A Natural Defense

Natural flea and tick control products are flying off of pet store shelves as consumers seek safer alternatives for protecting their companion animals from common pests.


Pet owners’ increased need for flea and tick control products for their pets is proving quite lucrative for pet specialty retailers across the country, and the industry is getting a major infusion of natural options to meet this need safely and effectively.

Pet stores continue to see demand for flea and tick products grow year after year; and while this trend can partially be attributed to a general increase in dog and cat ownership, industry experts say that there are other forces at work as well. “With warmer weather globally, it seems that fleas and ticks are more prevalent than ever, especially fleas, which are starting to show up in parts of the country where they have seldom been seen before,” says Adelia Ritchie, Ph.D., founder and CEO of DERMagic Skin Care for Animals, Inc. As a result, she says, sales of over-the-counter flea medications reached approximately $4 billion last year and are expected to continue growing through 2014.

Steven Shweky, company president at Fetch… for pets!, also attributes some of the growth in the flea and tick category to changing environmental conditions, and points out that natural products within the category have been particularly successful. “The natural flea and tick control category is performing very well in pet stores,” he says. “Due to unique weather patterns hitting many parts of the country over the past couple of years, flea and tick populations have increased. For pet parents, flea and tick control has become a yearlong problem, instead of just a seasonal issue causing greater demand for flea and tick treatments.

“Natural flea and tick has specifically grown because consumers are becoming more educated and asking more questions about the ingredients in the products they’re applying to their pets. They are looking for products that are free of harsh chemicals and safe.”

To meet this demand, Fetch… for pets! offers a variety of natural flea and tick control products for both dogs and puppies under the OFF! Pets brand. The line includes sprays, shampoos, dips and towelletes, as well as multipurpose products that can be used both on a dog and throughout the home.

“All of the products feature essential oils like rose geranium, peppermint, lemongrass, thyme and cinnamon to repel flea and ticks naturally,” says Shweky. “OFF! Pets provides pet parents with a way to take on flea and tick infestations without using harsh chemicals. The line is effective yet still safe and gentle enough to use daily, allowing more frequent application over a wider area on the dog.”

Ritchie’s DERMagic brand has also benefited from pet owners who are becoming increasingly educated about chemical pesticides and the growing number of alternatives to those harsh chemicals. “Since we first introduced our all-natural flea and tick products, they have taken off, with sales increasing exponentially,” she says.

DERMagic offers two natural flea and tick control products. The company’s organic Diatomaceous Earth (DE) Flea Shampoo Bar wipes out fleas and ticks on a dog and deters them from jumping on, while DE Flea Dust safely kills fleas in the pet’s bedding, carpet, furniture and even on the pet itself.

“These products are all 100-percent organic, without chemicals or toxins of any kind,” says Ritchie. “Diatomaceous earth kills fleas and ticks on contact by ripping open their skin (chitin), causing dehydration and death, but it is completely harmless for animals and people—including children.”

With the rising demand among pet owners, it should come as no surprise that retailers are also becoming increasingly interested in natural flea and tick control products. That is certainly what Steve Thomas, owner of Thomas Labs, has observed. “As a manufacturer, a spike in new dealer inquiries and strong retail reorders tell us that natural, non-chemical flea and tick products represent an extremely strong category,” he explains. “And as retail customers are continuing to educate themselves about proven alternatives to traditional chemical-based pest products, this segment of pet health products continue to grow.”

In the natural flea and tick control category, Thomas Labs offers D/Earth Organic Diatomaceous Earth, D/Earth Plus - Nature’s Armor Topical and Nature’s Shield Oral Pest Barriers. The latter two products combine diatomaceous earth with other natural pest barriers such as brewer’s yeast and garlic, feed-grade sulfur and orange peel extract.

Selling Pest Control
While it is hard to miss the fact that natural flea and tick products are trending up in pet stores, what may be less obvious are some of the shifting preferences of pet owners. For example, Thomas says that more shoppers are looking to take a proactive, multi-pronged approach to pest control.

“One trend we have recognized is the consumers’ desire to safely treat the entire house and yard for pest control, or at least create a pest barrier to protect the area pets and people frequent, instead of localizing treatment to an infested pet after fleas and ticks have set up shop inside the home,” he says. ”Retailers should take the opportunity to educate consumers about the benefits of whole-house and whole-yard, non-chemical treatments by showcasing these products alongside, or even top shelf/front page positioning, to help drive consumer education and awareness.”

Retailers can also capitalize on this trend by building a well-rounded product assortment that offers pet owners options for all aspects of pest-control. “Retailers should stock an everyday full-line selection of flea and tick products to treat the yard, home and pet,” says Jeff Fowler, national sales manager for Natural Chemistry. “Also, it is highly recommended retailers not only create a section within the store, but also consider using secondary off-shelf displays to help create impulse purchases to help consumers plan for potential future problems they may encounter with fleas and ticks.”

Lorna Ladd, founder and chief marketing officer of EcoWellDog Inc., is another expert who suggests that retailers must take a multi-faceted approach to pest-control sales. “[Pet stores] should have a good mix of products that attack the problem from different angles,” she says, noting that such selection should include all-natural solutions, traditional products, sprays, powders, topical, shampoos and oral supplements.

Ladd also urges retailers to remember to include products to treat fleabites, such as anti-itch treatments and oatmeal shampoos. “Even after the flea manifestation is taken care of, dogs with flea allergy dermatitis will continue to suffer from the flea bite,” she says.

EcoWellDog Inc. is the manufacturer of two popular natural flea and tick control products. Flea the Scene by happytails is a topical spray that utilizes an all-natural proprietary blend of ingredients to keep mosquitoes fleas and ticks away for up to four hours. It also contains an all-natural sunscreen. Outdoor Shampoo & Conditioner by Dirty & Hairy is infused with citronella, to protect pets from pests without using any harsh chemicals. Unlike many other citronella-based products, Outdoor Shampoo & Conditioner by Dirty & Hairy does not have a strong odor.

With the trend toward treating not only the pet, but its living space as well, Shweky is seeing a growing demand for increased functionality with pest-control products. “Consumers are looking for dual-purpose items, like shampoos with flea and tick fighting abilities, or products that can be used both on the dog and throughout the house,” he says. “In addition, consumers are drawn to natural products that can be used with greater frequency and in conjunction conventional pest-control products as an additional layer of protection.

“To capitalize on these trends, it is critical that retailers and their employees are educated on them. Many consumers are confused about the best treatment options available. It important that retailers are able to explain what’s available, the product’s ingredients, and how products work.”

According to Fowler, a retailer’s ability to help pet owners navigate the many available pest-control options is critical to the success of both the customer and the business. “The store personnel should be well educated on the brands and treatments offered and should suggest to their customers the importance of treating the yard, home and pet to rid themselves of flea and tick problems,” he says. “All too often, consumers purchase a product to treat the pet, and they need to treat the home and yard as well. Store personnel suggesting these additional items will help increase the sales volume for the store and help the customer solve the problem.”

Natural Chemistry offers a full line of natural solutions to treat the yard, home and pet. The company’s products are made in the USA by the company (not outsourced). They also do not contain synthetics or chemicals, and are safe and effective on puppies and kittens.

While she agrees that being educated on the nuts and bolts of natural flea and tick control is important, Ladd believes that store staff should go a step further and learn as much as possible about a shopper’s particular situation. “In addition to understanding how to treat flea and tick manifestations, staff should be aware of any local variations to the problem,” she says. “[For example,] is there is a different kind of tick in that area that needs to be handled or treated differently? The employee should also question if the dog is prone to allergies or itchy skin. If so, they should sell after-care products to deal with the itchy skin from flea bites.”

Bobbi Panter, president and founder of Bobbi Panter Pet Products, is another big proponent of staff education and says that nothing beats first-hand experience in this regard. Bobbi Panter Pet Products’ Charlie Dog all-natural flea and tick shampoo utilizes high levels of clove oil, cedarwood oil, citronella and lavender oil to kill and repel pests on pets of all ages.  “It is helpful if they can use the products themselves, so they can speak from experience,” she says. “[They should] at least talk to someone who has used them like a groomer or creator of the product. I use Charlie Dog all the time on [my dogs] Bebe and Cece because we spend a lot of time in Florida where the fleas are terrible. When I talk about my natural flea and tick shampoo, I not only tell my personal experience with it, but I also share many experiences of people that have used it and love it. They should also know the benefits of the natural product over the traditional counterparts.

“What is very different about my products is that I do not use salt to thicken my products, so the oils are actually allowed to penetrate the skin and fur and work to kill and repel because the oils remain in the skin,” adds Panter. 

Of course, any conversation about natural pest control with uninitiated pet owners is bound to include questions about whether or not natural products are as effective as traditional, chemical-based options. While Dwight W. Holcomb, president and CEO of LifePet Organic, Inc., concedes that chemical-based treatments can be more effective, he points out that this effectiveness can come at a steep cost.

“There are no ‘natural’ products that can possibly compete with the efficacy of a highly toxic chemical,” says Holcomb. “If customers use a spot-on treatment, where one drop lasts up to 30 days, be sure that there are no ‘all-natural’ or organic means of providing results that last that long. Retailers should educate consumers of the dangers that exist in using harsh, toxic chemicals, which can achieve these long-lasting, extremely aggressive results. 

“There is usually some form of trade-off in safety versus effectiveness that consumers need to consider when using products that come in direct contact with their pets, their children, or themselves.”

LifePet Organic Inc. carries the PureVet line of all-natural flea and tick control, which is also sold under the PetLife Organic brand, EcoShield. LifePet uses an FDA food-grade cedar oil to effectively kill fleas and ticks and contains no harsh or harmful chemicals to threaten the environment, pets, waterways or families. 

Whether a pet owner decides to go the all-natural or traditional route in pest control, the retailer’s role is to provide as much information as possible about all of the options, and let them make the right decision for their particular situation. “We understand that a flea or tick infestation is frightening and needs to be dealt with immediately, but we also understand that consumers would like a natural, non-chemical way to prevent an infestation from ever happening,” says Thomas. “The goal of our alternative, natural pest control products is not to become the only tool used when an infestation has already occurred, but to give the consumer more choices and valuable options, depending on the level of infestation, and to help pet owners control all areas of their home and yard with family and pet friendly non-chemical alternatives.”

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