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Making It Better: Examining the Most Innovative Pet Products

Glenn Polyn//April 1, 2021//

Making It Better: Examining the Most Innovative Pet Products

Glenn Polyn //April 1, 2021//

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To satisfy the ever-demanding consumer, the pet care industry is continually challenging itself to create products that are more effective, better tasting, more durable, more exciting and solve more health issues. It takes creativity, intelligence and ingenuity to achieve these goals, but the pet industry is teeming with people who answer the call and help manufacturers bring these products to market.

The list of innovative brands is vast, and they cover all pet categories. However, one thing remains constant; they are constantly challenging themselves to “make it better.”

Ryan Rutherford, chief creative officer at Cosmic Pet, entered the pet industry 20 years ago with JW Pet, and has also done independent consulting for several companies, including Caitec and Kurgo. According to Rutherford, the pet toy market was very limited in the early 1990s. It was, as he describes, “an immature industry.”

“At the time, there wasn’t a lot,” Rutherford noted. “There were the rubber newspapers and vinyl steaks. Then there was Kong, which was known for its iconic shape, and Nylabone, which was a vast aisle of nylon bones.”

While working for JW Pet, he designed Cuz, the dog toy that is famous for its appearance of a ball with legs and feet.

“Cuz was an opportunity to bring a playful, abstract, cute thing into the pet space, and it worked,” Rutherford recalled. “It was my way of giving an anthropomorphic character element to the most common dog toy; a ball. Walk into a pet store now and there are endless choices for fun characters. At Cosmic, we have multiple brands delivering just that, from our Crazy Crew line and Mega Mutt brand for dogs to our Quirky Kitty and Mad Cat lines for cats. Characters are no longer an outlier, now you need great character design just to be a player.”

Characters are not the only thing evolving in the pet toy sector, We’ve seen the introduction of functional puzzle toys made famous by brands like Nina Ottosson. New materials, including composites and exotic elastomers, have also been introduced, pushing the boundaries among toys. While much has changed over the past 20 years, Rutherford considers creativity and innovative designs to be important in the pet industry.

“The world’s different from where I was 20 years ago,” he said. “My perspective has changed as this company has grown and as I’ve matured in this industry. My high and my fix is to do something that hasn’t been done before. That’s the thing I’m chasing and looking for all the time. But it doesn’t have to always be that revolutionary, crazy, out-of-the-box, mind-blowing thing. That’s not what always fits the business. That’s not what fits the customer. For me, it’s trying to fit that new thing into whatever we’re doing. You set up the boundaries of the opportunity. You set up all these rules as a designer to create a question that you can answer with a product. What’s the price point? What’s the gap that they have on the shelf? What space are we trying to fill? The more information that you have from a customer or an opportunity, the narrower that the chance to be crazy gets. But that’s always what I’m looking for — what is that thing that hasn’t been done?”

In the area of accessories, brands like Hauspanther from Primetime Petz are finding innovative ways to incorporate pet products that fit seamlessly into a pet parent’s home décor. Thanks to Kate Benjamin, founder of Hauspanther, the brand is designing cat beds and scratchers that marry form with function while looking attractive with a consumer’s home décor.

Meanwhile, Park & Bench describes itself as a cat brand known for its line of cat scratchers that fit with the style and finesse of the modern, sophisticated cat. The brand’s products are designed to be unique yet practical. Made from sustainable material that encourages a cat’s natural behavior, the company uses non-toxic ingredients that keep cats safe and healthy regardless of how rough they play.

Appearance is important in the design process at Park & Bench, which views pets and their owners as equals in the experience of its products. According to Ryan Carter, director of product development at Park & Bench, it’s a methodology that is central to the style and theme of his designs.

“Our Tremolo cat scratcher, for example, is stylish enough to complement most home decor, from mid-century modern to boho and is yet practical in its functionality as a scratcher and cat hut,” he explained. “Our scratchers are designed to perform their core function and improve the aesthetics of any space they are added to without clashing with cat parents’ décor. We are always curious and do things deliberately different without compromising quality and craftsmanship. We aim to make products that both pets and owners can thoroughly enjoy.”

Founded in 2007, Sure Petcare has developed an award-winning range of microchip-operated pet door and feeders. The company, which is a Companion Animal portfolio of digital products within Merck Animal Health, uses technology for the innovative products that it has on the market.

Sure Petcare’s Connected Feeders, Behavior Tracker and Connected Door key into a pet’s exercise patterns and movements.  Last year, the brand introduced leading edge pet technology products that enable pet parents to connect to the company’s “Eco-System,” whereby consumers can track their pet’s behaviors — eating, sleeping, exercising and resting — to identify possible health problems before they become life threatening.

Another product that stands out for its unique qualities is Dog Rocks, a natural, innovative solution to prevent dog urine from burning grass. Drinking water filtered and purified by Dog Rocks is purer than tap water, so it’s safe for all pets in the household to enjoy. Dog Rocks, in line with the trend for eco-friendly gardening, are supplied in sustainable cardboard pouches with no plastics used whatsoever — and represent excellent value for money compared to the cost and hassle of continually repairing or re-turfing a scorched lawn.

“Dog Rocks are re-writing the rules of gardening,” explained Carina Evans, CEO of Podium Pet Products. “No longer are lawns and beloved family pets incompatible. What’s so smart about Dog Rocks is that, unlike other products on the market, they do not alter the pH of a dog’s urine, so pet-owners can relax in the knowledge that they’re not medicating their dog, and can once again enjoy a lawn to be proud of. Dog Rocks has been endorsed by vets and ‘pet parents’ worldwide.”

The product has received multiple awards across the globe. Evans points to the product being recognized by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in 2016 as one of the most exciting days of her career.

“We were so honored to win a Queen’s Award,” explained Evans of the honor, which is considered one of the most prestigious awards in the United Kingdom. “I was treated to an amazing reception at Buckingham Palace with many other U.K. innovators and entrepreneurs.  I met the Queen, Princess Anne and the Duke of Kent, who are all great animal lovers. This award recognized how innovative Dog Rocks is, and what a unique offering it is to consumers worldwide.”

When seeking a brand using technology for the advancement of health care, one will find Vetericyn Animal Health. Since the company started 11 years, its team has been passionate about using innovation and cutting-edge technology to produce the safest, most effective products in animal health and wellness.  As a result, Vetericyn has helped pet parents, livestock producers and veterinarians take better care of animals

Vetericyn partnered with A.S. Narain Naidu, PhD, FACN, FLS, a medical microbiologist/ immunologist with more than 35 years of research expertise, to advance the area of dog supplements utilizing his breakthrough technology and background on bioactive molecules.

Backed by eight patents, Vetericyn’s ALL-IN is a clinically proven, life-stage dog supplement that combines a proprietary delivery system that gets ingredients absorbed into the cells. It contains the essential building blocks dogs need at their particular life stage to promote digestive, cellular, bone, mental and immune health.

“We’re helping to guide pet owners into the future of pet health by providing a balanced life stage dog supplement that combines total nutrition with a delivery system that gets nutrients into the cells,” explained Geoff Hamby, director of marketing at Vetericyn. “And because ALL-IN is based on decades of knowledge, clinical evidence, and a passion for innovation, we have earned the trust of pet parents across the globe to bring them cutting-edge products.”

Thera-Clean is a brand that has recently launched a product that, on the surface, appears to be a grooming product. However, the brand is revolutionizing pet health and wellness with its chemical-free system thanks to the innovative power of microbubbles.

In fact, Thera-Clean recently was named 2020 Skin & Coat Product of the Year at the Pet Innovation Awards, beating out 2,000 other entries, with its Microbubbles Cleaning System. The system supports the well-being of a companion animal by delivering an all-natural, deep clean that not only improves a pet’s appearance, but also its health and wellness. The product was inspired by microbubbles, an innovative technology developed in Japan that had been widely adopted at veterinary hospitals and grooming salons internationally.

“Thera-Clean Microbubble Technology has perfected the way we get skin truly clean with just water and billions of very tiny bubbles,” said Kyle Darling, president of Thera-Clean. “No soaps, no shampoos, in fact no chemicals at all. A Thera-Clean bath deep-cleans to a level that regular bath products simply cannot reach, going down into the skin and cleaning the entire follicle rather than just the surface. Bacteria, dirt, debris, yeast and even allergens get trapped down inside our pet’s skin causing issues to remain a constant battle.”

Microbubbles are incredibly small bubbles that are less than 100 micrometers across. A Thera-Clean microbubble is about one-third the size of a red blood cell. The Thera-Clean System, using tap water, uniformly generates microbubbles that range from 3 to 20 micrometers. This allows Thera-Clean microbubbles to penetrate hair follicles and pores, without passing through the epidermis, or skin surface for a deep clean. Pets simply sit in a tub with a soft, gentle stream of microbubble-infused water and the microbubbles do all the work. A thorough cleansing takes only 15 minutes.

“Thera-Clean opens up a whole new service/revenue stream for retailers,” Darling noted. “It also gives the pet parent an alternative to spending more money on drugs with an all-natural approach. The No. 1 reason for a vet visit is dermatology related. You’re not going to get the skin healthy until it gets properly cleaned first. Thera-Clean is just as much a part of the prevention of skin problems as it is in helping to treat them. That is why we educate pet parents on the importance of a regular Thera-Clean bath for all pets — skin issue or not.”

The innovations in pet food are as varied as the vast recipes that exist on the market. Merging food and health, Purina was able to utilize cat food as an innovative method to transform the way people can manage cat allergens by reducing exposure to the allergen, but not to the cat.

With Dr. Ebenezer Satyaraj as the lead researcher on the Purina project, a team of scientists, nutritionists and veterinarians worked for over a decade to come to the conclusion that pet food could play an important role in helping manage cat allergens. The 14 years of research revealed that a protein in cat saliva called Fel d 1 is the major cat allergen — not the hair or dander. When cats groom, Fel d 1 gets on the hair and skin through the saliva, and ultimately into the environment.

Launching last year, Pro Plan LiveClear safely neutralizes the Fel d 1 protein in cat saliva. The key ingredient is a specific protein sourced from eggs. When cats eat the food, the ingredient binds to Fel d 1 and safely neutralizes it in the cat’s mouth.

“Purina scientists have researched cat allergens for more than a decade and discovered a breakthrough approach that can safely and significantly reduce allergens in cat hair and dander,” noted Dr. Kurt Venator, chief veterinary officer at Purina. “Pro Plan LiveClear, which is available now, is the first and only cat food shown to reduce allergens in cat hair and dander by an average of 47 percent starting with the third week of daily feeding.”

Founded in a small town in Alberta, Canada, Champion Petfoods has been a pioneer in crafting premium food for dogs and cats since 1985. The brand specializes in making foods that are Biologically Appropriate to nourish as nature intended. That means Champion starts with WholePrey ingredients from both fresh and raw animal sources. ORIJEN and ACANA foods are crafted by nutrition and health experts in world class kitchens, exporting to nearly 100 countries worldwide.

Earlier this year, ACANA unveiled its latest innovations in HEALTHY GRAINS dry dog food, High-Protein Biscuits and Freeze-Dried Food.

“We’re constantly talking to pet lovers about what ingredients they want to see in their pet’s food,” said James Burns, director of marketing at Champion Petfoods Canada. “It comes down to high quality; if the ingredient list looks good enough for them to eat as a human, then it’s good enough for their pet. That’s why at Champion Petfoods, we looked for healthy grains, high protein and simple ingredients that read like a pet lover’s own recipes.”

Fromm Family Foods has been an industry leader and innovator since its inception more than a century ago. For five generations, the company has valued its history of quiet innovation, blazing trails and making a substantial mark in animal health and nutrition. Fromm laboratories developed the first canine and feline distemper vaccines, and the company also pioneered the process in which meat and grain are cooked together to create the dry kibble that is so prevalent today.

The company expanded its manufacturing capabilities with family-owned facilities throughout Wisconsin to create new canned offerings for dogs and cats and recently introduced a proprietary manufacturing process to launch Crunchy Os, a “puffed up” treat that delivers an unmistakable and entertaining audible crunch. Innovation and product leadership continue to be hallmarks of the Fromm brand as the next generation of family leaders take the helm.

Bryan Nieman, brand director of Fromm Family Foods, describes how the Fromm business, rooted in innovation and dedicated to the development of complete and balanced nutrition, has continued to create variety-driven foods and treats to a growing community of pet parents.

“These core values drive Fromm to design dry and canned entrees for dogs and cats that feature diverse protein sources and meticulous formulation and manufacturing practices,” he continued. “Fromm delivers on these values with our life stage-specific Fromm Gold line of dog and cat foods and the variety-driven Four-Star Nutritionals.”

Several brands in the pet food sector are linking healthy digestive and immune systems to the overall health of a pet, which is why Diamond Pet Foods created a proprietary line of species-specific probiotic strains for most of their formulas for dogs and cats. The K9 Strain Probiotics (for dogs) and Viables Probiotics (for cats) were developed from probiotic strains already found in the canine and feline GI tracts, then are added to the food after the cooking process, ensuring the viable probiotics are not killed during that phase.

Every pound of Diamond, Diamond Naturals, Diamond Naturals Grain-Free, Diamond CARE and Diamond Pro89 dog formulas, and Diamond CARE Weight Management for Cats dry food delivers 80 million CFU of live, active probiotic cultures, guaranteed.

“After seeing the benefits probiotics provide humans, Diamond Pet Foods thought the same benefits could be good for their four-legged customers,” said Dr. Michele Sayles, executive director of food safety and quality at Diamond Pet Foods. “A team of us at Diamond worked with a leading supplier of probiotics to identify and isolate species-specific strains to create a proprietary blend for Diamond Pet Foods. We spent years studying and enhancing the probiotic formulation to perfect the blend. Using probiotic strains already found in the canine and feline GI tracts ensures they are a beneficial strain for each animal. Now, the majority of our products include these blends, enhancing the benefits to those foods without increasing the price. We continue to work closely with our supplier of probiotics as science evolves to maintain nutritional integrity to each formula Diamond creates.”

Thanks to these and other members of the pet care community, the current and future generations of companion animals can expect to have access to the most beneficial and advanced products possible.