Science is making it possible for pet owners to take a gentler, more natural approach to grooming their furry companions. Research and development in the pet industry over the last two or three decades has yielded solutions to a plethora of problems, and now pet owners can walk out of a pet specialty store armed with the power to banish irksome fleas and ticks, hydrate dry skin and soothe a hot spot—and to do so naturally.
The natural trend is in full bloom in the pet skin and coat and grooming categories. A growing number of manufacturers are using natural ingredients to deliver the problem-solving products that today’s consumer seek. Pet owners, as well as pet professionals, meanwhile, have become steadily more discerning about the products they choose.
“The natural trend is encouraging many grooming product manufacturers to [reformulate] and include healthier ingredients into their products,” says Lisa Jordan, sales and marketing director of Espree Animal Products. “Consumers and professional groomers are seeking natural beneficial ingredients for pet care.”
Not all customers, of course, share the same level of concern over the particulars of the products they purchase. Steven Shweky, president of Fetch…For Pets!—a company that specializes in licensed merchandise and has recently launched the Burt’s Bees pet grooming line—says many customers simply want to know that the items that they purchase will not endanger their pets; for them, that is enough. Other pet owners, however, are more scrutinizing.
“There are some customers who say, ‘It says it’s a natural product, but let me it turn over the bottle and see what’s its all about.”
“One consumer put it really well: ‘I read the ingredients, and it all looks good. It is basically stuff I can mix together in my kitchen.’ That said it all,” Shweky says, adding that the Burt’s Bees brand is already popular with many natural-product enthusiasts in the human-grooming products arena and is therefore a boon for the pet industry.
But while many credit a surge of consumer demand for the growth in the category, some point out that manufacturers should, in fact, take much of the credit for themselves—for the industry itself is largely responsible for the public’s increased awareness of natural alternatives. Dr. Michael Fleck, veterinarian and creator of Epi-Pet Skin Treatments, for example, makes it a priority to spread the word about the availability of natural solutions for various pet ailments.
“[Epi-Pet] doesn’t feel as though it is reacting to the demands of the consumer in this regard but, in fact, is leading the conversation and direction to the consumer for this very important trend of natural ingredient study and function,” he says.
“The Epi-Pet mission is to not only manufacture high-quality, effective and safe products, but to make the public aware of the natural product ingredients’ health benefits while preserving our environment.”
Clearly, given the growth of the category, many pet owners are getting the message. Retailers can attest that customers are looking to reduce pets’ exposure to various ingredients used in traditional products, from detergents to insecticides. Many of these ingredients are proven effective and are still useful in many applications, but the natural movement has given shoppers hope that they can effectively address a multitude of skin and coat issues with milder or more seemingly benign formulas.
“Every day we are discovering adverse affects from drugs and synthetic products on the pet and in the environment,” Fleck says. “So, as a guide, if two products work similarly on a skin issue, one being a drug and the other a natural product, the natural product should always be given preference.”
And Fleck is not alone in his strong assessment of pet-care options currently on the market. Deborah Brown, vice president of marketing and advertising for Pet King Brands, manufacturer of Zymox brand products, says pet owners’ preferences and buying habits have been strongly influenced by what they are learning through the media and online about the effects products potentially have on pets and people.
“People are more educated due to all the information that is available on the Internet,” she adds. “Once they research some of the ingredients out there, people don’t always want to use those.”
The pet product market, fortunately, does not leave those consumers wanting. Manufacturers have plenty to offer pet parents on the hunt for natural solutions. For example, Zymox Shampoo, which relieves itchy, inflamed skin, uses enzymes as its active ingredient in lieu of other, perhaps harsher ingredients.
“It’s an alternative to antibiotics,” says Brown. “The antimicrobial enzymes in it that are also very calming to the skin. They leave the dog feeling very fresh and nice, and the coat shiny.”
Fleck points out that the natural trend is particularly relevant in the skin, coat and ear segments of the grooming category, as pet parents increasingly seek to find products that address common issues.
“Professional groomers and pet parents are looking for effective and safe grooming products,” he says. “According to AVMA [American Veterinary Association] and VPI [Pet Insurance], up to 70 percent of veterinary visits are skin allergies and ear infections. Consumers are looking for products that maintain normal skin, coat and ears but at a reasonable cost.”
Nature’s Specialties is among the companies producing natural alternatives. It entered the market in 1986, with a line of products designed to address a range of common issues with formulas boasting plant-based ingredients.
“When we started, they laughed at us,” says owner Mary Meeks.
The company manufacturers shampoos, conditioners and treatments that address a range of skin conditions, including irritation caused by flea and tick bites.
“Nature’s Specialties has continuously searched for natural oils—as an alternative to pesticides—that also have a medicated advantage and can help solve many pet discomforts. We also continuously look to improve our own ingredients and upgrade when we can.”
The pressure is certainly on for manufacturers striving to meet customers ever more stringent demands. In fact, experts indicate that natural is no longer a niche category. The natural trend is so strong—and so mainstream—that it may no longer be optional for retailers to stock an assortment of products in this category. Manufacturers and retailers have to provide these options because, for many customers, nothing else will do. “[Natural] has become an expectation, not something that is just nice [to have],” Shweky says.
Still, while the market is now flush with natural products, manufacturers must take care to ensure that these products perform as expected—and as well as the traditional counterparts.
“It’s the results that count not the fluff,” Meeks says.
Shweky concurs. “First things first,” he says. “Its’ a solutions-specific business, for the most part. Number two, it has got to work. It’s nice if it is a natural product, but it has got to work. Efficacy is a big deal; it is something that we really focus on.”
Natural Grooming Essentials
Tropiclean’s (tropiclean.net) OxyMed Anti-Itch Shampoo tends to dry skin with micronized oatmeal and vitamin E. Alpha hydroxys penetrate the skin, cleaning out pores and lifting allergens away. Wheat protein and vitamin B5 supply nourishment for a healthy skin and coat.
Bio-Groom’s (biogroom.com) Silk Crème Rinse Conditioner is fortified with chamomile, nature’s own stimulating hair and skin conditioner. It is designed to leave hair looking and feeling its best. The conditioner moisturizes overworked hair, removes tangles and rinses out clean, making hair easy to manage and groom. It is designed for use on all colored coats, including white. It is also biodegradable with a fresh clean smell.
Aroma Paws (aromapaws.com) offers Honeysuckle Jasmine with Sweet Violet Oil Shampoo & Conditioner in One: Dry Skin & Dandruff Relief Formula. Honeysuckle oil is a natural emollient, while Indian jasmine oil is a mood elevator and antiseptic, and sweet violet oil helps reduce stress and relieve insomnia.
The shampoo is blended with green tea leaf extract for a shiny coat, aloe leaf extract to soothe skin, and sweet almond and coconut oils to relieve dryness and detangle. The natural, chemical-free cleansing agents safely and gently cleans dogs’ skin and coat.
Hampi Natural Pet Spa’s (hampinaturalpetspa.com) Dead Sea Mineral Mud Treatment contains Dead Sea minerals, geranium essential oil, vitamin E and aloe. Mud is known to purify the skin as it removes foreign and toxic substances, and it helps relax muscles, ease pain and stimulate circulation. Geranium, meanwhile, can help balance oily and dry skin, reduces stress and can ward off mosquitoes. It is also used for relaxing aromatherapy. Pet owners can use it as a full-body treatment or spot treatment for paws, baths and mud wraps.
Epi-Pet’s (epi-pet.com) multi-functional All Purpose Skin Treatment Spray, available in three scents, treats dry, itchy, flaky, oily and smelly skin. The Lavender aroma provides a calming, therapeutic effect on hyperactive pets while providing six natural insect repelling properties. The Cedar scent also has six natural insect repelling properties and has a subtle scent of peppermint and cedar wood. The Unscented skin spray offers relief from skin irritations without the essential oils. It also helps in aiding in hairball reduction in felines when used daily. All three sprays treat skin allergies and support veterinary medical treatment for skin allergies.
Espree Animal Products’ (espree.com) line of balms and creams offers five healing and therapeutic solutions for pets. The Bug Bite Relief Balm stops bug bite irritation; Itch Relief Cream soothes itching and cools burns; Calming Balm reduces anxiety and stress; Healing Cream promotes healing of wounds and hot spots; and Paw Balm conditions and protects pads.
Burt’s Bees Natural Pet Care (burtsbeespets.com), from Fetch...For Pets!, brings nature’s solutions to pets with a line of natural grooming and oral care products specially formulated for dogs. Burt’s Bees Natural Pet Care upholds to the rigorous natural standards of Burt’s Bees. All products are manufactured in the USA. The line features the power of nature’s ingredients like buttermilk, chamomile, lavender and honey. Burt’s Bees Natural Pet Care Products are pH balanced for pets and contain no sulfates, parabens, phthalates, petrochemicals or synthetic fragrances.