Veterinarians aren’t the only ones in the pet healthcare business–retailers have a great deal to offer cat owners looking to safeguard their cats’ health.
Pet owners have to acquire a basic knowledge of the physical development, developmental changes and ongoing needs of their pet to help ensure optimum health and longevity for the family feline. For the pet specialty retailer, this translates into year-round sales opportunities in almost every segment of the cat department, as cat owners seek the information and products they need to keep their felines fit and healthy.
Nearly every cat product category in some way correlates to a cat’s wellbeing, but when looking at overall feline healthcare, a good starting point is nutrition. A good feline diet is essential. Be sure your customers know the obvious–cats should be fed cat food, which is nutritionally different from dog food.
There are many premium feline diets for customers to choose from that provide excellent nutrition. There are also a host of specialty diets, which address issues such as obesity and hairball control, and meet specific needs for cats in various life-stages.
These days, many cat owners are scrutinizing the quality of the ingredients in cat food, having made the connection between high-quality ingredients and quality nutrition. The basics in a quality feline diet include high protein, high fat, minerals, vitamins and water. Meat should be listed on the label as the first ingredient. A diet with an abundance of fillers, such as wheat and rice, should usually be avoided.
A good feline diet will also have a high taurine content. For cats, taurine is an indispensable amino acid required for the formation of biliary salts, which are necessary for digestion of fats. The domestic feline relies on its dietary intake of this amino acid, found only in animal ingredients and not found in vegetable products. Feline diets should also have a low-magnesium and low-ash content to protect against urinary tract health disorders.
Though not quite as important as providing a complete nutritionally balanced diet, supplements play an important role in achieving and sometimes maintaining a cat’s health. There are several types of supplements to consider carrying in the cat aisle. Dietary supplements usually contain one essential nutrient or a combination of several nutrients. Supplements providing additional vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, calcium and taurine–all important for the overall wellbeing for the domestic cat–are usually available in various forms: powders, pills, capsules and liquids.
Some supplements are formulated to have a therapeutic effect, addressing specific health needs or issues. Examples include glucosamine for joint relief and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to maintain healthy joints and flexibility. Prebiotic and probiotic powders help promote a healthy digestive tract in cats, and cranberry supplements are viable options for supporting a healthy urinary tract and immune system.
The real question here is: When should a cat be given supplements? Considering all premium cat diets are nutritionally balanced, most cats will not need dietary supplements. However, a cat that has been on a dog food diet or a low-quality cat food diet or that has been heavily infested with parasites is definitely a prime candidate to have a supplement added to its diet. Sick, convalescing, pregnant or lactating cats will also benefit from supplements.
There are several other categories in the cat aisle that address a host of health-related issues. Each one plays a significant role in ensuring the health of the family cat.
• Grooming is important for all cats. Brushing and combing a cat’s fur removes dead hair and improves the condition of the coat. Be sure to inventory a good selection of brushes and combs that are appropriate for a variety of different types of cats.
• Dental-care products include toothpaste, toothbrushes, dental rinse and some varieties of cat treats. Studies show that 70 percent of cats have signs of gum disease by age three. Dental care products are a necessity for proper healthcare.
• Hairball control can be implemented in a variety of ways with a variety of different products in the cat isle. Grooming products, fiber supplements, specialty diets and laxative pastes can all play a part in preventing and controlling hairballs. And of course, plenty of good clean water is a must. Both water fountains or coolerstyle bowls encourage drinking from a fresh source of circulating water.
• It almost goes without saying that parasites can be harmful to a feline’s health. Parasites rob essential nutrients from their hosts. It is that straight forward. Wormers and flea and tick products should always be available year around. Remind your staff and customers that flea and tick control also includes the outside environment.
• Exercise is vital for all of us, including our pets. In the cat department, a great toy selection will encourage exercise, stretching, movement and play. Cat furniture, condos and towers, window shelves, scratching posts, and almost anything that encourages jumping will benefit a cat’s health.
• A clean environment is a healthy environment. Conversely, a non-clean environment will invite disease, bacteria, mold, viral and parasitic guests. Cleanliness in and around the litter box, sleeping quarters, and other places in the house the cat frequents is key. Here again, keeping an odor-free home for Felix will require numerous products from the cat aisle. Clean litter, litter scoops, liners, filters, sprays, disinfectants, stain and odor removers are just a few.
Prevention is the first line of defense for most feline illnesses and health issues. Along with routine veterinary care, the advice your customers receive in your store about the products they need, will arm them with the knowledge they require to maintain the health of the family cat for years to come.
John Tyson is a freelance writer and photographer who resides in Houston, Texas. He has 20 years combined experience in the pet industry as a multi-store owner, general manager and industry journalist.