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November 2, 2015

Our pets are living longer, busier lives. Unfortunately, that means more time for them to develop joint damage. To support dogs as they age or as they experience injuries, hip and joint care is a major concern. According to the latest American Pet Products Association’s National Pet Owners Survey, among pet owners who give their pets supplements, the most popular category is joint health and mobility. The survey also found that trend holds true among all-sized breeds.

With new products emerging from extensive research and development, dogs who experience joint-related issues can still have a wonderful quality of life. While supplements drive the joint care category, this niche extends beyond pills and powders. Customers seeking to minimize joint damage or care for an aging dog consider multiple product categories.

While these products often are thought of as being for aging dogs, they extend beyond that into dogs with health conditions like arthritics, competitive or athletic dogs, working dogs and large breeds. Dog beds fill a big gap for those owners: from orthopedic and memory foam options to built-in heating and cooling systems, customers can purchase different joint solutions. Likewise, harnesses can provide owners with the ability to support dogs who require joint care.

Effective Ingredients

Though those additional market segments are expanding, the liquids, pills, powders and treats still drive growth.

In her Manhattan-based store Petropolis, Tazz Latifi said ingredients matter.

“As a retailer, I train my staff and we have some great products that we love and that work very well,” she said.

She recommends Nordic Naturals to help with inflammation, joint care and skin care, and she often suggests Liquid Health because it absorbs well.

“If one of those supplements doesn’t work, the other will,” she said. “Generally, MSM [methylsulfonylmethane] is what works 50 to 70 percent of the time versus the other ingredients. VetriScience joint products are excellent as well.”

She suggests VetriScience’s pure MSM product.

The key from the retailer’s perspective is to educate clients so they don’t inadvertently overload their pet’s system. Latifi said that while “appetizing is where sales come from, the supplement industry is so unregulated. It’s tough for pet parents. Everyone wants a quick fix.”

She counsels her customers to start with a solid foundation of high-quality, minimally-processed foods, then figure out the right supplement. “I love supplements if used properly. I’m always very cautious with what I recommend,” she said.

“With age and injury, every pet will face some kind of joint related challenge, but approximately 25 percent of all pets will experience significant, degenerative joint issues,” said Heidi Nevala, president of Natura Petz Organics. “Large breed dogs often manifest joint issues in their hips and shoulders, whereas small breed and miniatures experience knee and spine issues. Some dogs and cats have greatest exposure simply due to genetics, like German shepherds, and working and performance pets also are at higher risk due to rigorous training and repetitive actions. Cold weather takes a toll on dogs and cats, creating more aches and pains and conditionally, and the possibility of greater joint problems. Obesity is a related issue to joint problems.”

Natura Petz Organics offers four products that aid joints: Vitamin Ninja, Joint Ease, Body Bliss and Bionic Body.

Healthy Treats

For some customers, treats with added joint care benefits provide an enticing way to both spoil their pet while providing additional benefits. Hip Action, one of Zuke’s three most popular treat lines, provides that type of support.

“Pet owners who are concerned with the health of their pet’s joints are focused on finding effective solutions that save time and are easy to give. Pills and powders can be frustrating for both owner and pet, but by making the delivery of glucosamine, chondroitin, antioxidants and eggshell meal part of treat time, Hip Action removes the stress associated with administering remedies and instead turns it into an opportunity to bond,” said Chris Meiering, director of innovation at Zuke’s.

For her customers who are interested in treats as a way to deliver those added benefits, Latifi cautions them about burdening the pet’s kidneys.

“Treats plus supplements plus whatever else—don’t overdo it. Work with a nutritionist. Speak with your vet. Start the process slowly. Take your time; over a couple weeks, slowly build up to the amount for their proper weight.”

Especially for customers who are new to this category or who are unfamiliar with their options, it’s important for retailers to take an active role in helping them make the best decision for their dogs.

“For Hip Action, as well as many other functional treats, retailers need to communicate to customers the real efficacy of the product,” Meiering said. “They are not only easier to administer than a pill or powder, but they are extremely effective at relieving the pain associated with arthritis, hip dysplasia and other joint issues. Treats are, in fact, an ideal delivery system for the many supplements that increase the quality of a pet’s life. To ensure that a pet receives the full benefit of Hip Action, it’s important for pet owners to read the feeding instructions on the back of the Hip Action package where they’ll find the recommended daily dose based on the weight of their pet.”

Two additional opportunities exist as sub-segments of this category: weight management and natural. Many dogs who experience joint problems are also overweight, so overlapping product recommendations, like low-calorie treats, can be beneficial. Also, leverage the increased demand for natural or holistic products by stocking a selection of those offerings. NaturVet, Pet Naturals of Vermont and B-Naturals are three popular options.

Finally, whether your customers are interested in conventional or natural products, or need weight management strategies, always suggest a trip to the veterinarian before recommending any product solutions.

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