BY ERIC STENSON
People have increasingly wanted to lighten their lives of artificial ingredients, and this tendency has spread toward their companion animals as well. Dyes, artificial flavors, harsh chemicals, fillers, extenders—many consumers are eschewing these elements in products that touch the everyday lives of Tabby and Fido as owners seek to keep their pets happy and healthy for as long as possible.
Medicinal marijuana has become increasingly popular for humans to help control pain and fight nausea. Cannabidiol products are growing in popularity for pet use as well, as owners look for ways to ease pain and treat conditions without having to resort to powerful drugs.
Wayne Smeal, head of marketing for CBD Miracle Products in Groveland, Florida, has been producing cannabidiol products for human use for the past three to four years, and his company has just recently branched out into the pet world about three months ago. The company’s founders got the idea CBD could be helpful when they tried it on a sickly horse.
“We tested the human stuff on horses and it worked well,” he said. “[The horse’s] hair grew back.”
His company makes eight tinctures, which can be administered by spray or dropper, as well as bones, biscuits and treats. Although Smeal emphasizes he can’t make medical claims, he says he’s had good results with his own dogs, particularly regarding arthritic, muscle and joint discomfort.
“The older one, he doesn’t limp anymore,” he said. “The puppy—it calms him down when there’s thunder and lightning.”
He says it’s also very palatable and pets take to it readily.
“We refer to it as tested on humans, now pet approved,” he said.
None of these products contain THC, which is the compound in marijuana that produces the “high,” so you don’t have to worry about your pets lazily lounging around listening to Grateful Dead bootlegs while they try to figure out how to order pizza.
Polly Patterson, partner/operations/marketing for Healthy Hemp Pet Co. of Park City, Utah, has an operation that only makes products for pets. She said the company started when the founder and CEO, Dave Merrell, wanted to ease the pain of his Airedale, Mya, who has hip dysplasia.
“He investigated CBD’s effectiveness for health care but found the packaging was not very transparent [regarding content],” she said. “He started working with vets and developed products.”
Do the Research
Healthy Hemp Pet produces supplements, chewables and balms for any companion animal. Patterson suggests that retailers do their homework when it comes to offering her company’s products to pet owners.
“[Retailers] should do some research on their own,” she said. “We deal with independent retailers—they should see if it’s something their customers would be open to. We can’t make claims. We provide samples; try it on your worst. They almost always come back.”
Down Dog Snacks takes an interesting tack on dog treats. While many producers keep away from grains in products for dogs, Down Dog Snacks produces a strictly vegetarian line for their customer base of “barking Buddhas,” according to Jessie Walker, founder and CEO of the Longmont, Colorado-based company.
“There is no dairy, soy, corn, eggs or wheat in any of our products,” she said. “We call ourselves ‘bee-gan,’ for we do use local honey.”
A vegetarian for 25 years, Walker described developing meat-free dog treats as a “no-brainer.” She’s a second-generation pet treats producer, as her family had a New Jersey business called Fat Murray’s, named for its beloved “big-boned” basset hound. However, she did not think that name would be a hit in Colorado, especially melding with her interests as a yoga instructor.
“I infused my love for dogs, yoga and health, and created my own grain-free, plant-based enterprise,” she said. “Even before any of the baking and treat formulation began, I had already designed the company name, logo and treat flavors.”
Her intent was to provide “Earth-mindful and balanced treats, staying clear from all the product recalls of tainted meat and such.” And the names are creative, such as Peanut Buddha Bones and Peas, Love & Carrots. She also has Sweet Pawtato Pups, Banana Bliss and AppleBerry Zensations.
Walker feels fortunate to maintain close relationships with her retailers and prizes the feedback she receives from them when she thinks about developing a new product idea or flavor. When it comes to retailers who are interested in expanding their presence in this market, she advises them to keep it simple.
“So many trends and diet fads come and go, but one thing remains the same—less is more,” she said. “Identifiable, recognizable and pronounceable ingredients are key, and fillers and junk are not.”
Not Just Edibles
The trend toward natural products sourced from land-based ingredients also extends to personal care items for pets. Pura Naturals Pets of Providence, Rhode Island, produces shampoos, conditioners and salves for canine, feline and equine use, as well as feeding bowls, stairs and beddings. The care products use such ingredients as tea tree oil, peppermint oil, oat extract, olive oil, rosemary extract and shea butter, to name a few. To Jason Riccardi, Pura Naturals Pets’ president and CEO, it’s going the extra step that makes the difference.
“Everyone uses the term ‘natural’ very loosely these days and, unfortunately, it has lost any meaning—‘natural’ now has preservatives, chemicals, artificial fragrances and colors,” he said. “Our USDA Organic Certification tells our customers that the USDA has maintained clear oversight of the production of our products through inspection and testing.”
Riccardi encourages retailers to take a close look at the items that are on their shelves.
“Do the products list all their ingredients?” he asked. “Are they free from skin-irritating preservatives? Do they sell something they would feel comfortable using on themselves? That is always a good litmus test.”
George Parente, owner of Dogs & Cats Rule, a pet supply retailer with stores in Princeton and Pennington, New Jersey, and Newtown and Maple Glen, Pennsylvania, sees natural ingredients becoming more important not only among small, independent retailers, but even in big-box stores. Natural supplements are becoming increasingly popular, especially homeopathic formulas containing glucosamine.
“We’ve humanized our animals tremendously,” he said. “People often prefer natural supplements as opposed to prescriptions. They’re concerned where it’s made. People are reading ingredient panels, for sure.”