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Medicating the Natural Way

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When Spot’s joints ache to the point that he has a hard time running up the stairs or Fluffy starts having anxiety with every thunderstorm, their owners go to their trusted pet store to look for a solution.

“There definitely is more of a demand for these natural remedies and supplements than there used to be,” Jean Bundy, an associate at Pet Mania in Wake Forest, N.C., said.

People are using supplements such as glucosamine chondroitin and probiotics themselves and seeing the benefits, so it’s only natural they would turn to those options for their beloved pets.   

Natural remedies are available for everything from dry skin and stress to the common malady of arthritis that can turn that playful puppy into a cranky, inactive dog. According to the website Natural Dog Health Remedies, over 65 percent of dogs over 6 years old suffer from arthritis, making joint supplements such as Zuke’s Hip Action a staple of many natural remedy displays.

“Zuke’s created the Hip Action formula as a daily treat to improve joint health and keep dogs active and happy,” Mary Jane Carroll, communications director of Zuke’s, in Durango, Colo., said.

Just last year a new formula was introduced for Hip Action which includes eggshell membrane in addition to the glucosamine and chondroitin already found in each treat. Eggshell membrane contains naturally occurring proteins that help maintain healthy joints and connective tissues.

Other manufacturers also have supplements and treats for joint health, including Pet Naturals’ Hip & Joint and Ark Naturals’ Joint Rescue.

Chill Out

Anxiety is another common complaint among pet owners. Whether their dogs and cats suffer from separation anxiety, social anxiety or noise anxiety, people are looking for natural treatments to help their pets live happier lives. Products that contain valerian, chamomile or L-tryptophan can help ease the stresses in pets without traditional medication.

The Animal’s Apawthecary line from Animal Essentials has a calming product called Tranquilty Blend made from a combination of valerian root, skullcap, passion flower and oat flowering tops, which can be used to promote a calm state in pets during fireworks, thunderstorms or other stressful events.

Ark Naturals’ Happy Traveler is another calming supplement made with valerian root and chamomile, but this one also includes L-Tryptophan, a calming amino acid that is commonly known as being the agent in turkey that helps us feel sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner.

Rescue Remedy is a calming agent that recently entered the pet space. Made from flower essences (rock rose, impatiens, clematis, Star of Bethlehem and cherry plum), the formula has been around for about 80 years in the United Kingdom and was introduced to the U.S. market in 2008.

“It has been used for years by vets and pet owners as an all-natural solution for stress relief, and about half of all of our consumer calls are related to questions regarding the proper use for pets,” Lynn Staichnick, brand manager for Nelsons, the maker of Rescue Remedy, said. “Eventually we came to realize there was a pre-existing market available for a pet-specific formula and we made developing the pet market a top priority.”

While anxiety and arthritis tend to affect dogs more as they age, dry, itchy skin can be an issue for pets of any age. Rather than reaching for a medicated shampoo, a healthy diet and an oatmeal shampoo such as Pet Naturals Soothe Oatmeal Shampoo can be a good alternative.

Making the Sale

Having a variety of natural supplements and remedies is important, but it’s a category that you can’t expect to sell itself.

If you already have an array of natural remedies in your store or are planning to set aside space for it soon, be sure to educate yourself and your staff on the different products, their ingredients and the benefits of using them.

Holistic pet care isn’t just about identifying an illness or a problem and treating it, it’s about taking care of the pet’s health and well being in an all-encompassing perspective.

“You have to know your product and know what your customer’s needs are,” Bundy, who has worked in the industry for more than 40 years, said. “Ask them the age of the dog, how active he is and if he’s on any other medications. You’ll be able to help customers out better if you have a good idea of the dog’s lifestyle and personality.”

For example, many experts recommend starting glucosamine supplements before a dog shows signs of arthritis to ease pain and improve joint strength before the pain sets in. But, when to start depends on the size of the dog and can range from five to 10 years.

Retailers and their staff who are in-tune with their customers’ needs will be able to point out these products even before their shoppers start asking for them.

- Karen M. Alley is a freelance writer in Elkin, N.C.

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