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Herbal (Holistic) Remedies Enter the Pet Market


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As the manager of a comprehensive pet business—a veterinary clinic that offers grooming and boarding, along with a pet store—I have some ideas that I think are worth sharing.

Over the past few decades, pet food companies have brought specific foods to the market: breed specific, life style specific, health problem specific, etc., which has been a great move. Veterinarians can now recommend certain types of food to meet the needs of specific animals (i.e., calorie restricted, mineral loaded or reduced, food with reduced allergens, etc.), and owners can enjoy shopping for the brands that most closely meet the needs of their pets. Many companies and retailers have reaped the benefits of these market trends. 

Upon surveying my customers, I found that 94 percent prefer prepared food because it is easy to use and is masterminded by dietary professionals whom they perceive to possess higher qualifications than they do, as well as access to the recommendations of influential advisors. But statistics can be mystifying: Though owners want to leave food preparation up to the experts, 78 to 96 percent of my customers want to personally contribute to their pet’s well-being in some way. This is especially true for those who have had their four-legged buddies for more than two to three years. 

Most visitors to the veterinarian trust the pills and injections administered there, but they also want to help their pets avoid health problems by taking their own preventive measures at home. Vitamins and dietary supplements can theoretically bridge this gap. But there are major drawbacks to the approach—they are beneficial only when a pet’s organism is deficient of a specific vitamin or mineral. Such a deficiency cannot be determined without special tests. 

Thus, many pet owners end up buying unnecessary vitamins and dietary supplements for their pets, which is as good as throwing their money into the wind. But wasted money is the least of their concerns—there is a good chance that an overabundance of certain molecules already plentiful in an animal’s diet could actually cause the opposite of the intended effect, harming instead of helping pets.

Instead of going the vitamin and supplement route, pet owners should consider herbal (holistic) supplements, as they are the best candidates on the market for self-implemented efforts to strengthen a pet’s health without unduly burdening the owner. After centuries of self-treatment by human and animals alike, holistic treatments have come to be regarded as traditional medicine. They are practically nontoxic and work to improve animal health without the threat of counter-interactions with whatever is already present in a pet’s organism.

Herbal health-improving remedies for humans have been prevalent since ancient times, but they were only recently introduced to domesticated animals. Our ancestors knew to eat parsley in order to combat urinary problems, to use chamomile in order to calm their stomachs, dandelion to support digestion, valerian root and catnip for sleep disorders, eleuthero root to improve brain function and memory, ginseng to energize, and so on. Wild animals, too, have had these opportunities for centuries, as they are instinctively drawn to medicinal herbs that benefit specific conditions. But domesticated pets cannot seek out herbal remedies on their own, and the herbal remedies provided to them by humans need to be specifically adjusted to meet their needs. Now such specifically designed remedies are finally on the market. 

Recently, herbal formulas addressing various health needs have been developed. They target issues such as immune system stimulation, the predilection to kidney or renal problems, allergic sensitivity, aging, coat appearance, training stimulation, etc. 

Though advanced pet owners have always been able to prepare their own herbal concoctions, either by brewing teas or mixing herbal remedies into their pet’s food, these substances, if administered by an inexperienced user, could lead to overdose and other unintended consequences. Now, a range of easy-to-use, professionally prepared herbal supplements can be purchased over the counter, with formulas that integrate a number of herbal remedies with synergetic or compensatory actions. 

We are living in a time when natural, herbal and organic products have become increasingly attractive to customers. So why are we not including them in our pet stores? Pet stores could devote entire sections to holistic remedies that would meet any customer’s wide-ranging needs. The toxicity and side effects of holistic products are significantly less risky than those of synthetically produced prescription medicines. And let’s face it, most customers want to avoid putting anything “chemical” into their mouths, so why wouldn’t they want the same for their pets? 

It seems to me that, in the pet care market, there is huge, unexploited demand for holistic remedies. And selling them would be a win-win situation for everyone involved: The owner would be pleased, the pets would get their health benefits and the retailer would be happy to accommodate increasing customer demand.

Efroim Gurman holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry and a Dr.Sci. in physiology of nutrition. He was a professor and dean of canine and feline department at Odessa State University in Ukraine and now manages Full Pet Services Inc., a veterinary clinic, grooming and boarding facility, and pet store in New York. He is also the CEO of Vet Vittles LLC in New York. 

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