Retailers can support the growing awareness of the need for at-home oral care by providing a range of effective products to suit every pet and lifestyle.
While few pet owners revel in the idea of brushing their dog or cat’s teeth, awareness of the importance of dental health is growing—and with it, the success of oral care products. By embracing this category, retailers can support the well-being of pets and find new opportunities to grow sales and build trust with their customers.
As many in the pet industry know, periodontal disease is extremely common among both cats and dogs and can cause serious health problems if left unaddressed. While many pets previously didn’t receive regular at-home oral care, Glenn Novotny, owner of Emerald Pet, observes that more pet owners are coming around to the idea of dental care as an essential part of the daily routine.
“Addressing both dog and cat oral care is becoming a part of veterinarian education right from the start for new pet owners,” Novotny says.
Additionally, many pets now have the privilege of sharing couches and beds with their families, inadvertently bringing more attention to the state of their oral health.
“The growth is partly due to pet guardians desire to be as physically close to their pets as possible—actually in each other’s faces,” Susan Weiss, founder of Ark Naturals, explains. As she points out, bad breath becomes a lot more apparent to owners when they are quite close to their pets’ mouths on a regular basis.
The industry has responded by expanding the number and variety of products available to help keep pets’ teeth in good shape. Numerous brands, such as Petsmile, which produces a Veterinary Oral Health Council-approved pet toothpaste, now offer a range of brushing solutions, with a variety of toothpaste flavors and brushing tools. Dental health-focused treats are also on the rise, providing a hands-off oral care option for busy pet owners.
“The dental category is one of, if not the fastest growing segment in the snacks and treats category,” says Jeff Camosci, vice president of sales and marketing, North America, for Paragon Pet Products, which produces WHIMZEES, a natural dental health dog chew. “The growth of this emerging category is due to increased education and accessible information that the pet parents can access on the importance of regular oral care.”
As Camosci notes, while regular brushing is still the gold standard for maintaining pets’ dental health, treat and chews like WHIMZEES can provide a helpful complement that requires much less time and effort on the part of the pet owner. Retailers have to help customers find the right solution for their pets. For some, brushing may not be an option, so it is crucial to be able to suggest useful alternatives to fit their lifestyle and pet. Products that have a measurable impact quickly can help secure customers’ faith in the category and encourage them to invest further in dental care solutions.
“Offering products that contain breath-freshening, natural ingredients helps satisfy the need for noticeable results,” Novotny suggests. “Consumers are more likely to put their pet on a daily routine when they have noticed an instant change in breath odors.”
Retailers also have to ensure that they are choosing only the best and most effective products for their stores. There is a wealth of options on the market, but some don’t live up to their claims, potentially leaving customers disillusioned with at-home dental care efforts. Retailers have a responsibility to their customers to carefully vet the products in their oral care selection, as pet owners who invest in an ineffective product may abandon the category entirely.
“We see more and more oral care options out there—some that work, some that don’t,” says Andrew Groth, president of PetzLife. “If it is a more affordable price, and an easier solution, people tend to try it. When these products don’t work, they give up on the option of an oral care solution because they must all not work.”
To ensure they are offering a high-quality assortment, retailers need to educate themselves about the types of products on the market, learn about the different kinds of active ingredients and investigate any claims manufacturers make about their products.
“Clients trust their retailer to provide them with quality,” Groth says. “Make sure that the quality is there. Then make sure the company stands by the retailer’s investment in them.”
However, Weiss recommends that retailers look to other sources as well in learning about dental care in order to effectively evaluate products before recommending them to customers.
“I think manufacturers have to educate, but I also think that retailers can’t be totally dependent on what the manufacturers tell them,” she says. “Retailers must read and learn independently of what the manufacturer tells them about their products.”
Several trends within the category are growing as pet owners learn more about the importance of oral care. For dental treats and chews, Camosci says pet parents are reading ingredient labels and seeking out grain-free and limited-ingredient options. As Todd Shappart, regional sales manager for Pet King Brands, mentions, products that are recommended by veterinarians and multi-purpose products are also growing in popularity.
Because the oral care category is still growing, and many consumers may not be familiar with the products on offer, education and effective displays are essential for retail success.
“Retailers should prominently place oral care at the front of the store for increased visibility and encourage employee education on the different types of products,” Shappart says. “They should be asking manufacturers for tools to educate staff and also ask for validation of some claims.”
Store staff should be well-informed about the different features of the products on the shelves. Retailers can also request additional informational materials from manufacturers that can be handed out to customers.
“Retailers should have a video, flyer or a sample of the oral care product to provide to their customer, so they are well-educated about the product,” says Lucia Smigel, CEO of Petsmile. “This allows them to make an educated decision about their purchase.”
When merchandising dental treats and chews, Novotny recommends separating them out from these general sections in the store to better call attention to the products’ oral health benefits. This is especially important in the cat treat section to help build awareness of dental treat options for cat owners.
When talking to customers about their pets’ dental health and the product options available to them, retailers should remember that oral care is about more than just preventing bad breath. Just like with humans, oral health can impact other aspects of a pet’s health and should not be taken lightly.
“Brushing a dog’s teeth can be daunting task to many pet-parents, but just like with humans, dental health is so important for a pet’s health and long term care,” Camosci says. “Retailers play a critical role in helping educate pet parents about the importance of daily oral care, and helping customers choose the best products that complement a healthy lifestyle.”