Finding the Right Supplements For Pets


Worried that your public commute is making you sick? Take some echinacea. Trouble falling asleep? Here, have some melatonin. Want to relieve headaches? Rub some—okay, you get the point.

Prescription and over-the-counter drugs have long been infamous for their detrimental, long-term side effects, so it’s not a surprise that consumers are turning to natural products to get the results they want.

"Supplements are an attractive alternative for those who do not want to try and solve every problem with a prescribed drug or medicine," explains Chelsea Gennings, vice president and co-founder of Pet Releaf. "This approach includes vitamins, minerals and botanicals that are more natural and less harsh."

This mindset is translating over to the pet industry as consumers realize they should be holding their pets’ products to the same standards that they hold their own.

"Humanization, or the theory that products on the human side have a parallel application in the pet side, has really developed in the past couple of years as consumers are more often relating to their pets’ needs as similar to themselves," says Min Lee, president of brand development of Honest Paws.

As the priority of retailers is to address and provide the best life possible for pets, not giving supplements the proper attention—or ignoring them altogether—would be a critical mistake.

"Supplements offer an ideal way to bridge the gap between a pet’s healthy diet and veterinarian visits," continues Lee. "There is such a high demand for solutions that address both acute issues and preventative health measures that it would, quite frankly, be a sorely missed opportunity for a pet retailer to not meet all of their customers’ needs."

Building a Selection

Deciding to get into supplements (or increasing their offerings) isn’t something retailers can jump into headfirst. It’s more of a commitment than just ordering a bunch of products and throwing them on a shelf.

Susan Goldstein, co-founder of Earth Animal, advises retailers to first ask themselves if they’re a retailer or a healer. She explains that there’s money to be made if retailers can create a "store within a store," which would include vitamins, supplements and minerals along with the knowledge to sell them and recommend them.

What retailers need to understand and impart onto customers is that supplements are not the easy solution to a more complex problem. A dog that lazes around most of the day and consumes large portions of junky food and treats can’t expect to see any changes in overall health if the only change is introducing some sort of supplement—it’s the same thing as couch potatoes who subsist on a diet of greasy, processed foods and expect a multivitamin to solve all their problems. If consumers want to amplify the power of supplements and ensure they’re working to their full potential, they have to be helped along.

"Supplements are a big part of what we’d refer to as a healthy lifestyle, which is interconnected with wholesome foods, the appropriate diet for the dog or cat, with a daily regimen of exercise, clean drinking water, emotional support and, of course, love," explains Goldstein.

Retailers should supplement supplements, so to speak, by carrying an appropriate, nutritious selection of high-quality pet food and ensuring that their outdoor and play sections are up-to-date.

The tricky part is creating a portfolio of supplements that’s comprehensive but not too overbearing so that sales associates don’t get lost trying to remember and understand the specific benefits of each product. Given all the nuances supplements have, retailers would be doing themselves a disservice by carrying as many as they can fit in their store.

"Having too many brands to differentiate between can be very overwhelming to someone just being introduced to the category," says Gennings. "We suggest having a few brands that your team will know inside and out so that they are well educated on each product’s selling points."

Importance of Education

When it comes to choosing those individual brands, retailers should proceed with caution to avoid buying products from shyster companies who simply throw a bunch of unregulated, untested ingredients into a container and call it a day. The three fool-proof methods to ensuring retailers are purchasing inventory from a reputable source include the National Animal Supplement Council seal, questioning the distributor and inquiring about third-party testing.

"Go on the website or call the company and get information about the individual ingredients, the country of origin and the quality of what the supplement, nutritional or individual ingredient is," says Dr. Bob Goldstein, a veterinarian and co-founder of Earth Animal. "Retailers need to learn the efficacy, the sourcing and the purpose of those supplements, combined with NASC."

In terms of third-party testing, Gennings considers it "necessary" for all supplements, "be it CBD, essential oils or other products." She recommends that both retailers and consumers should do their research to learn more information and acquire literature on how and why a supplement is made.

Though getting approval or a recommendation from their veterinarian will typically put customers at ease, it’s not necessarily needed.

"We know our customers just want to feel confident in what they administer to their furry friend, and a stamp of approval from their vet can increase their confidence," says Gennings.

While a veterinarian’s opinion can put pet parents’ minds at ease, consumers should take into consideration the type of veterinarian they visit.

"When I went to school, in my four years of veterinary training, I probably had three hours worth of nutritional training," says Dr. Bob Goldstein. "Evaluate the veterinarian: if they’re open to holistic approach, get their opinion. If it’s a conventional vet who doesn’t believe in it or a specialist, it’s not necessary to bring them in the loop."

Display Options

In order to maximize profits of supplements, Goldstein recommends creating a section dedicated to the remedies themselves. Within that section, though, she advises that dog and cat supplements should be separated and within those sub-sections, the products should be grouped based upon the individual condition.

Another strategy that retailers can employ to find success and increase profits is to force the customers’ hand in asking a sales associate for help accessing them which, consequently, opens the door for advice and discussion.

"Supplements behind the register or in a locked display keep them safe from theft and can allow for a more in-depth conversation with a sales associate," says Gennings.

Of course, retailers can’t forget to include CBD in their supplement section. While it’s not technically classified as a supplement, the product does provide health benefits along the same lines.

"CBD is the ‘hot cha cha’ kid on the block right now," says Susan Goldstein. "It has a good thing in the area of creating awareness of supplementation. It’s very powerful and influential and I don’t see it going away."

In order to maximize the potential and the profits CBD can bring to retail stores, the products have to be displayed in a careful manner.

"I would certainly suggest that CBD be a standalone section within a retailer’s supplement section," says Lee. "Many of our retailers actually set up an endcap display for all of their CBD products because of the demand from customers recently. As a result, the inventory certainly turns over quicker than otherwise."

Breaking the Internet

By this point, every retailer knows the power eye-catching marketing yields and the advantage they have over online retailers from both a display and knowledge standpoint.

Susan Goldstein discusses the tactics she uses in her own retail store, also named Earth Animal, and outlines the successes she’s had with them.

"You should have lots of demos and a ‘vitamin of the month,’" she says. "To have demos, which exhibit freshness, fresh fruit and vegetables, such as vital nutrients and minerals, you have a tactile, very visual experience of the supplements themselves. I always have blackboards at the register and I always feature a vitamin or supplement."

She continues that the ability retailers have to do live, in-person demonstrations and create unique signage is one of the main factors that separates them from the online retail giants.

"We have some real competition in the .com area and it can be intimidating unless you have a strong point of differentiation," says Susan Goldstein. "The way to get pet parents knocking on your door is to be the go-to place for solutions, especially those common conditions that families deal with on a daily basis. If you become the go-to in this area, it’s a major stand-up to competition."  PB