Switch around the letters in "pets" and you get "pest." Dealing with little critters like fleas and ticks can be one of the most annoying aspects of having cats. They can cause pain, itchiness and even disease in both animals and humans, but they don’t have to be an inevitable part of pet ownership. Retailers can be a crucial resource for pet parents who want to select the right flea and tick solutions for their felines.
However, with such a variety of flea and tick solutions on the market, helping consumers find the right product for their cats can be a daunting challenge for any retailer. Understanding the function, effectiveness and benefits of different pest prevention products helps retailers take advantage of this rapidly expanding category and better serve their customers.
Cats vs. Dogs
One of the most basic tenets of flea and tick prevention is that dogs and cats require products that are specialized for their differing physiologies. While customers might think they can save money by using the same product for all their pets, retailers need to help them understand that this is not the right tactic. The consequences can be particularly devastating for felines if the wrong products are applied.
"Cats can be sensitive to some active ingredients, so a product that works well on dogs could actually be lethal on cats," says Fiona Rey, senior brand manager for Advantage products at Bayer. The Shawnee, Kan.-based company offers prevention products with species-based formulations.
According to Rey, the way products are administered can also differ between cats and canines. "While dogs are often happy to eat a tablet or chewable product, cats can be finicky when it comes to ingesting oral products," she says.
For cat owners who are concerned about their pet’s willingness to consume a pill, retailers can recommend topical solutions that are equally effective. Bayer’s Advantage II, for example, is a monthly topical that kills fleas at all life stages, including larvae and eggs.
"With Advantage II from Bayer, cat owners can avoid the hassle of trying to get their cat to eat medication," Rey explains. "They can rest easy knowing that their cat received the entire treatment dose."
The increasing popularity of topical flea and tick prevention products is a relatively new trend for this category. "Spot-on treatments are gaining popularity over other methods like oral, shampoos and sprays due to their high efficacy and fast results," says Sarah Batterson, brand manager for H&C Animal Health, a company based in Parker, Colo.
For feline tick and flea prevention, H&C Animal Health offers Catego, a topical treatment that kills adult fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, ticks and chewing lice. It begins to work within six hours of application.
If cat owners are concerned about topical creams making a cat’s fur sticky or that their pet may inadvertently stain rugs or furniture, there are still other flea and tick solutions that retailers can recommend to customers.
Bayer has an Advantage shampoo for cats as well as an Advantage Treatment Spray. They provide flea and tick prevention, but do not leave a strong residue. The company also has Seresto for cats, a collar that kills and repels fleas and ticks for up to eight months.
But with such a wide variety of products available, retailers have to understand the differences between them. "Brick-and-mortar retailers can help clear up customer confusion by providing easy-to-understand information that clearly differentiates all the various products," says Rey.
According to Rey, understanding flea and tick prevention boils down to knowing three things about each product: how it works, how it is administered and how long it lasts. This kind of knowledge can help retailers make informed and effective recommendations to their customers.
"Retailers have the opportunity to maintain or grow their category sales if they can help cat owners understand which products best meet their needs and why," says Ray.
For example, some products only work if the fleas and ticks actually bite the cat’s skin. Other products, like Advantage II and Catego, work on contact and do not require a bite from a pest, which may put pet owners more at ease.
Batterson believes that knowing about a product’s ingredients can also help retailers guide their customers toward the right choice for their cat. She explains that Catego was only recently introduced to the retail channel in 2017, since "its unique ingredient combination was used exclusively in the veterinary channel for the previous 11 years."
Retailers should not feel wary of the veterinary channel’s relationship with the flea and tick category. According to Rey, while many customers discuss pest prevention with their veterinarian, "less than a third of flea and tick doses are dispensed at the veterinarian clinic."
Instead, consumers look for solutions at their local retailer. In the case of Catego, knowing that they’re getting a prescription-strength solution without the hassle of going to the vet could cause a customer to eagerly make a purchase.
Many companies also partner retailers with veterinarians to help them better understand their flea and tick solutions. Bayer’s account managers and veterinarians work directly with retailers to educate them on the company’s flea and tick product line. Bayer also provides product training through its partnership with Experticity, a company that helps brands educate retailers about their offerings.
"We have invested in providing information about our brands and the flea and tick category in general to help build retailers’ confidence to proactively engage shoppers with product recommendations," says Rey.
A Growing Need
Retailers may find that they need this kind of information more than ever, since trends point to the increasing popularity of the pest prevention category.
"The key trend is rapid growth of the flea and tick category, in terms of channel availability and product offerings," says Rey.
The growth of this category is attributable to a variety of reasons. Batterson mentions the increasing use of service and companion animals as a possible explanation as well as environmental factors.
"Climate change has increased the number of parasites, as well as their movement," she says. "Retailers should stay up to date with the ever-changing flea and tick heat maps. This can help them understand the importance of year-round treatment so they can effectively educate their customers."
Keeping current on all flea and tick information is essential to taking advantage of this category’s rising popularity. By becoming more knowledgeable about feline options for flea and tick prevention, retailers can assist customers in making clear-headed decisions about what products are best for their pets. PB