First Aid for Pets

Hope for the best and prepare for the worst—something easier said than done. No one likes to think about their pet being in pain, but being prepared for an emergency situation is key to addressing the problem as swiftly as possible. Informed pet owners continue to realize this as the first-aid category grows.

"...More Americans are taking a proactive approach to disaster preparedness, due in part to the wave of natural catastrophes we’ve experienced in recent times such as hurricanes, floods and wildfires," says Kerissa Kelly-Slatten, brand manager of Cardinal Pet Care. "People are recognizing the value of planning ahead for emergencies large and small, and they’re stocking up on first-aid products."

The human-animal connection is strong. As much as people care about their own first aid, many pet parents feel their dog or cat’s emergency care is just as important.

"This is both increasing awareness of, and sparking demand for, first-aid products formulated specifically for pets," says Kelly-Slatten.

As a result of this demand, Cardinal Pet Care developed its Remedy+Recovery line, which features a complete assortment of over-the-counter first-aid products for dogs and cats. The line can be used to treat a variety of pet ailments, such as bug bites and skin rashes, cuts, scrapes and wounds.

If an emergency strikes at home or while traveling or hiking, owners can have the products they need at hand with a pet-specific first-aid kit. Even though pet owners can easily create their ideal pet first-aid kits, as some products suitable for pets can be found in kits for humans—such as gauze, non-stick bandages or cotton balls—it’s important to remember that not all first-aid products will work on pets.

"Dogs’ skin properties are different than those of humans," says Kelly-Slatten. "For example, a dog’s epidermis or skin layer is only 3-5 cells thick and turns over every 20 days, compared to human epidermis, which is 10-15 cells thick and turns over every 28 days. Additionally, human skin has a pH balance of 5.2-6.2, while the pH of a dog’s skin ranges from 5.5-7.5."

Taking these differences into account, the FDA has established specific ingredients and concentrations in drugs it approves as being safe for pets. The Remedy+Recovery line is made in an FDA-licensed drug manufacturing facility specifically to ensure that products are safe to use on pets.


Relief in Recovery

Unlike stocking up products for emergencies, which can happen at any time (or hopefully not at all), pet owners will know that pets need additional comfort and care after a surgical procedure.

"Almost 90 percent of all dogs and cats are being spayed," says Melvin Kok, CEO and managing director of Suitical.

To serve as an alternative to the cones and full body bandages given to pets after procedures, Suitical created its Recovery Suit. The product can also be used to cover ointments for better results, to cover up excess hair loss and more.

"At the time of development, we wanted to create a very functional, and high-quality, product that would fulfill veterinarian needs and requirements," says Kok.

It’s important to understand where a customer might be coming from, in terms of their price point after having a pet go through a medical procedure.

"Many times the pet owner has already spent a great deal of money at the vet for their treatment, so we make each product reusable and easy to clean," says Linda Markfield, president of All Four Paws, the company that produces the Comfy Cone.

The Comfy Cone, made of foam-backed nylon, is a cone-shaped e-collar that helps pets heal and recover from surgeries, wounds, skin allergies and hot spots.

Kelly-Slatten also encourages pet owners to always keep e-collars or cones, in a pet first-aid kit.

"While many consumers view cones as strictly for post-surgical use to keep pets from biting at their incisions and stitches, the function these collars serve applies equally well to keeping dogs from licking off first-aid medications and aggravating hot spots," says Kelly-Slatten.


Sales Assistance

Consulting a veterinarian is key to understanding the root and extent of a pet’s injury, but that’s not to say a pet owner can’t make an informed decision to immediately tend to a pet’s wound. When consumers navigate pet stores searching for the right products to address an immediate issue or to find a product fit for an emergency, they may not know where to start.

"Many pet parents come into the store not knowing much about the first-aid category and they rely heavily on the sales staff to guide them to the proper choice to treat their pup’s injury or irritation," says Kelly-Slatten.

A knowledgeable sales associate can deliver valuable recommendations to pet parents eager to learn about the first-aid category. Offering insight into the benefits of having a certain product on hand in an emergency, and providing specific examples of how it can come in handy, is a way for sales associates to connect with a customer.

"[The] educational level is getting richer in stores and pet store owners are becoming very much pet consultants in terms of the right diets, products and healthcare," says Kok. "It is not only about food and toys, but the extra consulting and in store customer journey is more important."

Markfield also feels that retailers should inform customers that it may take pets some time to adjust to wearing or using first-aid products.

"It is important that consumers be aware and understand that there are times a pet doesn’t like wearing a recovery product and they need to be patient and understand there might be a period of time necessary for the pet to get used to the product, instead of not using it," says Markfield.

Immediate medical attention or a necessary recovery product is a no-brainer for pet parents—if a vet says they need it, customers will seek it out. While some customers also want to prepare for emergencies that may require pet first aid, it may not be top of mind for some pet owners. When an opportunity arises, sales associates should convey to customers the importance of having first aid products at the ready prior to an accident or emergency.

"Once a dog suffers a wound or insect bite, the itchiness and pain can cause the pup to scratch and lick the affected area, aggravating it further and increasing his discomfort, which in turn leads to more scratching," says Kelly-Slatten.

This scratching and licking can lead to "hot spots," a sore and sensitive area on the skin. By getting ahead of a problem and offering a proactive solution for customers, sales associates can encourage repeat sales in the first aid category.

In order to offer an effective solution for pet parents, it’s imperative that retailers realize that not all first aid products are created equal.

"In the first aid category, it is important to distinguish true innovation from creative marketing tactics," says Geoff Hamby, director of marketing for Vetericyn Animal Wellness. "When addressing wound and dermatology, it is important to ask the question: ‘Has this new product been tested clinically?’ There are a lot of ‘new’ products that enter this category that are not backed by evidence-based medicine since regulatory oversight is lacking."

Sales associates need to be informed about their stores’ product offerings, but they can also direct customers to materials that explain exactly how to use certain products on pets—something tangible for pet owners to take with them and have on hand should they need to reference it quickly.

"Education is critical in this category because many pet owners are uncomfortable caring for wounds or doing routine eye and ear cleaning," says Hamby. "Blogging, social media and in-store classes are all great ways to educate and help customers make informed decisions."

Whether it’s recommending a first aid course, such as the American Red Cross’ Cat & Dog First Aid Training for Pets, or offering informative handouts for customers that explain what types of specific injuries and irritations each of the products should be used for, retailers can positively impact how a consumer responds to an emergency.

At the end of the day, customers want to be sure that they’re doing their best to give their pets happy, healthy and long lives.

"The pet first-aid category is evolving into a broader, more holistic wellness spectrum that encompasses a wider range of products in areas such as hygiene, oral health, ear and eye care," says Kelly-Slatten. "Humans today are more attuned to wellness for themselves— and, by extension, their pets."  PB