A Walk On The Wild Side

Cats' instincts can sometimes make them hard to live with-but with a little help, most cat owners can teach their pets to coexist happily at home.


In recent years, pet owners have developed a growing interest in feeding and treating their pets with the animals’ evolutionary heritage in mind—and that has led to astounding growth in the natural category. But despite customers’ increased focus on ensuring kitty is getting all the nutrients nature intended, many of the behavioral instincts that come hardwired into a cat’s brain are still far from welcome.

Whether it is clawing and chewing up the couch and drapes, hiding under or behind furniture when it storms, or choosing to eliminate in houseplants and laundry baskets instead of a litter box, the instincts cats are born with can get them into trouble. Fortunately, there are many calming aids and behavior control products on the market designed to help curb destructive behavior and help keep cats calm and happy.

Products in this category include toys that offer an outlet for chasing, pouncing or batting; scratchers, catnip, and scratching deterrents, like Sticky Paws, to teach kitty where it is OK to use her nails; natural calming aids like Rescue Remedy; chewing deterrents like bitter apple spray to stop kitty from eating wires or cables; and even special litters, designed to appeal to cats and help teach them the appropriate place to relieve themselves.

The range of products available is definitely diverse, but that does not mean they do not share some key characteristics—they are all designed to calm cats or redirect their natural instincts by providing an outlet for destructive behaviors.

Landing Feet First
Denise Eaton is a Bach Foundation registered animal practitioner (BFRAP) and education manager for Nelsons—the manufacturer of the Rescue Remedy line of calming products. She says that when pet owners bring an animal into their home, it is important to realize that pets are succumbing to a living environment that is out of their nature. “They are forced to learn behaviors that may not be normal to them, [and] what is considered normal to them may not be acceptable in the household,” she says. These adjustments can bring about behavioral problems, including obsessive acts, anxiety and dominance.

Even once a cat has adapted to a home, changes in their regular routine—for example, when the owners start a new job, have a baby or adopt another pet—can cause stress and behavioral issues. Even temporary changes, such as the arrival of houseguests, can lead felines to over groom or avoid the guest bedroom where the litter box usually resides in favor of the houseplant in the master bath.

Then, there are times when instinct simply takes over—cats need to scratch, for example, and if they are not given an appropriate outlet for that behavior and taught to use it, they may use the couch or the drapes.

Each of these issues can be frustrating for pet parents, who may be clueless as to why their cat has chosen to act out in such a way. However, pet owners’ distress or concern opens up a perfect opportunity for independent retailers to step in.

Catering to Instincts
Some pet owners will come in looking for a solution and will ask point-blank for help. However, others can be a bit less forward, since they do not necessarily know that a solution to their problem exists, it may not occur to them to ask.

Signage or educational materials can be key to raising awareness. These sales tools often go a long way in helping prompt cat owners to ask about potential solutions. For example, a small sign that asks, “Has your kitty forgotten how to find his litter box?” or “New couch? Protect it from kitty’s claws,” can draw in shoppers, while letting them know there are solutions available for these problems.

Of course, if a store has signage that encourages customers to ask questions, making sure the staff has the answers is essential. “Make sure that your employees are well educated on the benefits of these products,” says Shannon Supanich, marketing manager at Pioneer Pet Products. When it comes to behavioral products, it’s all about education, she explains.

Getting employees up to speed may require bringing in a manufacturer’s representative, a distributor or even a vet to talk about behavioral problems that are common in cats, and the products available to help cat owners prevent, deal with and correct these problem behaviors.

In addition to an educated staff and fun signage or point-of-sale materials, stores may choose to use special displays to further shopper education. That means including behavioral products in a store’s regular rotation of items that get featured in high-visibility spots throughout the store, such as front-end displays, endcaps, window displays and even countertop space.

For example, Eaton says that it makes sense to include behavioral products in key displays during the holidays, since Thanksgiving and December are often busy with traveling and houseguests. “That commotion may stress out your pet,” she says. Adding a product like Rescue Remedy into holiday or stocking-stuffer displays can remind shoppers to be proactive in keeping their cats comfortable during the hustle and bustle.

Behavioral products can also serve as a great optional upsell during this time of the year. When a cat owner stops in for food or litter, staff can inquire about their holiday plans, and how those plans will affect their feline friends. Then staff can suggest a product that may help them get through the holidays fairly stress-free.

Of course, much to most children’s disappointment, the holidays only happen once a year. So where should retailers stock these items the rest of the year?

Other than during the occasional promotion, behavioral products are rarely all featured together. Instead, Supanich says something like Sticky Paws might be placed with scratching products; but toys should probably remain within the toy aisle.

“Storeowners should think, ‘Where would my customer look for this?’” says Eaton. If a product lends itself naturally to being merchandised in several places, it may even make sense to stock the item in multiple locations within the store. “Some pets get stressed when traveling, so displaying Rescue Remedy Pet in the travel section where you would have crates and carriers would be a nice fit,” she adds. “Another location would be the grooming section, as many cats find this stressful. And don’t forget the stress or behavioral supplement area.”

Cross merchandising can be a great way to boost the number of items sold per basket. Behavioral products, when properly positioned, make for great incremental sales whether a cat-owning customer comes in complaining about a specific behavioral problem they’re facing with Fluffy, or they come in and then realize an issue that’s been bothering them has a solution.

In other words, smart independent retailers can acknowledge kitty’s need to walk on the wild side, while still providing the tools to tame the tiger.

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