When many people think of pets, they tend to think of those early days; of bringing a kitten or puppy home for the first time, of litter box training or of setting up a new enclosure. While every pet owner claims to want their pet to live a long, happy life, not every pet owner is well-equipped to help their pets as they reach their later years, whether from a lack of knowledge, lack of ability or some other factor entirely. As pet retailers, part of our responsibility lies in ensuring that the well-being of a pet extends not just through those nascent days, but all through a pet’s life, which means educating our customers throughout the lifecycle of their friend.
This education must start with thoroughly researched, well-vetted information. While the internet does provide a wealth of avenues for aging pet options, our experience has always been that the best resource you could pursue is that of your veterinarian. We’ve often advocated fostering a positive, symbiotic relationship with your local vets, but doing so has a special advantage in the case of elderly pets; that is longevity. Presuming that a pet owner maintains a relationship with a given vet over time, that vet’s continued medical records and personal experience with that animal provides a personalized approach to the pet’s well-being that can’t be captured through a website or the like.
However, a vet’s availability only stretches so far, and where their reach ends, our reach as pet retailers begins. As you evaluate your store’s layout and stocking solutions, consider establishing an entire “senior pets” section, wherein pet parents can find all the necessary items for their aging pet in one location. Alternatively, if your store has already-established sections, consider adjusting your shelving to offer sub-sections for aging pets within that already-established region. If you have two aisles devoted to cats, for instance, consider taking a portion of that existing space to consolidate items for elderly pets. Doing so ensures that your customers know exactly where to go to best help their own pet, each time they enter your store.
But first, what products for elderly pets does one stock? Food is the obvious and easiest answer. Numerous pet food companies offer varieties of specialized diet for elderly pets, ranging from softer food that might be easier on an older pet’s teeth, to food formulated to be easier on a pet’s digestive tract, or food meant to aid an older pet’s joints. Such food becomes an easy addition to your already-existing stock, while simultaneously demonstrating your willingness to help your customers and their elderly pets.
As the pet industry continues to expand into new avenues, more and more suppliers have begun offering additional options for owners of elderly pets. Vitamin and mineral supplements, for one, have become an increasingly lucrative area in pet supplies.
In 2022, Grandview Research estimated the pet supplement market to reach approximately $1.9 billion, with a compound annual growth rate of 5.9 percent over the next eight years. Many of these supplements can be easy to understand — look at things like calcium supplements for reptiles and amphibians — while others are more complex and may require significant research on your part to differentiate between the useful and the dubious. As we’ve discussed in one of our prior articles, the use of CBD and other cannabinoid supplements can often fall into this nebulous region. While cannabinoids have been shown to improve joint mobility and reduce pain — both of particular use to aging animals — rigorous scientific study has yet to reach a consensus on the use of these items in animals. As such, the onus falls to you to both investigate these items before stocking them on your shelves and in educating your patrons, so that they can make the most well-informed decision for their own pets.
It’s easy for us to say that we want a “long, happy, healthy life” for our pets and the pets of our customers. And, with so many individuals, it’s just as easy to focus on the start of that pet’s life. However, as a responsible pet retailer, it’s our continual duty to service our patrons throughout the life of their pet. That, above all, means adapting to meet their needs and ensure that the ideation of a “healthy, happy life” becomes a reality.
John Mack is the founder and CEO of Reptiles by Mack. He is also the chair of the Pet Advocacy Network board of directors and is on the Pet Advocacy Network’s Zoonosis Committee. His Ohio-based company is widely recognized as one of the largest reptile breeders and suppliers in the U.S.A. today.