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The Complete Guide to Importing Pet Food to the U.S.

The Complete Guide to Importing Pet Food to the U.S.
If you need to import pet food or other animal products to the U.S., this complete guide can give you a full breakdown of rules, regulations and costs involved.
USA Customs Clearance
December 2, 2021
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Last Modified: November 7, 2022

It’s no secret that Americans love their pets and furry friends. Whether you need to import pet food personally or as part of your business, you’ll want to understand all the ins and outs involved.

Importing pet food to the U.S. requires that importers comply with regulations from the FDA and other government agencies, ensure that their pet food is properly labeled, and understand the costs involved. Working with a trusted customs broker can ensure that the process runs smoothly.

The following guide will outline what you need to know about importing pet food to the U.S. and how to do it successfully.

What are Requirements for Importing Pet Food to the U.S.?

There are several import requirements you must know about and follow when importing pet food to the U.S. Section 801 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) spells out the requirements for imports and exports of FDA regulated products. Your products will be subjected to examination and may be denied if there are any violations. The use of food products is governed by the provisions of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), and the regulations issued under its authority.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the primary regulatory body of pet food. Their duties and responsibilities include:

  • Inspections of pet food manufacturing and ingredient suppliers (excluding USDA regulated suppliers – example meat)
  • Pet food investigations (based on consumer or veterinary complaints)
  • Work in cooperation with the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) developing (state) laws, defining ingredients, and establishing nutritional requirements for pet food/animal feed
  • Approve or deny pet food additives or processing aids not defined by AAFCO (GRAS – Generally Recognized as Safe – ingredients)

Animal or pet food imported into the United States must be made up entirely of ingredients deemed acceptable for use in such products. Human and animal foods must be safe and wholesome, contain no deleterious, harmful, or unapproved substances, and be truthfully labeled - all of which is required by Sections 402 and 403 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the FD&C Act). Federal animal food labeling regulations are found under Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations Part 501 [21 CFR 501].

The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (the Bioterrorism Act) directs the FDA, which is the food regulatory agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, to take steps to protect the public from a threatened or actual terrorist attack on the U.S. food supply (and other food-related emergencies).

To carry out the particular provisions of the Bioterrorism Act, FDA established regulations require that:

  • Food facilities register with FDA
  • FDA be given advance notice on shipments of imported food

How Should Pet Food Be Labeled?

How Should Pet Food Be Labeled?

Pet food labels and what needs to be on them is another essential and critical aspect of ensuring your pet food can cross the U.S. border safely and without disruption. You may be surprised to know that pet food labeling is regulated at two levels.

The federal regulations, enforced by the FDA, establish standards applicable for all animal feeds: 

  • Proper identification of the product
  • Net quantity statement
  • Manufacturer's name and address
  • Proper listing of ingredients

Some states have their own labeling laws and regulations too. Many states adhere to the pet food regulations established by AAFCO. They’re more specific and detailed, covering aspects of labeling such as the product name, the guaranteed analysis, the nutritional adequacy statement, feeding directions, and calorie statements.

Both pet owners and veterinary professionals want to know and have a right to know what they’re feeding their animals and pets. You must follow the laws that are in place and be as descriptive as possible to ensure your pet food is accepted and not questioned by the authorities.

How Should Organic Pet Food Be Labeled?

How Should Organic Pet Food Be Labeled?

Another important aspect when it comes to pet food products is whether it’s considered and labeled organic or not. Organic is a term on the label of pet food that indicates that the food has been produced through approved methods. You can access a full set of resources that make up the USDA organic standards online.

The term “organic” is used widely today, but as officially defined by AAFCO, organic animal feed meets the production and handling requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP). According to the NOP website, “organic” products are: “produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.”

As for labeling multi-ingredient products, the following must hold true:

  • Any product that’s sold, labeled, or represented as organic must have at least 95-percent certified organic content
  • Products sold, labeled, or represented as “made with” organic must have at least 70-percent certified organic content. You can’t use the USDA organic seal on these products
  • Products that have less than 70-percent organic content may identify specific ingredients as organic in the ingredients list
  • With an “organic” label all agricultural ingredients must be organically produced. This must be followed unless the ingredient(s) is not commercially available in organic form and listed in Section 205.606

As far as handling goes, handlers need to prevent the commingling of organic with non-organic products and protect organic products from contact with other prohibited substances.

30 Minute Licensed Expert Consulting Will Personally Guide You
Need Help Importing Pet Food to the U.S.?

Worried about the Strict Regulations? Ask Our Experts.

Our 30 Minute Licensed Expert Consulting Will Personally Guide You.

Contact our Licensed Expert Consultant >

Costs to Import Pet Food

Costs to Import Pet Food

There are a variety of costs associated with importing pet food to the U.S. that you should know about, including typical import duties that come with this type of import. It varies by country and location so be sure to do your homework before you budget for this expense.

Duty and tax must be paid upon importation into the U.S. for all goods valued at $800 USD and greater. The rate of duty is determined by the tariff of the commodity being imported, the value of the goods and the origin of the goods.

If your import is valued at over $2,500 USD, or is subject to other federal regulations, you’re going to need a customs bond. Some pet supplies like food and many others come with additional requirements, and will always require a customs bond regardless of the size or value of the shipment.  

There are two main types of bonds available to you, depending upon how often you plan to ship pet food:

  1. A single entry bond should be used when you need to cover one shipment. The value of the customs bond must be at least equal to the value of the shipment. If the commodities you’re importing are regulated by another federal agency, then the cost will be three times the value of the shipment.
  2. A continuous bond is best if you plan to import more than a few shipments a year since you only need one bond to cover as many shipments as you need. The cost of a continuous bond is always at least $50,000. Therefore, it usually ends up being a better deal than the single entry bonds if you plan to import more than once in the next 12 months.

Just as the import of pet food is growing in the U.S., demand is increasing around the world as well. That, of course, increases the export of pet food around the globe. The nations exporting the most dog and cat food in 2020 can be found below.

Global Export Leaders of Dog and Cat Food (2020)

CountryExport ValuePercentage of Exports
Germany$2.2 billion12.7%
United States$1.7 billion10.1%
France$1.7 billion9.7%
Thailand$1.6 billion9.6%
Poland$1.3 billion7.6%

Source: Dog or Cat Food Exports by Country | World's Top Exports

Shipping Options for Importing Pet Food

The upside is that you have shipping options when it comes to importing your dog food to the U.S. However, you may be wondering what’s cheaper - to ship by air or by sea or whether you should use a truck or rail. 

In general, ocean freight is typically far cheaper, especially for larger shipments. Also, ocean freight prices are way less volatile than air. Furthermore, new expedited ocean freight services may offer even faster transit times.

For shippers moving large loads over long distances, a combination of truck and rail will be cheaper than using trucks alone. More containers can be shipped via rail and trains are more fuel-efficient, which makes intermodal cheaper for long hauls and trips.

And if you're still in the market for a dog or are looking for how to import one from abroad, we have information on that too.

Get Help From a Licensed Customs Broker

You may still have a lot of questions and feel a bit confused about the next steps and how you can quickly and efficiently get your pet food into the U.S. We understand your dilemma and are here to help. 

Working with a Licensed Customs Broker can help you complete this task successfully and make sure that your pet food gets to where it needs to be in a timely fashion. Working with an experienced and dependable U.S. Licensed Customs Broker will help you avoid many costly mistakes that may occur if you try to do it alone.

When you encounter challenges or have questions during importing, it’s important to have a trusted and experienced partner by your side. Our Licensed Customs Brokers will answer all of your questions and provide you with the essential information that you need to succeed. We’re available and ready to help you have a positive experience when importing pet food to the U.S. 

We encourage you to get in touch with our team today so you can learn more about our services and make sure your imports are in good hands. 

30 Minute Licensed Expert Consulting Will Personally Guide You
Need Help Importing Pet Food to the U.S.?

Worried about the Strict Regulations? Ask Our Experts.

Our 30 Minute Licensed Expert Consulting Will Personally Guide You.

Contact our Licensed Expert Consultant >
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3 comments on “The Complete Guide to Importing Pet Food to the U.S.”

  1. Help Desk,

    We are a pet food manufacturer in Israel. We want to export some $5,000 USD of samples for testing in the US market. What certification is required? Can you help me through the steps?

    Thank you,
    Daniel Goldman

  2. dear All
    hello, found you in internet and my factory in China will have order for pet food (PET TREATS) , in above information , we have an issue about it , would you please kindly advise ..

    1) please kindly advise what doc. / audit needs in factory if produce the pet treat under USA requirement

  3. Hello sir/madem,
    We have been producing the dog chew (churpi) in Nepal .we want to directory sell it to the importer in USA so what are the necessary documents to export dog food from Nepal to USA
    Looking forward to hear from you
    Kind regards,

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