“Today’s pets are living longer thanks to proper nutrition and care, and as these pets age, they are experiencing more chronic, recurring health issues that need support,” said Melissa Ross, director of marketing and education, Oxbow Animal Health.
Add to that the fact that people are becoming more educated on the importance of nutrition and how vitamins and added minerals can enhance a pet’s diet, and it is clear how the awareness of vitamins and supplements for small pets has grown.
About 21 percent of small pet owners use vitamins, supplements or both with their pets, according to the latest survey by the American Pet Products Association.
Retailers should make sure their store is stocked with a good variety of vitamins and supplements, and pay attention to where they are placed. Shelved beside the food products, customers will see that vitamins and supplements are an important part of their pet’s overall nutrition. Ross also recommends putting them at eye level.
“Because these supplements are relatively new, it’s important to provide maximum exposure to encourage sales to new customers,” said Ross.
Be Their Healthiest
While it is true that pet foods are designed to be fully nutritional diets for small pets, there is something that no manufacturer can control when it comes to their food, oxidation. No matter how well packaged a food is, there will always be air in the bag or box, and as vitamins oxidize, their benefits evaporate.
The food on the market is as wholesome as it can be, but manufacturers have no control over how long it takes to get to the shelf, or how it gets there. If it has sat in a hot truck or warehouse for a while, that’s even more time for vitamins to degrade.
“Vitamins give pet owners the opportunity to fill the gaps,” said Jane Morehouse, graphics manager and research and development, Oasis, manufacturers of Vita Drops and Oasis Naturals.
Vita Drops are liquid vitamins made to go in a pet’s water, which helps ensure they will get it into their system.
“Sometimes when an animal is hot or isn’t feeling well, they might not eat, but they will almost always drink something,” Morehouse said.
In addition to vitamins, there are various supplements available that complement an animals’ diet and can help support health and wellness needs in pets.
Oasis recently introduced a line of natural supplements and sprays last year. Made with all-natural ingredients, these products consist mainly of herbal extracts designed to help specific conditions. For example, the Natural Extract Calming Formula for Small Animals consists of a mixture of valerian, German chamomile, St. John’s wort and other all-natural ingredients known to help relieve stress and encourage calm behavior.
“We felt that many people are embracing a natural, greener lifestyle, and are looking for ways to integrate that into all facets of their lives, including their pets,” Morehouse said.
Oxbow Animal Health also has a line of natural supplements. Its Natural Science line includes eight hay-based supplements that support specific health and wellness needs in pets, including healthier skin and coat, immune support and joint support.
When it comes to supplements, there are also some species-specific products to look for. Within its group of eight supplements, Oxbow includes one for adult guinea pigs and one for adult rabbits.
Pet Naturals, known for its supplements for dogs and cats, went specifically for rabbits in its first foray into small animals. Their line includes three supplements: Daily Best, a multivitamin formula; Immunity, made with dimethylglycine (DMG), which serves as the foundation for many of Pet Naturals’ products and has been found to help boost the immune system; and Calming, which is a proprietary formula derived from colostrum and B vitamins. Each comes in an alfalfa crisp, making it attractive and palatable for the pets.
For ferret owners, look to Marshall Pet Products’ Furo-Vite, a vitamin-filled paste that helps ensure ferrets are getting the proper nutrition.
“Supplements are a necessary part of a ferret’s diet, especially when they aren’t feeling well,” said Linda Cope, global marketing manager, Marshall Pet Products. “Pet owners should give the supplement as a food or treat when the pet is healthy so that they are familiar with it when not feeling well.”
A Dose of Vitamin C
When it comes to species-specific vitamins, guinea pigs have the vitamin C market cornered. These animals need vitamin C every day, but they cannot manufacture it on their own, and even a small amount of stress can take their reserves out of their system. This is why some manufacturers will have a multivitamin for small animals and a separate one for guinea pigs.
“Our guinea pig formula of Vita Drops has more vitamin C, and we provide a Pure C variety as well,” Morehouse said.
Oxbow Animal Health also has a vitamin C product in its Natural Science line, formulated with Timothy hay to help make it palatable for most pets.
“The Natural Science Vitamin C is designed to provide the vitamin C guinea pigs require daily and all pets need during times of stress,” Ross said.
Probiotics, living organisms occurring naturally in some foods such as yogurt and soft cheese, have been found to aid the digestive process. As their popularity began to rise, they were added to even more food products and also as stand-alone supplements. Naturally, the probiotic trend has crossed over from human foods and supplements to the small pet market as well.
“Small animals, when in the wild, are eating things all day long, a mixture of green things along with dried seeds and fruits,” Morehouse said. “In a caged environment they don’t have that flexibility, so we need to make sure they have the things in their diet to make the digestive track work nice and smooth. That’s where the probiotics come in.”
Oasis Naturals Probiotic formula and Marshall Pet Products’ Probiotic are both formulated to be safe for all species of small animals.
Get Your PHD
To really make supplements a successful category in a store, it is important that retailers and their team learn about the products and their benefits to small pets. One way to do that is to enroll in Pet Naturals’ PHD program, and get your Pet Health Degree. The program is 10 courses, each consisting of a short video and a quiz at the end.
“Each video talks about the product, about the conditions associated with the product, and then how to sell it,” said Sara Phillips, strategic brand manager, Vetri-Science and Retail Division. “Through the program there’s also a Facebook group retailers can join, and through that they can ask questions and continue to learn from us and from each other. The program has only been up for a few months but we’ve had great response.”