Small Solutions

The health of small pets is a big concern to pet parents, and they rely on manufacturers and retailers to work together to provide supplements that maximize the health of these little guys.




Consumers are searching for solutions that will help small animals lead longer, more comfortable and healthier lives. Despite the larger market share in canine and feline supplements, products manufactured for smaller animals are now being made according to higher standards through more innovative methods. While manufacturers have been developing these products to feed the demand, retailers must recognize the importance of not only supplying supplements for small pets, but also knowing how to choose products with the best ingredients to increase the quality of life for little animals.


“The dog and cat industry has long served as a model of how to provide support for animals throughout all stages and challenges of life,” says Lucas Stock, communications manager at Oxbow Animal Health based in Omaha, Neb. “Knowledge and education regarding the longevity and specific health needs of small animals has evolved considerably in recent decades and across all sectors.”


As pet parents continue to look for supplements that benefit the health of their small animals, these consumers are going to be discerning about the goods they purchase.


“[The small-pet supplement market] has changed quite dramatically. Trends of consumer health tend to parallel their pet’s health and this is the same with supplements and diet,” says Peter Reid, president and chief operating officer at Wolcott, N.Y.-based Marshall Pet.


While small-pet supplements are becoming more popular, this corner of the market is still a niche area, which is not without its difficulties warns Reid.


“The largest challenge for manufacturers making products for small pets is that the category is much smaller than dogs and cats, therefore minimum order quantity runs can become problematic,” he says.


These efforts to ensure pets remain healthy is a by-product of consumers trying to prolong their own lives. Through providing supplements to their pets, consumers are able to not only extend an animal’s life, but also improve the quality of their time together.


“I believe that pet parents are becoming more aware of the pet health issues that can be prevented or corrected through the use of wholesome nutrition, and are now searching out naturally derived ingredients and supplements,” explains Dan McDermott, chief executive officer and managing member at Ropapharm US based in Milan, Ill.


In the pet-goods industry, manufacturers have recognized that the humanization of pets knows no boundaries—or species. This trend has grown from the traditionally popular pets to include additional groups—such as small mammals.


Investing in Ingredients

While manufacturers know that consumers are researching products and remaining diligent about reading labels, what information are they looking to find? According to Stock, it starts with items that they themselves use, affording a familiarity with the ingredients, which leads to quickly developing a greater amount of trust in the pet supplements.


“Many ingredients in our small animal supplements are familiar to their human caretakers from their own nutritional experiences. Some examples of these types of ingredients include chamomile, ginger root, yucca, dandelion root and others,” he says.


This trend of pet parents using their own health choices to make decisions regarding supplements for their pets has been a longstanding reflection of the canine and feline markets, but it is now the new normal when shopping for the tiniest creatures.


“Each species has their own needs, be it an herbivore, omnivore or strict carnivore,” explains Reid. “The key is knowing the species and what their unique nutritional needs are, like a ferret is an obligate carnivore and needs meat-based foods and treats, where a rabbit is an herbivore and requires plant-based ingredients. Both are small pets but they have very different nutritional needs.”


Along with wholesome, healthful ingredients, pet parents value the processes through which products are made. For manufacturers, this means using the most advanced technology. Though manufacturers value feedback from retailers and consumers, creating products using the latest innovations sometimes requires companies to remain a bit discreet at the risk of prematurely revealing too much information before research and development is complete.


“I am constantly reviewing new scientific publications from around the world in searching for emerging nutrition technologies. Typically the new ingredients and technologies that I bring to market are unknown to a majority of the market due to the fact that they are research-based emerging nutrients that are newly patented and commonly in the patent-approval process,” McDermott says.


To remain informed, retailers must be open to every opportunity that allows them to meet or speak with manufacturers as these companies develop new supplement products. Through strong partnerships that go beyond sales calls and purchasing, retailers can establish an advantage over their competitors who are still neglecting this corner of the pet supplement market.


Seeing the Future of Small-Pet Supplements

For families that include small pets, solutions to improve the quality of life for these animals will be found in supplements that help the body function at its highest level. In the coming years, growth in this segment will rely on products that are sourced from natural ingredients.


“I think you will see a continuance of natural-based products that meet the needs of the pet and mindset of the consumer,” explains Reid. “We will continue to provide updated information on new and improved products and tools for [retailers] to train their staff and provide proper education for their customers.”


With this push for natural ingredients, retailers should also study trends in human-grade supplements. When speaking with pet parents, retailers can make a connection between supplements for humans and similar ingredients found in lines made for small animals that could support the most basic bodily functions.


Efforts to promote dental hygiene, joint, skin and coat health, and digestive- and urinary-system function in small animals reflect a similar purpose of supplements used by humans and the trend toward natural products in this segment will continue to grow, explains Stock.


“Consumer interest in natural, beneficial supplements for small animals has grown significantly in recent years. Pet parents continue to support the innovation of these products in increasing numbers at a retail level, and we’re proud to lead the charge with a line that continues to grow and evolve.”


The evolution of supplements in the small-pet segment will continue through including wholesome sources of vitamins and minerals. As the selection of naturally sourced products grows, consumers will find that these supplements might provide solutions they never thought possible. With the expansion of herbal-based supplements, McDermott believes consumers might miss an opportunity to manage pet weight by using the appropriate supplement.


“Most consumers don’t consider that with the right nutrition supplements, they can easily reduce the daily amount of food given to their pet family members and keep them healthier for less money than they currently spend on pet foods.”


For retailers, the small-pet supplement market is an exciting opportunity to expand their reach to consumers. Through performing extensive research, remaining informed and thoroughly training staff regarding how to discuss the benefits of different products with customers, retailers can make a big impact during this early stage of growth in the small-pet supplement segment.  PB


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