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HMRC internal manual

VAT Food

Excepted items: pet food and wild bird food: what is a pet?


There is no definition in the VAT Act of what constitutes a pet. However, in the appeal of Pope’s Lane Pet Food (MAN/86/0148), the tribunal offered its own definition: In my judgement a pet is an animal (tamed if it was originally wild) which is kept primarily as an object of affection, in which I would include an animal kept primarily for ornament.

On the basis of this definition we can identify a number of animal species as pet species in that all, or the great majority, of individuals of that species are kept and reared as objects of affection. Pet species are listed in Notice 701/15, Food for animals.

Other species, including most farm animals, can clearly be identified as non-pets, in that individuals are rarely or never kept as pets.

The case of Supreme Petfoods Limited (TC00896) considered whether for VAT purposes ferrets were pets. The appellant was arguing that ferrets were not pets, therefore, since the food they sold for ferrets was not marketed as pet food, it must be eligible for zero-rating. The Tribunal ruled that the appellant did not prove that the classification of ferrets as a pet species was incorrect, so the food held out for sale for feeding to ferrets was standard-rated as pet food.

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Borderline between pets and food species

Between these extremes are what we could call mixed species, animals which are sometimes kept as pets, and sometimes as food or working animals, or simply left in the wild. For example, working dogs or rabbits would fall within this category (for policy on rabbit food, refer to VFOOD8560). For the policy on working dogs, refer to the remainder of this page and VFOOD8560.

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Working dogs

In their original drafting of the law, Customs and Excise assumed that dogs would be seen as a pet species, and food for dogs would automatically be seen as pet food. However, this concept was not accepted by the tribunal, who cited the large number of dogs who are kept as working animals rather than as pets. Specifically, in the case of Pope’s Lane Pet Food Supplies, the tribunal picked out sheepdogs, police dogs, guard dogs, gun dogs, racing greyhounds and a pack of hounds as examples of dogs which are not pets. Therefore not all food for dogs is standard-rated. See VFOOD8560.