The ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) released data in May 2021 from a national poll of 5,020 respondents confirming that close to one in five households acquired a cat or dog since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, which would account for approximately 23 million American households based on the 2019 U.S. Census. In the ASPCA report, a vast majority of these households still have that pet in the home — 90 percent for dogs and 85 percent for cats— and are not considering rehoming their pet.
According to a 2020 Petfinder survey, four out of five cat and dog acquisitions are puppies and kittens. That information, combined with the recent rise in pet adoption and popularity of the “pet humanization” trend, is having an impact on age-specific products for pet parents who are adding a puppy or kitten to their family.
Caring for a puppy or kitten is a major commitment, albeit an exciting one, and understanding the basics of nutrition, litter box training, grooming, vet visits, establishing house rules and introducing your kitten to existing pets are all important parts of raising a healthy, happy pet.
When adding a puppy or kitten to the household, the first purchase typically includes leashes, bowls and toys, but the interesting thing is that consumers tend to stay with the store for future pet purchases.
Dr. Annie Valuska, a pet behavior scientist with Purina with a focus on domestic dogs and cats, notes that new and existing pet owners turn to pet stores to get the essentials and expertise they need to introduce new pets into the home, especially puppies and kittens. She advises pet stores to have the following 10 essential products on hand for pet owners who are adding a puppy or kitten to their family:
Complete & Balanced Food: Puppy and kitten food formulated with the right proportions of nutrients will help foster healthy growth and development, especially during the first one two years of life, depending on the breed.
Food & Water Bowls: Sturdy bowls that won’t tip over easily are perfect for energetic, and sometimes clumsy, puppies and kittens. Bowls should be easy to clean. Some kittens are allergic to plastic, so varieties including stainless steel are important to have in stock. Consider stocking wide, shallow bowls with plenty of room for kittens’ sensitive whiskers. Two sets of bowls would be ideal, as it enables the pet parent to wash one set in the dishwasher to sterilize them while the other set is in use.
Collar & ID Tags: In many municipalities, collars and ID tags are required, but even if they aren’t a requirement, they’re helpful if a new pet gets lost. It’s important to have collar varieties available for different sized animals with services to also create ID tags that include the pet’s name and owner’s phone number. This is especially important if the puppy or kitten isn’t microchipped yet.
Leashes: Leashes are an important training tool for puppies, and they’re also required in most cities. Similar to collars, pet stores should have multiple leash styles with different materials, styles and lengths. A sturdy six-foot leash is great to start training puppies. Cat harnesses are also great to have for pet owners interested in training their kitten to walk outdoors. The earlier owners start leash or harness training, the easier it will be for them and their pets, so puppy- and kitten-sized options are essential.
Crates & Beds: Crates and beds are an important training tool for puppies, in particular. They provide a puppy with a place to sleep and with a safe space to go if they’re feeling anxious. For crates, encourage new pet owners to start with a smaller crate even if their dog will grow to help with training and adjusting to the space. Enclosed cat beds or shelters are great for kittens who want a safe place to relax sometimes.
Toys: Toys are critical for young pet development. Puppy-safe chew toys are great for teething puppies and help them understand what is appropriate for them to chew on and what’s not. A kitten is naturally curious and needs toys that are safe and engaging. Toys should be made especially for cats — ones that cannot be splintered, torn apart or swallowed. A celluloid ball that rattles, a catnip mouse or a hard rubber mouse is perfect.
Treats: Treats are a great way to reward your puppy or kitten for good behavior. Treats for puppies should be age appropriate. Training treats should be small enough to eat in one or two bites, so it doesn’t derail your progress. New owners can also use a portion of the puppy’s daily kibble when training.
Cleaning Supplies: Accidents will happen with puppies. Pet stores should carry enzymatic cleaners and pet stain and odor removers. These products are made specifically to remove pet stains and odors, which helps prevent puppies from marking the same spots over and over.
Litter Boxes: Carry roomy litter boxes and mats to help owners avoid litter all over the house; some cats preferred covered boxes and others prefer open boxes, so have both on hand. Cat litter varieties and scoops should also be available to help owners pick the right product for their kitten and home.
Scratching Post: Contrary to popular belief, cats do not use a scratching post to sharpen their claws. As they stretch out to their full length, they are using it for exercise. They also use the post to clean away dead scales from their nails and to mark their territory. Scratching posts should be sturdy and large enough to let the kitten stretch its body.
BONDING AND TRAINING
Brushes and combs are often considered essential products for both puppies and kittens, as regular grooming in the form of gentle brushing is important so that it becomes an enjoyable bonding activity and part of routine care. Grooming removes dust, dead skin, loose hair, grass seeds and tangles and shed fur. Pet parents should positively reward the puppy or kitten with a tasty food treat, verbal praise and patting for allowing them to be groomed. This way the puppy or kitten will associate grooming with positive things, making it easier for both the pet and parent.
Training treats have seen a well-deserved growth due to their value for pet parents. Several brands have added training treats to their lineups. PureBites, known for their challenge to retailers and customers to read the ingredient labels on their pet treats, offers Mini-PureBites RAW Freeze Dried Trainers that are made with one ingredient and come in three varieties: chicken breast, beef liver and lamb liver.
Led by its philosophy that young companion animals benefit from age-appropriate products, NPIC has designed a selection of puppy training treats and chews. The brand recently released a line of puppy training treats and expanded its line of puppy teething products.
“At NPIC, we know many pet owners view theirs pets as part of their human families, and they want to give them something that’s the best for them,” said Sam Chen. “From that insight, we started to think about the behaviors, the needs and the relationship between the pets and pet owners at different life stages. With extensive research, we found that the chewing urge during puppy’s teething stage, and the destruction caused by such chewing urge, are two major pain points that did not have any viable solutions in the category at the time. And that’s why we developed the N-Bone Puppy Teething Rings, a solution with unique shape and texture that not only addresses the needs of a puppy, but also takes away the headache of the puppy owners.
“As we go back to the foundational insights of viewing pets as our human family member, we made sure our products can fulfill these babies’ developmental needs as well by adding functional ingredients like the DHA and calcium to support healthy cognitive development, as well as strong teeth and bones,” Chen continued. “We believe that the N-Bone Puppy Teething Rings should not just be empty calories but functional, delicious treats for pet owners’ beloved fur baby.”
When it comes to housetraining, this part of young pet ownership demands a great deal of patience and persistence, not to mention a strategic effort and specific products. As previously noted, accidents are common with young pets, which is why Pet Magasin has created its reusable belly wraps and dog diapers for a wide variety of needs, including dogs that suffer from excitement urination, incontinence, age or illness. The belly wraps are specifically designed for male dogs while the diapers are easy-to-use for untrained puppies and females in heat.
Soft with no “crinkly” texture, Pet Magasin diapers and belly wraps have been designed to increase acceptance, and the Velcro closures are easy to secure and won’t stick to the pup’s fur. Both products are washable, economical, environmentally responsible, highly absorbent and with a waterproof layer to prevent leaks.
Another brand, WizSmart, uses a unique approach that creates effective pads that are good for the environment. WizSmart recycles over half a billion diapers each year that would normally be thrown in landfills. A super absorbent gel holds up to eight cups of liquid and absorbs bad odors. Many training pads are thin with few layers, but WizSmart’s pads are thick with a unique blend of materials including eucalyptus fiber that makes for superior absorption and quick drying.
“Not only are our pads better for the environment, but they help pet parents save money” said Krister Holm, partner and general manager at Petix, creator of WizSmart. “These pads hold much more liquid than standard pads, meaning you do not have to change the pad as often.”
Holm notes that WizSmart pads are great for puppy training. Thanks to their adhesive tabs, WizSmart pads address the male-dog aspect of urination and the overall concern regarding how to secure them to floors and walls. The company recommends bringing puppies to a WizSmart pad several times per day, especially after they’ve had something to eat or drink, and to offer praise for each successful elimination.
For kitten housetraining, the location of the litter box is of utmost importance as kittens don’t have the degree of control that mature cats possess. Gina Zaro, marketing director for Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products, offers a valuable tip for training kittens to connect the litter box with its bathroom needs.
“By putting them in a litter box, they associate the box with the reflex,” she explained. “After feeding time, it is a good idea to place your kitten into a litter box. Kittens have a natural elimination reflex after eating. You should also create easy access for kittens by placing a step up until they are large enough to be able to get in the box easily by themselves.”
The appropriate litter is essential during the housetraining process. Dr. Elsey’s Kitten Attract, which has been on the market since 2007, is a training litter made of premium litter with superior clumping ability and ground to an ideal granule size and texture for a kitten’s tender paws. Kitten Attract litter contains a kitten-specific natural herbal attractant that piques a kitten’s curiosity to use the litter box. The combination of herbs, texture, and particle size provides a unique and effective solution for owners of kittens.
Puppies and kittens require high-calorie foods with specific nutrients to promote healthy growth and brain development. According to ZIWI, it’s important to start a puppy or kitten with a diet that is rich in high-quality proteins, has moderate fat levels and low levels of carbohydrates to help them grow. All of the ZIWI Peak air-dried and canned recipes are complete and balanced. They also meet the AAFCO nutrient profiles for all life stages, including the growth of large breed puppies. ZIWI Peak is incredibly versatile and can be introduced to kittens and puppies as young as 6 weeks of age – just scoop and serve, including as a topper.
Puppies need nearly four times the energy than adult dogs, and they need extra protein to help build new tissue. Therefore, an energy-rich diet including protein, fat, calcium and phosphorous is important during this phase.
A puppy’s needs also vary according to breed. Toy and small breed dogs need higher levels of these nutrients, while large breed dogs need less to control their growth rate, and medium-sized dog breeds are between the two. Too little or too much of these nutrients can cause problems with canine skeletal structure and possibly lead to obesity.
Puppies should have a food with a proper balance of calcium and phosphorus, as well as amino acids and vitamins. Antioxidants also are important for puppies to prevent growth abnormalities and improve overall health. Other beneficial ingredients in puppy food are fish and vegetable oils, which are high in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.
Created in 1993, Vetdiet follows the latest scientific data to provide optimal natural nutrition for the healthy development of puppies. The company has teamed up with pet nutrition experts to offer innovative pet food, including food specifically designed for puppies. Vetdiet puppy foods contain a blend of 25 natural antioxidants to help maintain a healthy immune system paired with real meat as the ingredient to help build strong muscles. According to Jade Dominique, Vetdiet VP of sales, the metabolic needs of puppies of different breed sizes vary, and Vietdiet puppy food “targets specific nutrients and functional ingredients to provide the best nutrition possible for your puppy based on their breed size.”
“We do not use additives or fillers such as artificial colors, flavors or dyes,” he continued. “We only use natural preservatives in our food. We ensure that we use highly digestible ingredients and use minimal processing to ensure our foods provide the best nutrition possible.”
First-time puppy owners may not understand the different development life stages and how breeds affect the process. Vietdiet equips retailers with informational booklets that outline the ingredients, guaranteed analysis and all the benefits associated with each product. In addition, Vetdiet territory managers can set up training sessions with its nutrition team and retailers which can also be held through email and phone calls. The brand also offers retailers an online training platform that Dominique describes as “easily accessible from any electronic device, is free of charge for retailers and makes it easy to learn about our products.”
Kittens, due to the small size of their mouths and digestive systems, can’t eat much at one sitting. Their food should be high in easily digestible animal protein and other important nutrients, such as fiber, essential vitamins and minerals, and taurine, an amino acid found in chicken and fish sources. Since they are in the process of developing their immune system, adequate protein is essential for the development and ongoing maintenance of a nimble defense system. Kitten foods should be slightly higher in certain minerals like calcium and phosphorus for bone growth and development. In addition, Purina recommends kittens be on a diet that includes the following:
- High-quality protein sources to help support growing muscles
- DHA – an Omega-3 fatty acid that helps nourish brain and vision development
- Antioxidants – help support kittens’ developing immune system
- Calcium and phosphorus – help build strong teeth and bones
- Linoleic acid – an Omega-6 fatty acid for healthy skin and coat
Finally, Purina nutritionists recommend feeding kittens both wet and dry food as it ensures cats get plenty of moisture in their diet from wet food while the crunchy kibble in dry food helps reduce plaque and tartar buildup.
“Providing both types of food during the day also adds variety to keep cats interested as they are neophilic and appreciate trying new things,” said Joe Toscano, VP of trade and industry development at Purina. “It also helps kittens develop their palates by preventing them from exclusively preferring a single type of food over time. The more variety in a kitten’s diet, the more adaptable they become to diet changes the older they get.”
“Cats are generally considered kittens for the first 12 months of their life and should be fed a kitten food for that year,” said Dr. Callie Harris, DVM, veterinarian at Purina. “After a year, a kitten has matured into an adult cat and can be transitioned to adult food formulas. However, some larger breed cats, like the Maine Coon, may need to be fed kitten food for longer. I always recommend consulting your vet if you have specific questions about how long to feed kitten food.”
Fromm Family Foods, the fifth-generation family-owned-and-operated business dedicated to the health and nutrition of animals, knows the value of a proper kitten diet. Fromm produces Kitten Gold, which is naturally formulated with duck, chicken, liver, whole eggs and real Wisconsin cheese. It’s enhanced with probiotics to aid digestion and salmon oil for a healthy coat. Froom foods are prepared in small batches with fresh ingredients delivered daily.
“The nutritional needs of a cat vary from birth to maturity, just as they do in dogs,” said Bryan Nieman, Brand Director for Fromm Family Foods. “I think there’s often a perception that a cat’s changing nutritional needs may not be as distinct or unique as their canine counterparts.”
Tiki Cat Born Carnivore for Kittens is high in protein from real chicken combined with highly digestible egg and nutrient-packed chicken liver for taste. The grain-free Chicken & Egg Luau flavor includes Omega-6 and Omega-3 essential fatty acids from salmon oil and flaxseeds, as well as pumpkin to help support healthy digestion. There is added DHA and folic acid for healthy brain and eye development.
Born Carnivore life-stage nutrition takes kittens from nursing, to weaning, to eating whole foods on their own. Tiki Cat Baby includes an energy/weight gain supplement for newborns, a finely shredded/mousse starter food for weaning kittens and two whole food recipes that provide complete nutrition for growing carnivores to 12 months. High protein from real sources, supplemental taurine, extra hydration and an enticing flavor get kitties started on the right paw.
Goat milk is fast becoming recognized for its beneficial qualities in puppy and kitten nutrition. Tailspring goat milk pet products come from Meyenberg, which was founded in 1934 and is known for its high quality and trust.
Goat milk is easier for pets, due in part to it containing smaller-sized fat particles that form smaller, softer curds in the stomach compared to cow milk. Especially for very young animals, this allows the digestive system to break down compounds quicker and absorb nutrients and energy faster, making them easier to digest. Another reason is the protein structure of goat milk. Casein is a natural protein found in all mammal milk, and pets can have difficulty with the Alpha S1 casein found in cow milk. Studies have shown that goat milk is very low in Alpha S1 casein and primarily contains Alpha S2 casein, making it enjoyable for many pets.
Tailspring offers a line of clean label, goat milk-based pet products created to nurture and help pets thrive. The brand’s goat milk-based milk replacers are suitable for pets that are newborn to 8 weeks old and weaning. Made with 100 percent human-grade ingredients, Tailspring milk replacers have been formulated to closely match a mother cat or mother dog’s milk composition in fat, lactose, protein, vitamins and overall nutrition.
“Goat milk not only offers natural nutritional benefits, it’s also gentle on stomachs and offers a delicious taste that helps ensure your pet will eat,” said Kate Slaney, brand manager for Tailspring and Meyenberg. “For our neonatal babies, having them successfully eat meals can literally be life-saving. We’ve heard many stories about pets, young and old, finding their spark and enjoying food again thanks to the addition of our goat milk pet products.”
Vetericyn covers puppy health in several of its supplement lines, including ALL-IN, which took more than three years of research and development with scientist-professor Dr. A.S. Narain Naidu.
“A growing puppy’s systems are building a foundation for a lifetime,” said Vetericyn VP Scott Van Winkle. “[ALL-IN Puppy] targets a puppy’s vital systems with the support it needs during the critical period when they are weaned from their mother’s milk to solid food.”
ALL-IN Puppy, for dogs up to 18 months, is designed to provide factors for bone development, maintain a healthy intestinal tract, enhance immune system response and help reduce hyperactivity, among other benefits. Van Winkle credits scientist-professor Dr. Naidu for solving issues related to supplement absorption.
“When Dr. Naidu explained the technology that he developed could actively take the nutrients, move them through the body and then deliver them to the right cells, we knew we had something special,” Van Winkle said. “Working with Dr. Naidu, we created customized nutritional complexes, which help strengthen bones and tissue, optimize gut health and strengthen the immune system.”
The pet care industry plays an important role in the healthy growth of young companion animals. With the recent surge in dog and cat ownership, specifically the focus on young pets in these two categories, these products have never been more valuable to pet parents.
For retailers, there are multiple ways to capitalize on the power of puppy and kitten. If pet store owners can win with puppy and kitten, they can expect to see an increase in channel loyalty and additional sales in areas outside of pet as consumers seek additional cleaning items and to replace broken items. However, the vast number and variety of puppy and kitten products on the market not only can overwhelm a pet parent but can also break the budget. It can become a balancing act for retailers to provide a customer with the right products while not scaring away the new pet owner.