Health on the Shelf

As pet owners become more proactive about the health of their pets, they look to pet store aisles for solutions to common concerns.


Every major drug store chain and supermarket has them: over-the-counter remedies to soothe, heal or alleviate just about any minor ailment one can suffer from–no prescription or doctor’s visit necessary. Analgesics, supplements, first aid and all other health-related categories are big business in the human market. And so goes the trend in the pet industry.

Admittedly, not many pet specialty retailers designate a so-called “healthcare” aisle, and it’s not a clearly delineated category of the pet market. Still, this loosely formed segment of the market packs a powerful punch, encompassing a wide cross-section of product categories that range from first-aid products to nutritional supplements to skin, ear and coat treatments–in short, anything that affects a pet’s health.

“[The healthcare segment] is gaining more attention,” says Tony Piconke, of Nurtured Pets, which makes health and wellness products, including Anti-Lick Strips bandages and NurturSalve, designed to soothe and soften paw pads, chapped noses and minor abrasions. “Pet stores never paid any attention to it in the past. There might have been a little section in the back of the store for these types of products. Now entire aisles are full of healthcare products.”

Piconke is not alone in his assessment. Manufacturers concur that several forces are coming together to propel growth of these product categories. For one, more pet owners are increasingly hands-on and knowledgeable about caring for their animals. Meanwhile, manufacturers flood the market continuously with innovative products to address age-old problems.

Manufacturers from various product categories are doing their part to help consumers circumvent the once-inevitable trip to the vet’s office to solve relatively minor problems that are now treatable at home. Pet King Brands, the makers of Zymox Enzymatic Dermatology products, is among the companies who understand and cater to consumers’ need to conveniently and effectively treat minor pet ailments.

“Healthcare products for pets have undergone a great evolution,” says Deborah Brown, vice president, Pet King Brands.  “There are more products to choose from, more available over the counter, as well as more products crossing over from the human market.”

Many pet owners are also looking to avoid using prescription drugs when there is a more natural option available at the pet store. Steve Thomas, president and owner of Thomas Labs, which specializes in natural nutritional supplements and enzyme therapy for animals, says people don’t always find the answers they’re looking for in the vet’s office.

“They want good products that are cost effective,” he says. “They want to solve problems. [Often] they go to the vet, it’s expensive, and they just don’t see results.”

The flea and tick category, in particular, is an area where a sizable segment of the pet-owning population actively seeks out natural alternatives for combating this everyday problem. 

“Increased awareness of harmful or harsh chemicals is feeding a natural product trend,” says Mike Mocker, brand manager for Vet’s Best, which makes healthcare and grooming products for dogs, cats and small animals, including a natural flea and tick treatment line. “Traditional pesticide flea and tick treatments have always been viewed as a necessary evil but today there are more effective natural options for consumers.”

The issues pet owners are tackling range in severity, but even when dealing with seemingly less urgent issues, consumers still want effective, safe products that they can find on store shelves.

“Over the last few years, I believe that consumers, due to the recession and high unemployment, are being more proactive when it comes to their pet’s hygiene and overall health,” says Lisa Burns, CEO and founder of Eye Envy, a brand of topically applied tear-stain remover for dogs and cats, made with all-natural human-grade ingredients.

“Simple things, such as eye cleaning, teeth cleaning and ear cleaning, can save them hundreds of dollars in vet bills, not to mention less pain and suffering to their beloved pets.”

Educated Consumers
Consumers are just as discriminating about the nutritional products they buy for their pets, including supplements. As people become savvier about the potential advantages of taking supplements themselves, they tend to apply the same principles to caring for their pets.

“The market trends toward more natural products, obviously created by more demands for these products, have changed a large part of the pet health-care products, so all-natural is now almost main stream,” says  Harald Fisker, president of Grizzly Pet Products, a manufacturer of all-natural supplements for dogs, cats and horses.

The only caveat when it comes to healthcare-related products, say manufacturers, is that both retailers and pet owners need to be discriminating buyers who read and scrutinize labels, product claims and ingredients.

With new products hitting the market seemingly every day, it’s a race to keep up with the constant influx, but it is a worthwhile effort. Fisker advises retailers to familiarize themselves with the healthcare products they sell and understand how and why they work–and then, don’t forget, he says, to stay on top of the latest introductions.

“They should start with what they have in house and then look for new innovative products that solve problems,” he says.

Mocker adds that while strides have been made in the industry to impose some oversight and regulatory might to the natural products arena, consumers still need to be on guard.

“The fact remains that there is still a large gap in the quality of active ingredients being used even in natural products,” Mocker says.  “ This has a large impact on efficacy–via poor absorbency of nutrients, insignificant quantities, fillers, etc. So, it is still very important to use brands that you have researched and can trust.”

Still, manufacturer reps say, by all means, the market for healthcare products presents ample opportunities for retailers and plenty of helpful, effective and healthy options for consumers.

“Overall, because there are more choices,” says Burns, “there is greater access to higher-quality, more effective products. Pets are living longer, healthier, more comfortable lives.”

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