Achieving a Cheshire Smile
Good oral hygiene is just as important for cats as it is for people-and pet owners are becoming more educated on exactly how much of an impact oral care can have on felines.
The eyes may be known as the window to the soul—but a cat’s mouth is the key to good health. Poor dental health can lead to serious health problems, including heart, lung and kidney disease.
“Good oral care is important for a pet’s overall health,” says Caryn Stichler, vice president of marketing at Sergeant’s Pet Care Products.
For cats, proper oral hygiene is critical as a preventative measure with cats—Stichler points out that cats are taken to the veterinarian less frequently than dogs, which means problems are less likely to be caught early. Effective and regular oral hygiene, however, can prevent the issue before it even occurs.
Fortunately, the benefits of healthy teeth and gums are becoming more widely known. “Cat owners are becoming more aware of the importance of good oral hygiene for the health of their cat,” says David Goldberg, president of Petkin Inc. This awareness has led to a slow but steady growth of sales in the feline oral care category, experts agree.
Today that category includes oral sprays, gels, pet chews, soft chew toys, water additives, toothpaste and toothbrushes, and retailers should expect their options in this category to continue to grow. “As the importance of proper oral health care becomes more understood, there has been—and will be—a growth in this area, with new products coming to market,” says Henry Dinneen, marketing director of PetzLife Products.
Still, not everyone understands how beneficial clean teeth can be. “General awareness of the impact of poor oral health on pets is expanding, but still lags behind many other categories of pet health,” says Stichler.
Further, she says, cat owners generally lag behind dog owners in awareness—but retailers can help. “Retailers should be prepared to supply educational materials to better educate their customers on dental health benefits,” she adds.
For those cat owners who haven’t thought much about the significance of kitty’s oral health, it tends to take very little to education to create a convert. People understand the need for oral care for themselves, so it is not hard for them to grasp that the same concept applies to their cats.
Yet, that isn’t the only challenge when it comes to selling oral-care products. Often, when cat owners become aware of the importance of good dental health, it’s because there is already a problem—and most of the time that means they are no longer dealing with a kitten. “Dental health is best started at an early age when the pet is more open to the new experience of tooth cleaning,” says Stichler.
That’s especially true of cats, says Joe Zuccarello, national accounts sales manager at TropiClean. “Cats are typically far less tolerant than dogs when it comes to toothbrushes,” he says.
One way retailers can help cat owners is by selecting products based on both their effectiveness and ease of use—the easier the product is for pet owners to use, the more likely they are to do so regularly. Since brushing can be difficult to introduce, it is essential that retailers stock other oral-care products that can be used instead of brushing or until the cat is more accustomed to having its teeth brushed. “An educated retailer can and should recommend teeth cleaning treats, water additives, and oral-care sprays and gels that are easy to administer,” says Dinneen.
“Be sure to offer many options,” agrees Goldberg.
As for effectiveness, Dinneen says one of the most helpful tips PetzLife offers retailers is to test products on their own pets. “They learn firsthand the ease of application and what works best for them,” he explains. “They are, therefore, comfortable and confident passing along their personal first-hand experience to their customers.” And in sales, nothing beats first-hand testimonial.
Merchandising and Education
Despite the growing number of cat-specific oral-care products on the market, cats’ teeth are still more likely to be overlooked than those of a canine companion. “Quite simply, owners do not see cats’ teeth as readily as dogs’, and halitosis in dogs is more apparent because they tend to open their mouths more and are generally larger animals,” says Dinneen.
Retailers can help raise awareness by offering cat owners educational materials and by placing these products in prominent positions. Educational information can be made available in point-of-purchase materials, endcap displays, as handouts, or even through in-store educational seminars. February is pet dental month, making it the perfect time to show the category special attention, but it’s important for retailers to call out this category during other times of the year as well.
“Although retailers must deal with limited floor space, the existence of ‘special sections’ devoted to oral care will increase awareness,” says Dinneen.
These designated sections can be within the larger healthcare category or in strategic cross-merchandising positions. “The traditional placement would be with general healthcare items,” says Stichler. “But additional locations near food and litter can drive sales in this category for consumers who typically would not visit the health sections of the store.”
Dental treats can be merchandised both in a dental-care-specific section, as well as with the regular treats selection. Stichler says this segment of the category, in particular, has been growing. “This initially built in the dog market and is now appearing in the cat market,” she says.
Retailers should be choosy about the dental treats they stock to ensure that these products live up to their claims. Talk to manufacturers about how they developed their products and the specific dental benefits these items offer before stocking them. Retailers should also pay attention to palatability. After all, if a cat is going to spit the product out or fight its owner when it comes time to clean their teeth, the product is less likely to be used and therefore less likely to be effective.
For retailers that have yet to offer dental products, there’s no time like the present. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has recently updated its requirements for accredited veterinary hospitals when it come to oral care, making the category more important than ever.
The AAHA and the American Veterinary Dental College requires AAHA-accredited hospitals or those aspiring to gain accreditation to anesthetize and intubate patients undergoing any dental procedures, including cleanings.
“In view of this mandate, proper oral care between anesthesia cleanings makes such procedures easier for the veterinarian and less traumatic for the pet,” says Dinneen. Keeping teeth clean at home can help make such cleanings less frequent, proving that a penny of prevention is worth a pound of cure.