Want to get a handle on what is happening in the canine healthcare and supplements category? Look no further than your own cache of healthcare and supplement products to figure out what is becoming increasingly important to dog owners today.
As humans continue to respond to their own health issues by incorporating supplements and healthcare products into their daily routines, they have begun doing the same for their pets, creating a trend that offers good opportunities for pet specialty retailers.
Several factors are fueling both the need and demand for canine healthcare and supplement products. Consider digestive issues, which are popping up with far greater frequency among dogs, says Dr. Christine Bessent, DVM, CEO of Herbsmith, Inc., a Hartland, Wis.-based herbal supplement and treats company.
“Dogs are carnivores, and yet we don’t feed them this way,” says Bessent. “Many kibbles are plant-based and dogs can’t easily or fully digest them. Carnivores have short digestive tracts, and their teeth aren’t designed for grinding. Plus, they lack the enzyme that helps break down starches and sugars found in plant-based diets. So, what we see is all the signs of digestive upset leading to bad gas, runny poop, vomiting and not really thriving.”
Also, thanks to medical advances in veterinary care, there has been a massive growth in the population of senior dogs, says Wayne Whitney, national sales manager for Pet King Brands, Inc., a Chicago-based manufacturer of healthcare products for animals. The number of special-needs pets has increased, as well.
Aside from geriatric pets, special-needs dogs are those with conditions such as diabetes, obesity or other medical issues requiring ongoing medication, even behavioral problems. He says oral care is a particular concern with special-needs dogs, since aging, disease or medications can compromise the quantity or quality of saliva—a major component of oral health. “As saliva loses its protective properties, the mouth becomes an environment for bacterial and fungal overgrowth,” Whitney explains. “This can lead to bad breath—the first sign of oral imbalance—tooth loss, gingivitis or periodontal disease.”
Obesity is another problem cropping up with greater frequency, says Oscar E. Tenorio, product line manager for PureLife 4Pets, a pet supplement manufacturer headquartered in Weston, Fla. Canine obesity can result in a wealth of issues, from chronic joint pain, increased chance of injury, digestive problems and diabetes, among other concerns; all of which can inspire pet owners to explore supplements.
“The trend we keep hearing about is the alarming number of overweight dogs in the U.S.,” says Tenorio. “This is mainly caused by overfeeding treats and high-calorie foods, oftentimes due to the guilt felt by the owners over leaving their dogs inside an apartment or house all day alone.”
The fact that dog food is typically formulated for healthy dogs also contributes to the need for supplements, says Lou Nicolaides, general manager for Searchdogs USA, Inc., the Pasadena, Calif.-based official licensing arm for the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation and manufacturer of the Searchdogs USA Canine Supplements brand. But these diets do not account for a dog’s individual needs. “For example, there may be lifestyle and environment differences or differences in the dog that make supplementing the diet to deliver more benefits necessary—especially since many foods offer just the minimum requirements,” says Nicolaides.
And yet, among the most persistent misperceptions about pet nutrition, continues to be that dog food, particularly premium-quality food, is sufficient for maintaining optimal health, says Stephen Thomas, R. Ph., owner of Thomas Labs, which is based in Tolleson, Ariz., and offers a broad spectrum of animal supplements and remedies.
“But as is the case with humans, we’ve found that some foods lack beneficial ingredients and nutrients, sometimes simply from the cooking and processing they undergo,” Thomas explains. “Again, like humans and the human diet, adding vitamins, enzymes and other healthy ingredients, in addition to a premium food, only increases the overall health and longevity of our animal companions.”
Fortunately, many pet owners are catching on that they can help mitigate their pets’ health issues and improve the quality of their companion animals’ lives by complementing their diets with one or more of the many supplements now on the market. Cherie Grandt, director of marketing for Vets Plus, Inc.—an animal supplement manufacturer in Menomonie, Wis.—points to recent findings in the American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owners Survey as evidence of the rising trend. The survey indicates that 10 percent of dogs receive either a vitamin or supplement containing prebiotics or probiotics, or one to boost immune system or aid in digestion. Approximately 55 percent are given a joint/mobility supplement, especially medium and large dogs. And 39 percent take supplements providing skin, coat and nail benefits.
The burgeoning popularity of this category, on the other hand, has made it potentially more confusing for customers, says Anthony Williams, president of Petchup, Inc., which, located in Westminster, Colo., makes a line of nutritional condiments for pets.
“There are a lot of products out there, and it’s increasing every day,” says Williams. “I can see there’s a challenge for consumers. With all the different products, what do you select? What does it do? What is the best thing for my pet?”
And just as is the case with human supplements and healthcare products, some are better than others, cautions Bessent. Seeing this category as lucrative, more manufacturers have “jumped on the bandwagon,” including those who put more resources into their packaging and marketing rather than into the actual product, she says.
“When people buy these [inferior-quality] supplements and they don’t see a difference, people stop using them, thinking that supplements don’t really work,” Bessent says. “But they do work, if they’re quality products and the ingredients are at the right levels.”
“[Customers] should have the confidence that the retailer has done his or her job well. And if
they have, this leads to repeat business and strong customer loyalty.”
- Dr. Christine Bessent, DVM, Herbsmith, Inc.
This represents an opportunity for retailers to shine, adds Bessent, who believes it is up to them to undertake the critical evaluation of product quality. “Consumers shouldn’t have to do this,” she says. “They should have the confidence that the retailer has done his or her job well. And if they have, this leads to repeat business and strong customer loyalty.”
Consumers and retailers alike should also be wary of products claiming to be natural, says Susan Weiss, president and founder of Ark Naturals Products for Pets, a Naples, Fla.-based manufacturer of all-natural remedies, wellness and lifestyle products for dogs and cats.
“Today every company claims everything is natural,” Weiss says. “While it’s great that retailers and consumers are requesting natural—when I started this business in 1996, the concept of natural was foreign to pet guardians and rejected by retailers—the downside is that the consumer must be vigilant. There’s no actual definition for natural; everyone is throwing that line around.”
Bessent says it is imperative that retailers educate themselves in order to select the best products—then, pass this information along to customers. “If I were a customer going into a retailer, I’d want to know they really know their stuff,” she says. “Talk about what you do to educate yourself and your staff, and then promote this.”
Independent pet retailers need to become “education specialists,” says Weiss, particularly since the big-box stores are now starting to bring in natural products that were formerly found only in pet specialty stores, she adds.
Encouraging staff to inquire about any health conditions or allergies before recommending a product is important, particularly since pet allergies are becoming more common and they could react to some of the ingredients found in supplements, says Grandt. And if you don’t know the answer to something, admit it, she says.
“The retailer should be open and honest about their product knowledge,” she advises. “Consumers will respect a retailer who makes the effort to find answers instead of one that bluffs.”
Undertaking this effort is important because customers are savvier—and more suspicious—than ever, says Grandt. “They’re very skeptical of marketing jargon and want data to support healthy claims or ingredients,” she warns. “They’re using every resource to make informed decisions.”
Consequently, wise retailers will be prepared for their educated clientele by being well informed themselves. One way to do this is to take full advantage of the support offered by manufacturers. For example, Grandt says Vets Plus provides retailers and consumers with complete access to its veterinarian team through a toll-free number. Their sales staff will also provide in-house training sessions. Pet King Brands assists retailers with displays, shelf-talkers/wobblers, consumer literature and other support materials, as well as merchandising suggestions, says Whitney. They also offer Internet-based training.
Searchdogs USA provides retailers with a merchandising display that holds 12 bottles of the four supplements they offer, creating one-stop shopping for customers, says Pam Smith, national sales manager. A detailed product brochure is also available to retailers.
Meanwhile, Herbsmith offers an informational booklet. Rather than focusing on selling a particular product, the booklet educates about the need for supplements. The company also offers online training and webinars.
“There must be a direct connection between the manufacturer, retailers and customers to ensure
adequate education is available and support is provided.”
- Stephen Thomas, R. Ph., Thomas Labs
Ark Naturals provides retailers with education, training and product samples. Petchup offers a sampling program, as well, along with collateral material, displays and “interesting literature,” says Williams.
PureLife emphasizes continuous education. “Supplements can be a great source of income for retail stores,” Tenorio says. “When an owner sees that his dog’s condition has improved, he’ll continue to buy the product. The key here is to educate, educate, educate. The staff has to know what they’re talking about.”
PureLife encourages at least two training sessions annually; more if needed. Training can take place online, through videos, or at the store. The company also offer demos—“especially during events like adoption rallies or in-store vaccination days,” says Tenorio.
The important thing for manufacturers is to remain open and accessible to retailers or consumers with questions, says Thomas. “Anything from ingredient sourcing to efficiency trials and everything in between,” he asserts. “Manufacturers cannot stand as an island separate from the retailer’s sales experience. There must be a direct connection between the manufacturer, retailers and customers to ensure adequate education is available and support is provided.”
A Sampling of Supplements
Ark Naturals Products for Pets (arknaturals.com): Breath-Less Brushless-Toothpaste helps reduce decay plaque, tartar, bad breath and stained teeth. The all-natural dental chew has a patented delivery system that utilizes the dog’s ability to chew on a “bone” infused with the pet toothpaste, thereby delivering the benefits of that toothpaste—pets do all the work, not humans.
Herbsmith, Inc.(herbsmithinc.com): The company offers condition-specific natural herb products, such as those for allergies, joint discomfort and calming, as well as formulas designed to support overall health, including a musculoskeletal formula and one for the digestive tract—Microflora. This product contains prebiotics and probiotics; a digestive enzyme specifically geared towards carnivores; and gut-soothing herbs like cinnamon, ginger and licorice. It is appropriate for all life stages.
Petchup, Inc. (mypetchup.com): Its line of nutritional condiments for dogs includes beef-flavored Petchup, turkey-flavored Muttstard and salmon-based flavor Bark B-Q. All provide a nutritional boost to the dog’s food and treats without adding fat and calories. For example, Petchup contains B-complex, omegas 3, 6 and 9, along with glucosamine and 22 essential vitamins and minerals. They are made with human-grade ingredients.
Pet King Brands (zymox.com): ZYMOX Brushless Enzymatic Oral Care products offers two complete enzyme systems—the LP3 to inhibit odor-causing bacteria and fungi, plus the MD2 Enzyme System, which works to dissolve plaque and prevent tartar buildup. Features include a water additive in two bottle sizes—a clear dental gel that functions as a brushless toothpaste, providing maximum enzyme contact; and a breath freshener with gentle mister.
ProLabs, Ltd. (prolabspets.com): The company offers a variety of products for pets, including FLEX Rx canine joint care. FLEX Rx manages joint issues at the metabolic level by going directly to the source of the problem, targeting the production of enzymes responsible for most joint health issues thereby slowing down the progression of many types of joint problems. FLEX Rx works differently than products containing glucosamine/chondroitin, giving retailers another option to offer customers.
PureLife 4Pets (purelife4pets.com): The company’s products include Joint Mobility for Dogs, offering a comprehensive alternative to glucosamine and chondroitin-based products; Antioxidant Protection, which fights free radicals and the damage they cause; Omega-3 Support, which promotes healthy skin and coat and uses the more concentrated krill oil rather than fish oil; and Immune Support, which promotes immune system and eye health.
Searchdogs USA (searchdogsusa.com): The Searchdogs USA Canine Supplements brand offers a double-strength, time-released hip and joint solution containing glucosamine, chondroitin and MSN, formulated for dogs with moderate needs. The brand also offers a full-spectrum, chewable, time-released, adult-stage multivitamin; a skin and coat supplement powder with omegas 3-, 6-, and 9-fatty acids; and digestive enzymes with prebiotics and probiotics. They are made with all-natural ingredients.
Thomas Labs (thomaslabs.com): Pet-A-Zyme Total Health is a multi-supplement containing a natural blend of enzymes, vitamins, minerals and probiotics, formulated to support healthy digestion and absorption of vital nutrients, support proper circulation, boost energy and recovery and promote healthy skin and a lustrous coat. It is veterinarian tested and approved.
Vets Plus, Inc. (pets-prefer.com): The company has added Soft Chews for Dogs to its PetsPrefer line. The PetsPrefer Soft Chews are available in Joint, Probiotic, Calming, Skin & Coat, Breath and Senior formulas, and offer targeted probiotics, vitamins and minerals. These veterinarian-formulated functional treats are made with over 95-percent natural ingredients.
Virbac Animal Health (pet-tabs.us): Virbac produces a wide array of products for all types of animals. The Pet-Tabs product line, established over 50 years ago, consists of 10 SKUs, six formulated specifically for dogs. The canine line consists of two product groups: Pet-Tabs OF (original formula) and Pet-Tabs AF (advanced formula). Both are available in three sizes. Pet-Tabs AF is for older, working dogs, or for when a little extra is desired. There are also three products appropriate for both canines and felines in the Pet-Tabs line, and one just for felines.
Wapiti Labs, Inc., (wapitilabsinc.com): has added Mobility and Senior Mobility Trial Packs to its dog supplement line. Elk velvet antler, a key ingredient in both products, is a single source of glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid. These elements work in synergy, quickly and effectively absorbing into a dog’s body—meaning no long load times. Products require only once-a-day dosing and work for most dogs in just seven to 10 days with no known side effects.