+, Premium Edge, Nutra Nuggets, & Nutra Gold

We would like to assure you that our commitment to animals is not limited to providing superior nutrition, but extends beyond this to include the humane treatment of the animals involved in the necessary feeding trials.

We do minimal animal testing on our products and we do not conduct the research ourselves. We utilize certified laboratories based on their reputation and their dedication to nutritional research.

Dogswell – Nutrisca, Vitality, Boundless, Happy Hips, & Super Boost

While monitored by qualified technicians in approved facilities, the dogs taste test our formulas to ensure palatability, and have their stools monitored to determine stool quality, stool volume, and dry matter digestibility of the test diet.  These taste tests are non-invasive and strictly observational.  The animals eat only finished product which is nutritionally complete per AAFCO standards and has already met our standards above; we do not test individual ingredients with animals.

We choose facilities that include outdoor exercise parks where dogs can exercise and play and cat habitats with multiple climbing stations.  The facilities also have on-site veterinary care service which provides the animals with regular grooming and dental cleaning.  It is of the utmost importance that the animals receive the love and care that they deserve.

Natures Variety

At Nature’s Variety, we are passionate about pets and deeply concerned for the emotional and physical health of all animals, large and small. All animals are treated humanely and compassionately throughout their lives. The test facilities we contract with are under federal inspection; all animals are cared for in accordance with established animal welfare rules and sanitation standards. These facilities have a “no-kill” policy, choosing to adopt-out the animals to loving homes after a few years. Moreover, whenever possible, we use in-home testing protocols, recruiting the voluntary services of our employees’ pets and the pets of our loyal customers.

WellPet – Wellness, Holistic Select, Eagle Pack, & Sojos

… We are very fortunate to have many consumers and employees that help us during the development of our diets and treats. We provide product for in-home trials and we talk to every person to find out how their cat or dog likes the food or treat. We also learn about the stool quality and any other benefits the food may provide such as improving skin & coat or palatability.

It is also important for us to understand some other important nutritional information such as digestibility or how our food compares in taste to other brands. For this, we occasionally use kennels with standard processes that provide reliable information. The kennels are selected based on them sharing the same philosophy towards animal welfare that we do. For instance, the dogs are socialized every day and the cats enjoy a specially designed play area. The dogs and cats are also available for adoption to the employees and their families.

As I said before, it seems like animals that are used to test pet food do not live in horrible conditions. Still, these animals are bred for the sole purpose of being lab animals. When you support these brands, you indirectly support a lab animal breeder.

If you’re curious about a brand that’s not listed here comment below and I’ll look into it!

Sorry, I’ve decided to turn off comments

The number of comments and emails that I receive are too much to handle, so I’ve decided to centralize all communication to email only. Just scroll down to “contact me”, and feel free to send me any comments, questions, complaints, or concerns 🙂

23 Responses
  • Maggie Burns
    February 17, 2018

    I did so much research on Nature’s Variety and I am feeding my dogs that
    now, but I just checked out their website again today and saw that quote. I don’t
    know what I was thinking, but that quote does not make anything clear.
    I’m more confused by it.

  • Amber Nichole
    February 7, 2018

    What about Kirkland (Costco) brand dog food?

  • El
    January 5, 2018

    Hi, do you know if the brand Nulo Pet Food tests on animals?

    • Tammy @ GFV
      January 26, 2018

      Hi El, sorry about the delay. I reached out to Nulo and unfortunately, they test new formulas on animals. Their response first says that they do not do any kind of invasive research or testing on lab animals. But later on they go on to say that their new formulas are sent to kennels for testing. Kennel is a fancy word for a nice lab. The animals do not live in a lab environment and they are well cared for, but they are there for testing and they come from lab animal breeders 🙁

  • Tammy @ GFV
    December 14, 2017

    Hi Rebecca! Wolf of Wilderness is owned by Matina GMBH. Matina does not test on lab animals, so all of their brands are safe to use. You can see a list of their brands here:

    Thanks for reading 🙂

  • Shelvy Aldana
    November 19, 2017

    Hi do you know anything about the brand Ol’ Roy?

    • Tammy @ GFV
      November 29, 2017

      Sorry for the long wait Shelvy. Ol’ Roy is tricky. It is a Walmart private brand and I’ve always had trouble getting information on Walmart products. They only provide product information of their private brands by phone, and their customer service agents are not the most knowledgeable in this subject. I do have limited information however…

      – I’ve been told a few times that their pet food brands are tested on HUMANS. I’ve read about this and it seems like human testing is only done for taste testing, but it can’t be done for digestibility and nutritional testing.

      – Walmart pet food brands are manufactured by 3 companies: MARS, Simmons, and Ainsworth. I do not have any information on Simmons, but Mars and Ainsworth are on my list of brands that test on lab animals. Based on that fact alone, I would avoid Ol ‘Roy.

      But I have never received a definite answer from Walmart. I hope that helps!

  • Monika
    October 20, 2017

    Hi Tammy, do you know anything about COSMA, ALMO NATURE and APPLAWS??
    Do they test on lab animals??

    Thank you

    • Tammy @ GFV
      October 25, 2017

      Hi Monika, I do not know of these brands but I’ve reached out to them. I’ll let you know when I hear back 🙂

    • Tammy @ GFV
      November 9, 2017

      Hi Monika! Some updates for you… I heard back from Applaws and Matina (parent company of Cosma). Matina does not test on lab animals, so all of their brands are safe to use! When they develop new varieties and products, samples are given to their employees to try on their pets.

      Applaws’ response was a bit confusing. They said that they do not test on lab animals; instead, they use their employees pets and sometimes kennels. From my research on this topic, I’ve found that sometimes American pet companies use the word “kennel” to disguise the word laboratory. This may not be the case with Applaws as they’re a European company and maybe in this case kennel really means shelter. I’ve asked them to clarify and hope that they get back to me soon.

      No updates on Almo Nature, but at least you know that Cosma is a safe bet!

  • Shayna Michelle
    October 12, 2017

    Hello, I just recently switched from pure balance to natures recipe. I have a tiny dog, she weighs about 5 lbs. She’s my baby so i’m wondering about her new food. Should I switch again?

    • Tammy @ GFV
      October 16, 2017

      Hi Shayna! Not sure that I understand your question. If you’re asking about the nutritional value of Pure Balance vs Natures Recipe, then I can’t help you with that as I am not an expert on pet nutrition.

      If you’re asking if either brands test on lab animals, I know that Nature’s Recipe does. Pure Balance I’m not so sure about. I’ve been researching them for a while and I am beginning to think that they do but I can’t say with certainty. I do have some updates on the research which I will be posting soon. Sorry that I can’t be more helpful 🙁

  • Ivy B. Green
    August 9, 2017

    Hi, thanks for the great article. Have you found out anything about Canidae pet food ? Thank you.

    • Tammy @ GFV
      August 20, 2017

      Hi Ivy! I honestly don’t know about Canidae. I’ve reached out to them a few times and once I got a generic reply like “we love animals as much as you do and would never hurt them.” When companies skirt around the question I tend to believe that they do test on animals, but I don’t know for sure. I reached out to them again. I’ll reply to you and update the article once they write back. Glad that you like the post 🙂

  • GingerBean
    May 18, 2017

    Have you found out anything about Taste of the Wild in your research of this topic?

    • Tammy @ GFV
      May 20, 2017

      I updated this post today to include Taste of the Wild. Unfortunately, they do test on lab animals 🙁

      • GingerBean
        May 22, 2017


  • Aspen8cat
    April 26, 2017

    Do you know if Pure Balance, Authority, and Simply Nourish tests on animals? Thank you!

    • Tammy @ GFV
      May 16, 2017

      As of now all I’ve been able to find out is that Pure Balance is a Walmart brand and both Authority and Simply Nourish are PetSmart brands. My questions were sent to corporate, and as of now no reply from Walmart or PetSmart. But I’ll post here as soon as I know 🙂

  • Darby and L E
    April 23, 2017

    Do you know anything about Castor Pollux Organix? I can’t seem to find anything about them.

    Also do you have any puppy foods you recommend?

    Right now my girl is eating the Blue Buffalo Wilderness Puppy food. I thought Blue didn’t test… I’m hoping to find something comparable to her current food.

    • Tammy @ GFV
      April 24, 2017

      Hi Darby! I used to feed my girl Blue Buffalo also. I’m sure that Blue Buffalo or their facility don’t mistreat the animals; I’m sure the animals are living in good conditions. But it still doesn’t sit right with me that the animals are bought from lab animal breeders.

      I’ve never heard of Castor & Pollux but I’ll look into it. What I feed my baby now is Open Farm. Open Farm doesn’t test on animals and the poultry and meat they use come from farms that are Certified Humane. Their food is for all life stages, meaning that it’s suitable for puppies, adults, and seniors. If you want something specifically for puppy, I know that Halo & Orijen make recipes just for puppies. I hope this helps!

    • Tammy @ GFV
      May 16, 2017

      Hi Darby! I confirmed that Castor Pollux is cruelty-free and will add it to the list soon. Their formulas are tested on pets of staff members and friends, never on lab animals. Thanks for bringing it up 🙂

  • Piera Rimoldi
    November 2, 2016

    fantastic Tammy. Congratulation. Here is one suggestion to add to your list of not testing on LAB animals: Forza10 for cats and dogs