The pet humanization trend is driving major change in the pet industry, including the health and hygiene category. Pet supplements may provide nutrients that are missing from companion animals’ diets or help to support bodily functions as pets age. For owners seeking ways to keep pets’ minds and bodies in tip-top shape, pet health supplements are on the cutting edge of the burgeoning pet health industry.
According to the veterinary publication Insider, pets are living longer and owners are, in turn, looking to their own health regimens for ideas to keep their companions healthy. Such a trend coincides with the rising costs of veterinary visits, which the American Pet Products Association (APPA) reports to have increased 47 percent for dog owners over the last decade; the cat category saw an even more dramatic increase: 73 percent.
Filling Dietary Gaps
“We are what we eat—and that age old adage holds true for our pets as well,” said Chris Bessent, D.V.M. and founder of Herbsmith, Inc. “We all understand the benefits of high quality pet foods made from real ingredients but in our world, pet food needs to be free of bacteria and shelf stable.”
The domestication of companion animals has changed a lot about their habits, especially their diets. Pet health supplements like Microflora and Sound Dog fill the voids that are left in pets’ nutrition by safe-made shelf pet food.
“Pet food needs to be sterile,” Bessent explained. “It cannot contain bacteria, good or bad. So a source of probiotics, dormant, dehydrated, ‘good for the gut’ microorganisms must be given to our pets as a supplement. [Microflora] is necessary to support any pets’ digestive health and is especially helpful to support upset gastrointestinal health.”
According to Bessent, Microflora contains high levels of probiotics (good bacteria), prebiotics (food that feeds that good bacteria), digestive enzymes and gut-soothing herbs. Sound Dog, also produced by Herbsmith, similarly seeks to supplement nutrients missing from pets’ domesticated diets.
“Also important is the supplementation of joint fluid and joint supporters such as glucosamine, hyaluronic acid and chondroitin,” Bessent said. “When shelf stable pet food is made, it seldom contains the cartilage ends of long bones of the prey. The joints and ends of long bones are exactly where the pet receives the nutritional support for their joints and joint fluid.”
Sound Dog is a soft chew supplement with high levels of nutrients to support joints and pets’ complete health.
While many pet supplements target issues that arise as pets age, several products are available for pet owners looking to fortify their younger pets’ health. Vivamune, produced by Avivagen, maintains health in young pets into old age.
“It works by helping your pet’s own body function help itself; truly holistic,” said Tracy Gillett, marketing manager at Avivagen. “The Vivamune range of health supplements are based on the unique active ingredient, OxC-beta. In a concentrated form within Vivamune soft chews, OxC-beta helps support pets’ immune systems, promotes healthy joint function and maintains healthy skin and digestion.”
Most understand the benefits to human health of carotene from foods like carrots. Such nutrients are also important to pets. According to Gillett, OxC-beta was discovered by Canadian scientists as a naturally occurring substance that forms when beta carotene from orange fruits and vegetables mixes with oxygen. It is the active ingredient in Vivamune supplements.
Life by Tropiclean is a spray-on food additive formulated to support several aspects of healthy living in dogs of any age. Released in March 2016, the supplement boosts pets’ immunity systems, provides healthy skin and coats, supports optimal nutrition and naturally promotes a healthy digestive system. Owners simply spray into their pets’ food dishes.
“Each bottle of Life contains fresh oils from Alaskan Pollack and Norwegian Salmon, wild-caught in the pure waters of the Bering Sea to provide natural antioxidants, a balanced blend of omegas 6 and 3 and our VitaPact, which is a blend of vitamins A, D3 and E,” said Joe Zuccarello, director of innovation and promotions at Tropiclean. “Our supplements are designed for specific solutions created through the purest process possible, resulting in a clean, pleasant aroma.”
Pet Humanization in Supplements
A recently emerging industry, pet supplements have been noted by many manufacturers to signal a shift in pet health culture and therefore the lengths to which customers are willing to go to provide preemptive healthcare for their animals. A dog owner herself, Ark Naturals founder and CEO Susan Weiss was already involved in the human sector of health when she realized the good that could also be done for pets.
“Back in 1996, we lived in a different universe,” Weiss said. “The world today bears no resemblance to the world back then. Natural products were unheard of; consumers were penny conscious. We had just lost Jordan, our standard poodle, to cancer. He was raised with ‘old thinking’—supermarket pet foods, lots of shots and vaccines, and low quality treats.”
Weiss’ loss of her beloved Jordan prompted a reimagining of ingredients used in pet foods—a vision that carried over when Ark Naturals launched its own line of supplement products.
“Basically, what makes us unique is that we invest in our ingredients,” Weiss said. “All of our ingredients are thoroughly researched and chosen based on their effectiveness and quality.”
As an example, Weiss cited research behind Omega Mender! Itch Ender! by Ark Naturals, a supplement providing omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids to support healthy coats, shiny fur, joint flexibility, brain function and heart health. Because animals are unable to produce these essential fatty acids on their own, supplements are necessary to combat dry skin, hot spots, excessive paw licking, stiff joints, rashes and dandruff. While many competitors use wild salmon, Ark Naturals products are formulated with wild anchovies and sardines.
“We choose smaller fish because of their life cycle,” Weiss explained. “They live shorter, therefore their ability to absorb mercury is much less than that of a larger fish who has had a longer life cycle.”
Similarly concerned with what they saw as a trend in pet health, Bob Goldstein, V.M.D., and his wife Susan went on to develop pet supplements to promote a range of health initiatives, from immune system support to overall wellness and longevity. They grew their business starting in 1979, when Susan first opened up a natural pet store next door to Dr. Goldstein’s veterinary hospital.
“At Earth Animal, we are deeply concerned by the epidemic of cancer in dogs and cats,” Susan Goldstein said. “High quality vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and herbs fed daily and dosed properly act as sparkplugs for the immune system. The immune system plays a major role in the body’s defense mechanism against cancer.”
The Earth Animals supplement line includes Immune Support, an organic liquid herbal remedy with active ingredients goldenseal, echinacea, astragalus, turmeric and ashwagandha. It can be fed directly to pets or mixed with food and water. Earth Animals’ Health Nuggets contain living nutrients, antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids to support overall health. For those pets with raw diets, Earth Animal’s Daily Raw works to maintain nutrient balance, particularly of calcium and phosphorus.
Not Just for Cats and Dogs
The supplement industry may credit two trends for creating the conditions necessary for it to flourish: an increase in pets’ veterinary visits and the lengthening of animals’ life expectancy. Health supplements for small animals, birds and reptiles are also on the rise, following in the footsteps of products made for cats and dogs.
“Today’s pets are living longer lives thanks to proper nutrition and care, and more pet owners are taking their small pets to the vet than ever before,” said Lucas Stock, communications manager at Oxbow. “Fortunately for pets and their owners, manufacturers have started to answer the call by formulating products to support these age-related health and wellness needs. Our Natural Science supplements, for instance, are specifically formulated with premium herbal ingredients to meet a variety of health and wellness needs in small pets.”
Much like humans, balanced diets come as the result of individualized health plans—no two animals are exactly alike, so the components for a complete health plan vary from pet to pet. Displaying products in strategic ways is important for retailers who carry supplements.
“We encourage retailers to merchandize the Natural Science supplements with the Natural Science foods whenever possible, as the combination of these products offers customers a customizable nutrition program all within the same line,” Stock said. “One final recommendation is that the supplements be kept at eye level. Because the Natural Science supplements are new and novel, it’s important to provide maximum exposure to encourage sales to new customers.”
Retailers must also have in-store conversations with customers in order to better understand their pets’ needs.
“One of the best ways for retailers to educate their customers on the benefits of supplements is to first understand the specific, individual needs of a customer’s animals,” Stock said. “Ask the customer about their pets—their ages, health history, and specific health and wellness needs. If you know that a customer has a pet with a history of digestive issues, for instance, recommending a digestive supplement becomes a logical and easy step.”
For customers seeking products made specifically for birds, Ohio-based Vitakraft SunSeed offers solutions to a range of issues in their Quiko product line.
“Quiko Probiotic Digestive Support Supplement is a high quality blend of bacteria that helps to support normal intestinal floral levels in your bird’s digestive system,” said Brent Weinmann, president and CEO of Vitakraft SunSeed, Inc.
According to a report produced by Vitakraft, vitamins and minerals are important throughout animals’ lives, but they become especially necessary during breeding, early development stages and during aging. Certain species, such as guinea pigs, are in special need of daily vitamin C, and the vitamins in food tend to lose potency as they are stored. Birds and small animals can also develop selective eating habits, causing them to miss out on necessary nutrients. Supplements can help remedy this issue.
SunSeed’s Vita Prima Sun Drops are formulated with vitamins A, D3 and C, each supporting a different health aspect from growth and reproduction to stress. This orange-flavored liquid vitamin is recommended as a daily supplement for a pet bird’s diet in order to fortify nutritional deficiencies caused by selective eating and natural nutrient depletion that occurs as food ages and is stored in varying environments. They also offer a variety formulated for small animals such as guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice and more.
While dogs, cats, small animals and birds rely mostly on supplements with oral applications, the supplemental product category for reptiles includes products that some pet owners might not initially consider in addition to oral supplements.
For example, Zoo Med produces edible supplements with and without Vitamin D3. ReptiVite is a complete vitamin, mineral and amino acid complex formulated for reptiles. It is calcium based for healthy bone growth and is one of the company’s original products, first made available in 1984 and now used in zoos around the world. ReptiCalcium is an ultra-fine precipitated calcium carbonate supplement made for reptiles and amphibians and is also available with or without Vitamin D3.
Repashy’s Vitamin A Plus and SuperPig are nutrient-specific products that seek to supplement reptile diets. SuperPig is formulated with carotenoids and offers a range of benefits.
“Carotenoids are often only thought of as ‘color enhancers’, but they are much more than that,” said Allen Repashy, owner of Repashy Ventures, Inc. “They have extremely high antioxidant value, they have been shown to have important effects on vision and they are often classified as immune system stimulators and reducers of oxidative stress and inflammation.”
Repashy also offers Calcium Plus, a calcium carbonate-based all-in-one formula that includes essential major minerals, trace elements, vitamins and carotenoids.
However, Zoo Med’s animal care and education coordinator Ashley Rademacher stresses the use of UVB lamps in addition to options like edible supplements.
“Although oral supplements such as vitamins and calcium are essential for reptile health, UVB lighting has proven to be one of the most important innovations for reptile keeping,” Rademacher said. “In 1993, Zoo Med made our crowning achievement with the development and production of the first UVB reptile lamp on the market. This lamp, along with heat and proper diet, allows herp breeders to maintain more fragile species of lizards, turtles and tortoises.”
The National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) works with state, federal and international governments to create regulations for animal health supplements and build a legislative framework for the animal health industry. The organization seeks also to educate consumers and manufacturers about pet supplements, and provides recommendations for appropriate usage.
“Supplements can be an important component of a comprehensive care program for companion animals,” said Bill Bookout, president of the NASC. “However, pet owners should understand that supplements are not magic bullets. It is important to realize that ‘health’ in all life stages is like a sphere—it is three-dimensional. Diet, exercise, environment, a loving home, routine vet checkups, etc., along with supplements are important in helping extend the quality and quantity of life for our pets to the maximum degree possible. There is more and more research supporting the use of supplements for animals that helps accomplish this goal.”
Bookout emphasized the importance of customers’ investment in quality when shopping for supplement products. The NASC also conducts quality audits at manufacturing facilities and customers can find the NASC seal on any product made by a company that meets the organization’s standards.