The little bloodsuckers are everywhere these days—no, not vampires or zombies, but fleas and ticks. Thanks in part to the weird weather patterns hitting many areas of the country, flea and tick problems have noticeably worsened in the past couple of years.
Last year’s mild winter was characterized by above-average temperatures and less snowfall, encouraging fleas and ticks to “emerge from their dormant life cycles” sooner than they otherwise would have, says Dwight Holcomb, president/CEO of LifePet Organic, Inc., a Pasadena, Calif.-based company that provides all-natural, bio-based solutions for dogs and cats. As a result, he says, these critters became more pervasive.
Wildlife migration is another contributing factor, says Paris Revoir, pet specialty national training manager for Bayer HealthCare Animal Health, headquartered in Shawnee, Kan. According to Revoir, the migration of white-tailed deer and wild turkeys, in particular, have prolonged the flea and tick season nationwide.
“The normal seasonal cycle of tick and flea pressure is no longer as visible,” he says. “There now seems to be a constant pressure year-round.”
The maladies these bugs can potentially cause present a genuine risk to both animals and humans. Consider ticks, says Bill Griesinger, president/CEO of Karykion, Inc., a Princeton, N.J., bio-tech research firm that offers a tick removal product for canines and equines. “Ticks can carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, as well as several other diseases,” says Griesinger. “The treatment for [affected] animals can be prohibitively expensive. The sooner a tick is removed, the less likely that the diseases are transmitted to the host animal.”
The most common problem fleas present to dogs is flea allergy dermatitis brought on by the salivary proteins fleas inject while feeding, says Holcomb. This can cause dogs to excessively bite and scratch the affected area, resulting in hair loss—or worse.
“Some dogs are extremely allergic to flea bites, and the itching can be intense,” says Adelia Ritchie, CEO/founder of DERMagic Skin Care for Animals, Inc. The Kingston, Wash.-based company offers non-toxic topical solutions for skin problems.
“But even normal pets will experience itching, resulting in opening the skin and introducing other problems, allowing other skin infections, especially yeast, that can lead to hot spots, seborrhea, black skin, mange—conditions that are miserable for the pet,” Ritchie says.
However, many pet owners don’t realize all the health threats associated with fleas and ticks, says Steve LeVeau, director of marketing for Central Garden & Pet in Walnut Creek, Calif. Consequently, he says, many folks wait until they actually see a flea before responding and treating their dog, and by that time, they often have a big problem on their hands.
“This is why it’s important for pet owners to have a strict regimen of flea and tick protection year-round,” he adds.
Fortunately, manufacturers are seeing some encouraging signs that pet parents are getting the message. Caryn Stichler, vice president of marketing for Omaha, Neb.-based Sergeant’s Pet Care Products Inc., says that although she agrees that people often don’t pay attention until the little nippers are biting at their own heels, she believes that they are starting to think more about prevention. Consequently, says Stichler, the fastest-growing segments in the flea and tick category appear to be topical spot-on and oral treatments.
She also credits pet specialty retailers with helping to educate customers about the need for taking a proactive approach to the problem.
Holcomb says that as consumers become more educated, they are also asking more questions, especially about product ingredients. This has led to a pull toward natural and organic solutions.
“We’re seeing more and more independent dealers in the retail pet business asking for all-natural alternatives,” Holcomb says. “The demand no longer stems solely from natural pet retailers. Retailers who had never before considered themselves as natural products dealers have now gotten into this game.”
Steve Thomas, owner of Thomas Laboratories in Tolleson, Ariz., agrees that more folks are searching for natural solutions and says that over the last five years, demand for such products has increased significantly, propelled by the nationwide outbreak of flea and tick infestations. Thomas, whose company manufactures a spectrum of professional-strength pet health and wellness products, adds that pet owners are often drawn to non-chemical pest control products because of the infestation-driven need for more frequent applications over a wider area.
Stichler can attest to the demand for natural solutions. In addition to chemical-based products, Sergeant’s offers a line of natural flea and tick products, the purchases of which have grown about 30 percent annually for the last several years. In fact, she says, if retailers don’t offer natural options along with conventional treatments, some customers may go elsewhere.
Making the Sale
Successfully selling alternative pest-control solutions requires retailers to educate themselves and their staff about what types of products are available, their ingredients, how they work and proper application. They should be able to communicate this information to their customers, as well, says Thomas. Stores should also offer an array of options, including chemical-based solutions, he adds, explaining that natural products can be sold as an additional layer of protection or as a complement to conventional pest-control products.
Education is especially critical since many consumers are confused about what treatment would be best, and what is safe and what isn’t, says Peggy Smith, media marketing manager for Bio-Groom products, manufactured by Longview, Texas-based Bio-Derm Laboratories, Inc. The company manufactures natural, premium-quality grooming products.
“Oftentimes, consumers are misled and oversold falseness on the safety aspects and efficacy of products,” she explains. “Educating them on the true facts versus the false selling points will help them make wiser decisions.”
It is also necessary to question customers about their needs, says Revoir. “Consumers’ purchasing decisions are often based on several tangible factors, including but not limited to duration of treatment, product cost, type of administration and so on. But a factor that is often underrated is the pet retailer’s ability to provide accurate guidance on an appropriate product.”
Revoir suggests asking about the owner’s and pet’s lifestyle—what they like to do and if this takes them outdoors regularly and frequently. Retailers should also determine if the dog has outdoor access, as well as if there are any other pets in the home. “It’s especially important in multi-pet households to treat all the pets,” he says. Other questions include:
• Are there red bumps on the stomach or under the arms, or signs of flea dirt (excreted blood specks that look like pepper)? These are absolute indicators of a flea problem, says Ritchie.
• What is the surrounding neighborhood like—suburban or rural, grassy or woodsy? “Also ask if their neighbors have pets that come into their yards, or if there are wild animals, such as raccoons or rats, etc., nearby,” LeVeau says
Retailers should also find out what products a consumer has already tried, what seems to work and what doesn’t seem to be effective, and if the dog is sensitive or allergic to anything, LeVeau adds.
Griesinger says that although consumers have increased their spending on the flea and tick category over the past several years, pet specialty retailers must nevertheless merchandise these products strategically in order to maximize sales. For example, displaying alternative options in high-traffic or point-of-sales areas can draw much-needed attention, says Thomas.
“Simply stocking an alternative pest-control product next to more widely known products, or on the same web pages as those same products, isn’t going to start the necessary conversation between retailer and consumer,” he explains. Instead, in addition to engaging customers in a dialogue, try direct marketing via email or flyers, especially during the beginning of pest season.
If pest-control products are located behind the counter, lighted signage or banners can be effective in creating awareness and educating owners, says Revoir.
Don’t forget secondary locations, says Stichler, such as near the food assortment, a key destination category, or on endcaps. “In-aisle communications and educational information is important, and few retailers dedicate the space,” she says.
Retailers should also use in-store signage, displays and POS materials that clearly and concisely communicate product basics, so customers can glean them on their own in case a store associate isn’t available, says LeVeau. “Also, offer solutions for various needs,” he adds. “Most consumers only treat their pets. They don’t know how important is it to treat their home and yard if their pet is constantly going inside and out.”
But perhaps the most effective strategy is simply talking with customers.
“Flea and tick control should be considered an essential part of ongoing pet care,” says Revoir. “It’s important to understand what pet owners are currently doing and where gaps in compliance may exist. Always engage pet owners with open-ended questions to determine what they’re doing for flea and tick control. Creating awareness of flea and tick compliance is critical.”
What’s on the Market: Pest-control products
Bayer HealthCare Animal Health (animalhealth.bayer.com) Seresto offers eight months of flea and tick protection for dogs and cats. The collar, featuring sustained-release technology, allows for a continuous low-dose release of imidacloprid and flumethrin to the hair and skin of the animal, killing fleas within 24 hours and ticks within 48 hours after initial application. Reinfesting fleas are killed within two hours, and reinfesting ticks are killed and repelled as quickly as six hours. The design includes a ratchet-release system, and on the small dog and cat collars, a pre-determined breaking point.
Bio-Derm Laboratories, Inc. (biogroom.com) Bio-Groom Flea and Tick Shampoo, contains pyrethrins, a natural insecticide derived from the chrysanthemum flower. The shampoo, which also conditions and kills pests without harming the coat or pet, is mild enough to be used for puppies. Repel-35 Insect Control Spray for Dogs keeps dogs safe from fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, gnats and all kinds of flies for up to 35 days. The non-greasy, non-sticky, water-based spray incorporates lanolin, aloe vera and synthetic pyrethin (Permethrin), approved for safety and effectiveness by the EPA. It is safe for repeated use and for puppies 12 weeks and older.
Central Garden & Pet (biospot.com) Bio Spot Active Care Spot On for Dogs kills fleas, flea eggs, ticks, tick nymphs and larvae, and kills and repels mosquitoes. The product contains InfestStop, which kills flea eggs and flea larvae to break the life cycle and to help stop and prevent infestations. The Smart Shield applicator helps keep the liquid off hands and also aids in getting the treatment down to the dog’s skin where the bugs live.
DERMagic Skin Care for Animals, Inc. (dermagic.com) DERMagic Flea Shampoo Bar with Diatomaceous Earth for dogs and DERMagic Flea Dust (made with organic diatomaceous earth) kill fleas and provide anti-microbial, calming and therapeutic effects for dogs with either dry or oily skin. Diatomaceous earth is derived from microscopic water creatures that make silica-based shells for themselves. Crushed into powder, the “shells” are razor-blade sharp and deadly to insects, but they are completely harmless to all animals, fish, birds and people.
Karykion, Inc. (tick-sr.com) Tick-SR will safely and easily remove a tick from the skin of dogs and horses. The non-toxic solution, which comes as a liquid (packaged in various-sized bottles) or on a pre-moistened towelette, dissolves the glue the tick initially attaches with and then uses an ingredient to push the food supply (blood) away from the point of contact, encouraging the tick to leave on its own or making removal easier. It also prevents infection at the puncture site.
LifePet Organic, Inc. (lifepet.com) PureVet Flea & Tick Spray is an EPA-exempt product made from three ingredients: cedar oil, ethyl lactate and water. The product is a 100-percent bio-based, water-soluble, insect neutralizer with natural bacteria-, mildew- and fungus-fighting properties. It kills fleas and ticks instantly by suffocating them and drying up larvae to prevent future infestations. The cedar oil is purified through a proprietary process that removes any naturally occurring toxic substances known to be dangerous to cats and other smaller mammals. The spray also helps neutralize, moisturize and rejuvenate dry, itchy and flaky skin, as well as addresses other problems associated with bacteria, fungi and topical skin issues.
Sergeant’s Pet Care Products, Inc. (sentrypetcare.com) SENTRY Fiproguard Plus IGR is an OTC spot-on product containing fipronil, the active ingredient found in vet-recommended products. It kills adult fleas and ticks, and chewing lice. It also contains Novaluron, an insect growth regulator (IGR) that kills flea eggs, breaking the flea life cycle and preventing reinfestation. It is applied monthly. Sergeant’s also offers the SENTRY Natural Defense non-chemical solutions line. It includes shampoo, spray, carpet powder and household spray, and the products contain a neurotoxin that affects only fleas and ticks, making it safe for use around children.
Thomas Labs (thomaslabs.com) D/Earth Plus - Nature’s Shield and Armor pest barriers comes in topical and oral formulas. Both are made with Diatomaceous Earth and other natural pest deterrents. The topical powder can be sprinkled around areas that pests frequent. When a pest walks through the powder, the microscopically sharp diatoms wear down the insect’s protective barrier, ultimately dehydrating and killing it. The oral formulation can be added to the pet’s food, creating an inhospitable, naturally repelling host animal—pests will not like the taste of the pet.