Getting a Boost
by Debbie Ducommun
July 1, 2012
Chewable supplements provide increased opportunities for retailers to improve the lives of small pets.



For years I have been urging manufacturers to make more small-animal dietary supplements in a tasty, chewable tablet. Why put vitamins in the drinking water when it’s much more fun to give pets a treat?

Until now, the number of chewable supplement products for small animals has been limited. Chewable vitamin C tablets for guinea pigs have been available for years. Chewable papaya tablets to help rabbits with digestion and the passage of hairballs have also been available for a while. But finally, the time of chewable supplements for small pets seems to have arrived.

Oxbow Animal Health has just released a line of chewable dietary supplements under the name Natural Science. According to Amy Chamberlin, product development and nutrition specialist for Oxbow, the Natural Science supplements come in five high-fiber formulas and contain premium herbal ingredients to support pet health and wellness. The five formulas include: digestive support, joint support, urinary support, immune support and a multi-vitamin. Unlike the Natural Science diets, which are formulated specifically for adult rabbits and guinea pigs, the supplements are applicable to numerous species, including omnivores such as rats, hamsters and gerbils.

The Natural Science chewable multi-vitamin is a hay-based supplement containing essential vitamins, and omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. The immune support formula contains various ingredients to support the overall wellness of small pets, such as goldenseal to promote overall immune system health, and olive leaf and astragalus root to help treat infections. The digestive support chewable contains herbal ingredients such as chicory root to encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in the GI tract, ginger to support gastric motility, and slippery elm for overall digestive function.

The joint support chewable tablet includes glucosamine to help prevent cartilage degeneration, and turmeric and yucca, which both exhibit anti-inflammatory properties. The Natural Science Urinary Support chewable tablet contains cranberry and dandelion leaf to support overall urinary function and herbs such as astragalus root to aid renal function.


Other Chewables   
Oxy-Gen, Inc., a company that makes supplements for both humans and animals, started offering products for rabbits a few years ago. Oxy-Gen for Rabbits is a chewable pellet that contains octacosonal, a compound that improves oxygen utilization. Oxy-Gen for Rabbits is designed to increase nutritional absorption by five to seven percent, resulting in a better coat and improved breeding with larger, healthier litters. Another of the company’s supplements, Immunize for Rabbits, contains octacosonal and L-arginine, which relaxes the blood vessels, allowing for even more nutrient absorption—an additional three to five percent over that of Oxy-Gen—and vitality. It also includes beta glucan, a compound known to build the immune system, helping the body handle stress, fight off disease and recover from injury. Both of these products can also be given to other herbivores and omnivores, such as guinea pigs and rats. Immunize comes in two forms, a chewable pellet and a paste, which is easier to administer to an animal that isn’t eating.

Another supplement that can help small pets that aren’t thriving, don’t seem to be digesting their food well or have diarrhea, is a probiotic, which is bacteria that is beneficial to the intestines. Marshall Pet Products, Inc., offers ProBiotic. Unfortunately, not every supplement can be a treat, but Marshall’s ProBiotic powder can either be added to the drinking water or mixed into soft food for ferrets, rabbits and other small animals. ProBiotic naturally enhances digestive health, and helps with digestive stress and diarrhea, especially in ferrets that have experienced ECE (epizootic catarrhal enteritis), an intestinal disease that causes diarrhea. ProBiotic is safe to use daily and, in most cases, the positive effects will be seen gradually (within two weeks or more of daily use), although in some cases benefits are seen more quickly.   


Marketing Small Animal Supplements
Retailers can train employees to engage customers in conversations about their pets and any issues they may have. Not only does this make the customers feel cared for, their replies may give employees the opportunity to recommend supplements. For example, if a rabbit is shedding a lot, a sales associate can explain the danger of hairballs to the owner and recommend supplements to help prevent this problem. If a customer is having problems with respiratory disease in their rats, staff can recommend the Natural Science Immune Support chewable tablet or Immunize for Rabbits as an adjunct to–not a substitute for–antibiotic treatment.

Retailers should also let guinea pig owners know that giving pets supplemental vitamin C ensures that they receive enough of this vital nutrient. The added bonus is that guinea pigs see them as a treat. Pet retailers should stock the tablets and give out samples. Once these pet owners see how much their guinea pigs love the tablets, they are an easy sale.


Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and has worked in the animal field since 1982. She is the author of the book Rats!, the booklet Rat Health Care and, her most recent book, The Complete Guide to Rat Training: Tricks and Games for Rat Fun and Fitness.