food for dog

When it comes to our pets’ health, we’re often focused on the internal, like their heart, lungs or digestion. However, the outside can often have just as much to say about their well being.

“External issues in the skin, coat, nails and teeth can actually be signs of other issues in a pet’s overall health and wellness,” says Michael Stoeckle, president and CEO of Ark Naturals. “We believe in solving for the source of the indication, not just masking the symptoms or signs.” 

While treatments like grooming or teeth cleaning can seem to be entirely about pets’ appearance, maintaining their outer bodies is actually a crucial part of their preventative care.

“A healthy pet is a happy pet, and your pet relies on having healthy teeth, paws, nails and skin,” explains Julie Creed, vice president of sales and marketing for Pure and Natural Pet. “Regular grooming and dental care routines can offset medical problems or lead to early detection and ultimately lower vet bills.” 

Luckily, all of the time owners spent at home with their pets over the last year has caused an increased awareness of the importance of external preventative care, which offers big opportunities for retailers to expand sales in these categories, thus helping to keep pets healthier for longer. 

“The top health conditions veterinarians see the most are ear infections, skin allergies and poor dental health,” says Debra Decker, director of marketing for Pet King Brands, Inc. “Retailers are in a good position to meet the needs of many pet owners by providing a selection that will enhance the outer wellness in addition to nutrition and supplies.” 

“It is important for the retailer to sell these types of products because the pet owner needs products that are going to make a difference,” adds Dawn Leoso Duncan, vice president of Glo-Marr. “A difference you can see, hear and smell. You can see the coat shiny, you don’t hear licking and biting, and you smell something that is pleasant.” 

Of course, with so many different external areas to be concerned about, education should be a crucial part of retailers’ sales strategy.

“Ultimately, the best strategy is to keep it simple and provide the customer with information that is relevant to their specific problem,” advises Pete Stirling, CEO and president at Skout’s Honor. “The customer needs to understand how the product solution works, believe it will solve their specific problem and know how to properly use the product.”

To ensure your sales team is up-to-speed on all the subcategories under the external care umbrella, here’s what you need to know about each.


Skin and Coat Care

Just like with humans, your pet’s first line of defense against infectious microbes is its skin and coat.

“Promoting healthy skin and coat to protect this natural barrier with good grooming practices is critical,” says Decker. “This can mean keeping the hair from overgrowing, becoming matted as well as managing skin inflammation and irritation from allergies. Allergies can weaken the immune system and lead to infections.” 

In addition to taking pets to a groomer regularly, owners should also be performing regular skin, coat and ear maintenance at home. Duncan recommends incorporating a hydrating shampoo, moisturizing spray and cream, like the Kenic Kalaya products into your pet’s routine to combat dryness.

“These products have emu oil in them and promote healthy skin by restoring layers of the skin,” says Duncan. “Any product that restores the skin is going to help with outer wellness.”

Common skin issues like itchiness and inflammation can also be caused by fungal infections, which is why Stirling suggests adding topical treatments with probiotics to your store offerings.

“By incorporating a daily-use Probiotic Deodorizing spray, Probiotic Shampoo or Probiotic Ear Cleaner into your pet’s regular routine, pet parents can take an active role in supporting a healthy balance of good bacteria on pets’ skin, which builds their natural defenses against the growth of yeast and fungus,” he says.

Another culprit of these external issues might actually be something pets are lacking in their diet, according to Stoeckle.

“The root cause could be that the pet is deficient in essential fatty acids,” he says. “Adding a supplement to the pet’s diet will provide comfort from reducing inflammation. With regular use, pet parents should notice relief and a thicker, more luxurious and healthier coat within a couple of weeks.”


Teeth Cleaning 

Just like grooming is about more than just keeping pets looking great, oral care is about more than freshening pets’ breath. 

“It’s vital to maintain an oral care regimen with our pets,” says James Brandly, trade marketing communications specialist for TropiClean. “If untreated, our pets can contract periodontal disease caused by the build-up of plaque and tartar, causing inflammation. Inflammation can spread to other areas of the body and be absorbed in the pet’s bloodstream, leading to serious health conditions targeting the kidney, heart and brain.”

The best prevention, then, is a daily dental care routine. Luckily, there are a wide variety of products to help remove plaque and keep teeth and gums healthy.

Brandly advises pet parents incorporate three steps into their daily oral care routine with solution added to pets’ water bowl each morning, an oral care gel applied to the pets’ mouths each night and a toothpaste/toothbrush combo to scrub teeth each week.

Other experts suggest swapping out traditional chews with products designed to promote oral health. 

“Finding a good abrasive chew that reduces plaque and tartar will keep the pet healthy and eliminating bad breath will make the pet parent happy,” says Stoeckle.


Outside Marketing

To truly be successful in these categories, it’s up to retailers to help customers find the right products for their pets. The key is to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

“Not all pets’ needs are the same, so it is very important that pet owners ask questions,” says Creed. “The age of the dog is an important factor as well as different breeds. Similarly, grooming products are made for different types of issues.  Some dogs have sensitivity, so we have grooming products that are hypo-allergenic and grain-free.”

Retailers can also aid in owners’ quest for the right external care products by offering product samples, to encourage customers to try new offerings without the commitment of paying for a full-priced item. 

“Trial is so important, and it cannot be overlooked,” says Stoeckle. “Offer goody bags during in-store events, pack single serve items into curbside pickup orders as an unexpected surprise and give out samples with your grooming or nail services. Grooming clients love when a dental solution is added on, so send the pet home with a free trial size version of the dental chews.”

Another great way to raise awareness of outside wellness and drive category sales is through seasonal promotions, suggests Creed.

“Retailers should capitalize on specific months like April’s National Pet First Aid Month and Earth Day for eco-friendly products,” she says. “Seasonal needs should also be considered, based on the weather or when your region is prone to fleas and ticks. Customers will appreciate promotions and the ability to stock up and be prepared.” 

The best thing retailers can do for this category, though, is stock a solid array of high quality product lines. Not only will this make it easier for customers to create an external care routine—once they find one item that works, they can then add other items from the same brand—it also establishes the retailer as a trustworthy and dependable resource.

“A good wellness program is built on a family of products, not a single item,” says Stirling. “Helping your customer to understand why you carry a specific brand or line, how each item helps provide a better life for their fur baby and how to use each product correctly will create add-on sales and a loyal customer base for years to come.”  PB