It’s well documented that a balanced diet and active lifestyle are the building blocks of pet health, but it’s often more complicated than that. Since each dog is an individual with distinct needs, “healthy diet” is often no more than a convenient blanket term that, in reality, means something different for everyone.
So where’s a pet owner to start when trying to figure out what issues might arise in their furry friend’s life and how to address them?
“The first is genetics, but often times we don’t know the genetics of our pets, especially our rescue dogs,” said Dr. Katy Nelson, associate veterinarian at Belle Haven Animal Medical Center in Alexandra, Virginia. “Even if you don’t know [your pet’s] genetic makeup, [work] with your veterinarian on the things you’re seeing right now.”
Once those issues are identified, pet owners can work with their local retailers to find products that might prevent, heal or help support where needed. One of the first places Dr. Nelson suggests to start is the bowl—the inclusion of high quality, nutritious ingredients at mealtime will set pets up for success.
Supplements can help fill the gaps in nutrition where they exist, and in the form of toppers and mixers, they can do well to add variety to a dog’s diet. Freshpet’s Vital Whole Blends are “customizable, real-food mix-ins that add variety and nutrition to your dog’s everyday meals,” according to a company statement.
Dr. Nelson has worked with the company and written several blog posts for the Freshpet website. Tailored to a dog’s life stage and lifestyle, Vital Whole Blends can give dogs a Dental, Digestive, Daily, Puppy, Senior or Immunity boost. They’re an easy way to supplement dogs’ diets.
Ara Bohchalian, president and CEO of International Veterinary Sciences (IVS), agrees that supplements play a vital role in ensuring all dogs are provided every nutrient they need to live happy, healthy lives—even beyond what might be in their bowls.
“For years, dog foods have not had the right balance for a healthy diet,” Bohchalian said, pointing out that the industry has since made great strides in this area. “Just like in humans, you can’t get all of the essential fatty acids and everything else just naturally. You have to either get it from foods or you have to get it from supplements. Because there’s been a deficiency in pet food, supplements have been just that—they’ve been able to… [help dogs] maintain a healthier diet and lifestyle…”
Bohchalian’s point of view is that it’s nearly impossible or extremely difficult to make sure pets are getting every beneficial nutrient available to them through their foods alone. And that’s where supplements come in.
“Supplements are important across the spectrum, whether or not you’re giving your dog premium dog food,” he said. “And it basically bridges the healthy lifestyle because it offers a more immediate bioavailability to the body that is required for normal functions and normal health.”
Studies show that consumers are increasingly seeing supplements as important products to purchase. According to the report “Pet Supplements Market in the U.S., 6th Edition,” Packaged Facts estimated that pet food supplement sales from 2012 to 2016 reached a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 4 percent, with sales of $580 million in 2016. In addition, a 2016 TechNavio market research
report, “Global Pet Dietary Supplements Market 2016-2020,” predicts a bright future for dietary pet supplements, with an expected CAGR of 5.26 percent for the global pet supplements market from 2016 to 2020.
Bohchalian cites aging, elderly and active dogs as those who would most benefit from the range of IVS products. The company, which Bohchalian describes as a strong supporter of veterans, service dogs and military dog associations, has been in the industry for quite some time.
“Our products are some of the original supplements that are on the market, so our formulation that is decades old is a much more elegant and well-balanced formulation,” Bohchalian said. “We provide a super high quality product that is well balanced, that is effective and is proven.”
That’s not to say that there’s no innovation driving IVS forward. Bohchalian made it a point to hint at what’s to come from the company.
“We are on the verge of coming up with extremely unique and first-to-market technologies over the next few months that will continue to accentuate our product line,” he said. “We have several things in the pipeline that we’re working on.”
Giving Pets Life
Of course, innovation is one of the driving forces behind any industry, and the pet market is no different. For instance, TropiClean recently launched some new additions to its Life line of supplements, targeting several key areas in dogs’ bodies.
They can also be administered either as food toppers or offered directly to pets as a treat. Where supplements aren’t outright providing nutrients absent from a dog’s diet, many serve to support bodily functions that are already in need of a boost.
“We utilized a variety of different research to formulate Life by TropiClean Supplements,” said James Brandly, public relations specialist at TropiClean. “We consulted with a certified pet nutritionist, several industry experts and veterinarians; conducted palatability tests; and utilized supplier industry studies on which ingredients would be used. We also conducted pet parent research, allowing us to glimpse into what products, solutions, ingredients and benefits are most important to them and their pets.”
Perhaps reflecting this market research, one of the company’s most popular items from the line is the Life by TropiClean Hip & Joint Supplement for dogs. According to Brandly, a recent national survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) found that nearly 50 percent of pet owners who purchased supplements sought a hip and joint supplement. The Nutrition Business Journal found that the top-selling supplement group was joint health, with sales of $690 million. TropiClean’s product combines collagen, glucosamine and chondroitin to support mobility and comfort.
It might be speculated that the frequency with which pet owners seek hip and joint supplements might be tied to the increasing prevalence of pet obesity, which can, in turn, cause issues like arthritis. Dr. Nelson mentioned arthritis as a common ailment associated with obesity and cited glucosamine and chondroitin as ingredients found in any good joint supplement.
In addition, TropiClean produces a calming aid (also a new item), a multivitamin, a skin and coat supplement with omega-3 and omega-6, an immunity supplement for “triple defense” and a probiotic supplement.
“Retailers can merchandise supplements by educating pet parents,” Brandly noted. “Reach out to manufacturers for educational resources and in-store signage. Once on the shelf, group brands together or by solutions such as Hip & Joint, Skin & Coat, etc. This makes it easy for pet parents to find the perfect supplement for their pets.”
The Gut of the Issue
“The gastrointestinal tract, and gastrointestinal health in general, is critical for overall health and well-being in pets and in people,” said Dr. Kurt Venator, chief veterinary officer of Nestlé Purina. “In fact, there’s a ton of new research about what’s called the gut-brain access [and that research] is just starting to tap into the fact that a healthy gut has an impact beyond just on stool quality or digestibility.”
Ultimately, digestion is an important part of a dog’s overall health because it is through digestion that pets are able to effectively process and use the fuel provided in their foods. Because what good is a super healthy, well-vetted and balanced diet if a dog cannot effectively digest and use all of these nutrients?
And Nestlé Purina seems to have a reason for focusing on gastrointestinal health. Insider reported that the company conducted a survey that found 40 percent of dog owners were interested in purchasing veterinary medications, foods or supplements to address their pets’ gastrointestinal condition.
“Obviously, ideally, an owner doesn’t want to have to deal with soft stools, accidents in the house,” Dr. Venator continued. “But we want to make sure that for pets to thrive, we want them to have firm, appropriate stools because that lets us know that they’re digesting appropriately, that they’re bringing in the nutrients they need from the gastrointestinal tract to run all the body’s processes.”
Purina’s FortiFlora is a proprietary probiotic, according to Dr. Venator. The ultimate goal of the product is to achieve the ideal balance of bacteria in a pet’s gut. After rigorous research, the company figured out how to effectively capsulate the probiotic, which is a live organism, so that it would make its way through a dog’s system to the gastrointestinal tract without being destroyed before that point.
According to the company’s website, FortiFlora promotes intestinal balance and a healthy canine immune system. It also helps reduce diarrhea associated with antibiotic therapy and stress. It’s conveniently packaged individually and can be added to dogs’ food by simply sprinkling the package’s contents.
Life and Death, in Cells
“In an average, normal healthy person or dog, billions of cells die each day, and that’s a good thing because that enables new cells to be born and to grow,” said James Jacobson, CEO of Functional Nutriments. “So that dying process, which happens all the time… that process that basically helps [cells] come to the end of their useful life is called apoptosis.
“It’s a deep, foundational thing that is a little over people’s heads, [but] it’s really important because sometimes… when there’s not normal apoptosis, that’s when bad things can happen,” Jacobson continued. “That’s when you can get some things that shouldn’t be growing out of control, growing out of control. Maintaining the normal, healthy changeover of cells is what we focus on.”
Functional Nutriment’s product in this space is called Apocaps, a nutraceutical “to help support normal life quality and long-term health in dogs receiving regular veterinary care,” according to the company’s website. Its ingredients are extracted from leaves, flowers, husks and roots of botanicals. Serving dog health more broadly, EverPup is a daily supplement for dogs of all ages. It supports a healthy metabolism, immunity and digestion, in particular. The powder, which is formulated with vitamins, minerals and apoptogens, is “packed with beef liver and flavorful greens like spirulina” for maximized palatability.
Another reason for retailers to consider EverPup is the company’s money-back taste guarantee. It ensures that customers are satisfied with the product, but because the company would refund customers directly, there’s no impact on the sale made by the retailer.
“That happens so infrequently [that] it’s an amazing tool for us because it really helps lower the resistance that some retailers have to selling a new product or consumers have to trying it,” Jacobson said. “We also have a crazy-high repurchase rate, so once a customer tries EverPup, they tend to stay.”
Jacobson also mentioned a webinar training program for pet retailers that the company recently launched. It’s designed to educate staff so they’re able to have more knowledgeable conversations with customers about the product. The program was developed based on retailer feedback gathered at trade shows like Global Pet Expo and is now offered free to any pet retailer.
Protecting Against Pests
Retailers can help dog owners fortify their pets’ health by recommending nutritious foods and appropriate supportive and preventative supplements based on each individuals’ needs. And in line with such preventative measures are pest control and repellant products.
“Fleas are vectors of disease; they also cause a lot of irritation for the pet,” said Calvin Leach, president of Promika LLC. “Of course with ticks, there’s a lot of health concerns that are associated with ticks: Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever. So both in irritation and overall health risks for the pet as well as the family and the humans around the pet—I mean, who wants their home to be infested with fleas or ticks?”
According to the company’s website, it offers four primary products for dogs for pest prevention and control: the Salvo Flea & Tick Collar (to be compared to the Scalibor Protector Band), Adventure Plus (to be compared to Advantage II), Zoguard Plus (compared to Frontline Plus), and ShieldTec Plus (compared to VetGuard Plus). Each product targets a range of pests, including fleas, ticks, lice, eggs and larvae. ShieldTec Plus can also act as a repellant.
Leach explained that, though shopping for pest control products might seem overwhelming at first, retailers can assuage customers’ anxiety by learning more about their pets’ day-to-day environment and level of outdoor activity. As with most pet products, finding the right one is primarily about knowing more about the client and its individual needs.
For instance, retailers should work with customers to figure out—in addition to environment and activity—the level of maintenance and time they’re able to dedicate to using the product. The Salvo Flea and Tick Collar, though longer-lasting than most topical treatments, takes about 10 to 12 days to achieve full protection on a pet. On the other hand, topical treatments can do so within 24 hours, but they need reapplication about every 30 days.
According to Leach, the active ingredients of the collar are mixed in with its polymers while still in liquid form. The collar is then injection molded by a machine and emerges solidified. The combination of friction against the pet’s body, its natural skin oils and natural elements such as UV rays trigger the active ingredients to release off of the collars and flow across the pet in a measured and minute application that can last six to eight months.
“As a product comes off patent, we focus on replicating that product and bringing it to market at a more cost-effective price for the consumer, at the same time enhancing the margins of potential for the retailer,” Leach said. “It’s not just about bringing a cheaper product to market for the consumer, but we also work to expand the margin potential that the retailer has on these products as well.”