First, Do No Harm
Although it should go without saying, given what's at stake, pet retailers cannot afford to make a mistake when it comes to giving customers advice on pet nutrition.
A couple of weeks ago, a colleague forwarded me a link to this web article on petMD, which details the disturbing experience of a dog owner who went into his local pet store for some advice on how to relieve his four-legged friend's chronic itching. Unsurprisingly, a store associate suggested that the dog may be suffering from a food allergy and recommended a limited-ingredient diet—advice that has probably been doled out countless times in pet stores across the country over the past few years. While, in many cases, such a recommendation would prove beneficial to the pet, owner and store, in the instance described in the petMD article, it turned out to be quite dangerous. Apparently, the dog in question suffered from diabetes, and the change to a new diet caused a spike in its blood sugar level. Luckily, the spike was quickly detected and addressed by the dog's veterinarian, so tragedy was averted.
There is an important lesson here for pet specialty retailers, many of which count the ability to provide customers with nutritional counciling for their pets as a major competitive strength. No pet care advice should ever be dispensed without a first having a full understanding of an animal's unique situation. It seems pretty clear that, in this instance, the store associate did not know the dog in question was being treated for diabetes, or else the customer would have (hopefully) been referred to a veterinarian. Not inquiring about any ongoing health issues was a big mistep that could have ended tragically for all involved.