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Can You Start a Dog Treat Business from Home?

if you have a dog treat business, you'll need to test them to see if pups love them

Most people can’t resist slipping a table scrap or two to their pooch. In fact, some dogs eat as well as, if not better than, their people. So, if dogs often eat people food and you can start a people food business from home, can you start a dog food or dog treat business from home too?

The short answer is maybe. In the US, dog food is regulated differently than people food. So, if you want to start a dog treat business, you’ll have to follow a different set of rules. And, in some states, you can start a dog treat business from home but in other states, you cannot. (You’d have to go lease a commercial space.)

We suspect that most people reading this article are interested in starting a dog treat business instead of a cat treat business or a dog or cat food business. So, dog treat is the term we’ll use most in this article. But the rules below are for all pet food, which include all pet treats. If, after reading this article, you wish to do more research, you’ll find the right government rules and regulations by searching for the terms pet food or animal feed.

Note that this article is focused on US laws and regulations. If you live in a different country, be sure to check your country’s laws to find the real answer.

Let’s take a closer look at the US rules.

Which Government Agencies Regulate Dog Treats?

In the US, both the federal government and state governments regulate dog treats. At the federal level, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the safety of all pet food. Each state also has specific rules for pet food.

So, to start a dog treat business, you’ll have to follow both federal and state regulations.

Which Aspects of a Dog Treat Business Does the FDA Oversee?

At the highest level, the FDA is responsible for making sure dog treats are safe, properly manufactured, and adequately labeled. This means that the treat must be:

  • Safe to eat
  • Made under sanitary conditions
  • Does not contain harmful substances
  • Truthfully labeled

One of the most important laws that gives the FDA its authority to regulate pet food is called the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA). A lot of the FDA’s regulations related to pet food came from this law. These regulations include:

  • Requiring pet food manufacturing facilities to register with the FDA
  • Requiring a set of processes to identify points in the manufacturing process where harmful materials can contaminate the food and then setting up control points in the process to reduce or eliminate the risks. (This process is known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, or HACCP.)
  • Inspecting pet food processing facilities to ensure compliance
  • Ensuring imported foods are safe and comply with US laws
  • Requiring facilities to set up a recall process
  • Working with state and local authorities to achieve all FSMA goals

Here’s the FDA page that gives the details on its responsibilities for pet food under FSMA. Note the section towards the end that gives additional resources for small businesses. These links can be quite useful if you need to do additional research.

How Does the FDA Work with State and Local Authorities to Regulate Dog Treat Businesses?

Although the FDA has the overall authority to regulate pet food, it gets a lot of help from state and local governments to carry out the details. State inspectors often help the FDA inspect manufacturing facilities. As well, although the FDA has some general requirements for pet food labeling, each state has its own detailed rules that expand on these general requirements.

So, if you start a dog treat business, you’ll more likely to be working with state officials than FDA officials on a day-to-day basis.

At the state level, you’ll usually have to register your facility and sometimes you’ll have to register and/or be approved for each product you sell. In fact, you’ll have to register in some way with every state in order to sell your dog treats into that state.

This might not be an issue for very small businesses doing business in one or two states. But, as you grow, it can get complicated (and expensive) if you plan to sell nationwide.

Pet Food Labeling, AAFCO, and the FDA

So far, we haven’t talked about pet food labeling. Figuring out how to follow pet food labeling laws is a very big item for new dog treat businesses.

AAFCO Model Regulations

When it comes to pets, most people first think of cats and dogs. But there are a lot of other types of pets too: fish, birds, rabbits, snakes, hamsters, turtles, and so much more. Each type of pet will have its own food, which will require specific labeling.

Traditionally, the FDA has left it to the states’ agriculture department to set detailed rules for animal feed. This meant that, if you’re a dog treat business, you’d have to deal with each state’s pet food labeling laws before you can sell into that state. Tracking the laws can be pretty daunting.

Enter AAFCO, which stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officials. This is a group made of FDA officials, state officials, and industry representatives. Together, they worked out something called the Model Regulations for Pet Food and Specialty Pet Food (Model Regulations). The Model Regulations is a set of best practices that satisfies the pet food labeling regulations of every state.

If you intend to sell your dog treat to multiple states, the Model Rules is a worthwhile investment. Alternatively, you can look up your state’s pet food labeling rules and maybe the rules of the other states that you intent to sell into and make sure your label fits all their requirements.

We recommend you generally look through the AAFCO website, since it contains a lot of great information on what you’ll need to do to start a dog treat business.

The AAFCO Best Practice Pet Food Label

In general, the Model Regulations set out eight items every pet food label should contain. They are:

  • Product name
  • Pet species
  • Quantity per container
  • Guaranteed analysis
  • Ingredients list
  • Statement of nutritional adequacy (if required)
  • Feeding directions (if required)
  • Name and address of manufacturer or distributor

See this FDA page for an expanded explanation of each. But, to get all the detailed requirements, it’s best to just buy the AAFCO Model Rules. At this writing, it costs $200.

You Can Start a Home-Based Dog Treat Businesses, but Only in Some States

The FDA’s authority to regulate pet food comes from the same law as its authority to regulate people food. And that law defines facility as a place that’s not a residence. So, if you make people food or pet food from a home kitchen, you don’t have to register with the FDA (see p. 7 of the PDF) or open your home to their inspection.

On its face, this sounds like great news. Most state laws forbid commercial food of any sort to be made from home, but they also all have cottage food laws that carve out an exception. Do states have cottage food laws for dog treats too?

Unfortunately, there are no cottage food laws for pet foods. But some states will let you start a dog treat business from home. Other states will not. So, whether or not you can start a dog treat business from home depends entirely on where you live.

Here’s a quick rundown of the pet food laws for the four most populous states:


You cannot make pet food or treats from a home kitchen. To manufacture pet food, you have to do it from a commercial kitchen.

You’ll also have to have a Pet Food Processor License and submit a sample label for each food you plan to make. The licensing fee as of this writing is $290. Visit this page for detailed information. Note the information sheet specifically says if you follow AAFCO labeling rules, you’ll be fine.


In Texas, pet food and pet treats are regulated by the Office of the Texas State Chemist. Rules related to pet foods can be found here.

To start a dog treat business, you’ll have to pay a one-time facility licensing fee of $75. Then, for each type of dog treat, you’ll have to pay a registration fee of $50 per product per year. (This is the fee for products sold in five pounds or less containers, which would be appropriate for pet treats. There is a different, per product per ton fee for products sold in larger containers.)

We could not find anything that affirmatively says pet food can be made in a home kitchen. So, following the broadest rule we found, we assume you can’t start a dog treat business from home, in Texas.


In Florida, pet food and pet treats are regulated by its Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. There isn’t a lot of information on the webpage related to animal feeds, which also include pet foods and pet treats.

You must be licensed to make pet feed in order to make pet food in Florida. The yearly fee is based on the tonnage of food sold the previous year.

As far as we can tell, in Florida, you cannot start a dog treat business from home.

New York

If you live in New York state and want to make and sell pet treats, you’re in luck. You can make them from your home kitchen. But note you can’t make pet meals (i.e. food that a pet can eat day in and day out and contains all nutrients needed to survive) from home.

You’ll have to register each product with the Department of Agriculture and Markets. As of this writing, the fee is $100 per product.

You can sell your dog treats over the internet. Visit this page for more detailed information, including labeling requirements.

FDA Small Business Exemptions for Dog Treat Businesses

Whether you live in a state that lets you start a dog treat business from home or you’ve simply decided to lease a commercial kitchen, your small business might be exempt from other FDA regulations.

One of FDA’s biggest responsibilities is to register and inspect each pet food manufacturing facility. However, the FDA won’t inspect your facility if you’re a small or very small business (p.7 of PDF). Instead, you have the option to:

  • Have a state inspector inspect your facility, or
  • Self-monitor with a HACCP plan.

To qualify as a small or very small business, you must either:

  • Have less than $2.5M in sales or
  • More than 50% of your pet food business must be retail and you must have total annual sales of less than $500,000.

For most small pet treat businesses, you’re more likely to fall under the second category than the first.

To qualify for this exemption, along with your FDA facility registration, you’ll file another document attesting that you qualify as a small or very small business.

It Can be Expensive to Start a Dog Treat Business, so Make Sure the Pups Really Love Your Food Before You Start

Lots of people have pets, and they treat their pets very well. This means the pet food and pet treats industry can be a lucrative one. But, because of the scattered laws that regulate pet food and pet treats, starting a pet treat business can be harder than starting a people food business.

For one, you may not be able to start the business from your home kitchen. Having to lease commercial space immediately increases your overhead. Coupled with the fact that most pets can’t tell you which treat they prefer over others, starting a pet treat business is also riskier than starting a people food business.

Given the above, and if you still want to start a dog treat business, we think you should do extensive research on the treat before you start down this path. Maybe you have lots of dogs. Or know people who do. Or know many people who each own a dog or two. Test your dog treat on the pooches, if their people will allow it.

You might have to spend a lot of time and money to perfect the formula for your dog treat. But that’s still lower overhead and lower risk than leasing commercial space for five years, buying manufacturing equipment, and then having to adjust your formula for better results.

So, our advice for starting a dog treat business is to approach it with caution if you live in a state where you can’t start a pet treats business from home. But don’t give up on your dreams. After all, where there is will, there is often a way.

Next Step

These days, one of the best ways to start a small business is to sell over the internet. Of course, there might be restrictions for certain products in certain states (see some of the cottage food laws in certain states). But, for most products, you can start selling with little to no overhead. Our next series of articles are going to be on how to sell products over the internet through a few popular sellers’ platforms.

Interested in starting and running a small business? Here’s the beginning of our step-by-step guide: What to do right after getting that great business idea.

DISCLAIMER: This article does not constitute legal or accounting advice. Instead, it contains general information. The information gives you the background you’ll need to hit the ground running when you do go get advice from a lawyer or accountant. Only lawyers and accountants properly licensed in your state/country are qualified to give you legal or accounting advice.

Questions? Comments?