January 15, 2013

Flea and tick medicine is big business, because it meets a consumer need – eliminating pests from their pet and home. In fact, 64 percent of dog owners purchase it for their pet, according to the American Pet Products Association.

There are two major factors affecting the segment: Affordability, which is being driven by generic and grocery store brands, and natural care, which is being driven by a desire for eco-friendly ingredients.

When the patent for fipronil, one of the leading ingredients in Frontline Plus, expired in 2010, the market changed dramatically. It allowed for generic equivalences to be manufactured and sold, at lower price points, opening the category up to more competition.

“What makes PetArmor unique is that we brought a vet-quality flea and tick product to the pet retailer, which traditionally has offered older technologies, many having lower effectiveness and a poorer safety profile,” Kaufman said. “This is made possible since many manufacturers of the best flea and tick products have chosen a commercialization strategy to sell their products only through veterinarians. The introduction of PetArmor has caused disruption in the marketplace as we have focused on pets and pet parents and offering the most recommended flea and tick active ingredient.”

Another generic fipronil product is Sentry’s Fiproguard line of products. Like PetArmor, Fiproguard is available at a lower cost than Frontline Top Spot since it is the generic equivalent. Fiproguard is available to be carried by specialty pet stores, farm and garden supply stores and through online retailers.

Now that these products are available widely, innovations are coming from other areas like formulation and delivery method.

For instance, Merck recently introduced new products, Activyl and Activyl Tick Plus, which contains a chemical that is turned on by an enzyme in the flea’s gut. Unlike other similar medications, Merck decided to offer these products exclusively through veterinarians.

Retail pet store owners say they see more customers asking about organic, or natural flea and tick control. One ingredient gaining in popularity, especially among the consumers, they say, is neem, a tree that has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. It is billed to be an effective pesticide.

Trinity Ava, the herbalist for Organix-South, a natural products division of Nutraceutical Corporation, says neem is effective against over 200 types of insects. Products like Organix-South’s TheraNeem Herbal Outdoor Spray for Pets contains both the neem leaf and neem oil to provide dogs with natural protection against insects.

However, neem can cause some confusion for consumers, retail owners and product developers because it is not an EPA-registered ingredient.

Susan Weiss, president of Ark Naturals, explained her company came out with two neem-based products early on, but because of the lack of EPA approval, they – along with any other neem product – can’t claim to repel fleas and ticks, even if their studies and research show it does.

“We definitely wanted to have a product in the flea and tick category because it is a gigantic category,” Weiss said. “Humans do not like bugs.”

As a result, the company offers a botanical product called “Flea Flicker! Tick Kicker!” which has performed well for Ark Naturals, in part because the name appeals to consumers.

Like Ark Naturals, companies offering flea and tick alternatives, are adding creative marketing to their business plans.

Healthy Dogma, a family-owned business that sells natural and organic products for pets, offers a flea product that is not topical, unlike many other options on the market. Instead, they offer a supplement called “Flee Flea Flee!” that is added to the dog’s food. The ingredients are kelp, flax meal, garlic and yeast.

“It’s a flea and tick deterrent,” Darby Peters, from Healthy Dogma, said. “It’s a natural way to ward off the fleas if a customer is looking for something that isn’t quite as intense as the squeeze on the back of their neck type of product.”

One of the ways that Healthy Dogma has helped consumers familiarize themselves with the product is through innovative packaging.

The packaging helps customers make an informed decision.

“Our packaging is a little bit unique,” Peters said. “Even if someone wasn’t right there to explain it, through the name of it and the photo on the side, it clearly explains what the supplement is going to do.”

Maggie Marton is a freelance writer who covers pets, the pet industry and lifestyle topics.

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