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July 27, 2016

For retailers who see customers pick up a product and read its ingredients list, it is obvious that today’s consumers are paying more attention to what they put in their aquariums. After all, every fish owner only wants the best for their fish, and using products that are made with all-natural ingredients helps people feel they are doing the right thing by their small, brightly colored pets.

Customers also have a growing awareness that everything they put into those tanks eventually gets flushed into the water system with each water changing, seeping into the groundwater and eventually into our drinking water sources. So, the fewer chemicals, the better.

Cultural considerations are just one of the many changes within the medication and supplement category for aquariums. The FDA is also putting into effect tighter regulations on the manufacture and distribution of over-the-counter medications for fish, which in some cases has made production more expensive.

“Change is coming to the industry, even if it might be a slow change,” said Scott Berke, national sales manager at Ecological Laboratories. “All of this together is opening up the opportunity for natural and herbal remedies and supplements, and in the past year or so, we’ve seen dramatic growth in these products.”

Get on Board with Herbal Treatments
Many retailers will be familiar with the herbal and all-natural treatments available for aquariums, since this isn’t necessarily a new category. But it is one that is getting attention currently because of renewed interest on the part of consumers, which makes it important to have a good selection on the shelves for customers.

Ecological Laboratories has been producing herbal supplements for about eight years, starting with Microbe-Lift/Artemiss, an herbal, immune-enhancing stimulant that reduces bacterial and fungal infections. They have since added Herbtana, made of multiple herbal extracts that help prevent parasitic diseases and which comes in both a saltwater and freshwater formula.

Fritz Aquatics also has a line of all-natural products within the company’s Mardel line. BacterShield, ParaShield and ProtoShield all make use of the polymer chitosan, found in shrimp shells, which is used as a flocculant.

“Mardel’s researchers found that if you inject this polymer into herbs, it creates a negative charge that coats the fish, helping fight off parasites and fungal infections,” said Mike Noce, sales manager of Fritz’s Specialty Division. “This means you are treating the fish rather than treating the water column, which is something that appeals to consumers.”

Not Just for Illness
Supplements can do more than fight off parasites and bacterial and fungal infections. They can also be used to help stimulate appetites, which is an important step in keeping fish healthy.

“Vitamin and nutrient deficiencies can lead to issues such as stunted growth, skeletal deformities, loss of weight, and in severe cases, erosion of tissues and fins,” said Amanda Neese, supervisor of sales, support and education at Seachem Laboratories. “Regular use of supplements can help solve issues of nutrient deficiency when they appear in aquarium fish.”

Garlic is one of the popular ingredients used in nutrition supplements, and can be found in Seachem’s Garlic Guard and Kent’s Garlic Xtreme. Vitamin C is another important ingredient, found as a base in Seachem’s line of supplements as well as in Kent Marine C.

In addition to boosting the nutrient intake of fish by using these products as a food soak, they can also help finicky fish. Entice, from Seachem, is a banana-scented flavor enhancer that works on all fish, but particularly with saltwater angels and butterflies.

Medications Not Obsolete
Even with the growing popularity of herbal and all-natural remedies and supplements, there is still a need for medications.

“While herbal options can be used for treatment, they don’t work as fast as antibiotics and chemical treatments in most cases,” Berke said. “There are times, when you have a fish in a dire situation or a widespread infection in your aquarium, when the chemical option is still the way to go.”

Luckily, there are plenty of trusted products available to give your customers options when it comes to medications. Ecological Laboratories has discontinued some of its medications but still produces its broad-spectrum disease treatment.

“With costs of production going up, we decided to streamline our offerings, so we went with the product that treats a broader range of diseases,” Berke said.

Fritz Aquatics and Seachem also offer a variety of medications, including broad-spectrum antibiotics, copper treatments and fungal and anti-parasitic treatments.

Become the Expert
When people get sick, we go to the doctor. If our dog or cat acts under the weather, we take them to the vet. But it’s not that easy to transport fish, so many fish owners are left to diagnose and treat illnesses and other issues on their own. In addition to providing a good selection of herbal treatments and other medications, retailers also serve as the leading expert for customers looking for help on figuring out the different types of diseases and how best to treat them.

Luckily, there are plenty of resources available to help educate you and your staff. Both Seachem and Fritz Aquatics have detailed information on their websites. Seachem also offers a fully staffed technical support department available to answer phone calls and emails five days a week. You can also invite manufacturers to host in-store seminars to educate the entire staff.

“We understand that once the retailer understands how these products work, they are much more confident recommending products to their customers,” Neese said.

The important thing is to make sure you and your staff are prepared to help your customers, because healthy fish mean happy customers.

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