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Shape Up

Health and fitness products for dogs can play a key role in promoting canine health and wellness.


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According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s 2016 U.S. Pet Obesity Survey, 54 percent of U.S. dogs are overweight or obese. That’s an estimated 41.9 million dogs. Fortunately, some retailers are seeing sales increase for products that allow customers to keep their dogs fit and, in some cases, themselves as well, which bonds the pet and owner in the process.

Regular physical activity and proper diet are essential for maintaining a healthy weight in dogs, and, for some, supplementation also can play a key role when there are metabolic conditions to contend with.

Many dogs, if not given proper exercise on a regular basis, tend to have behavioral issues, so this is an added motivation for consumers to consider products that promote exercise and activity.

Brandon McMillan, the host of the CBS series “Lucky Dog,” noted the importance of providing dogs with an adequate amount of exercise.

“You know those vests that are like backpacks where you put bottles of water in them for weight?” McMillan said. “I swear by those things with high-energy breeds, so if you’ve got a pit bull or a pointer, or maybe a young Lab, you can take them for a 10-minute walk with one of those backpacks on it. A 10-minute walk is equivalent to a 30-minute walk because of the added weight.

“If a high-energy dog doesn’t get enough exercise to burn off some of that pent up energy, they’re going to take it out on something in your house,” McMillan added.

The balance ball is a conditioning staple in yoga, fitness and physical therapy settings, and it has now emerged in the canine fitness category as an effective, low-impact isometric training tool.

Krista Wickens, president of Ball Dynamics International in Longmont, Colo., said a stationary balance ball can teach dogs how to struggle with imbalance as a means of strengthening their limbs and core.

“Most of our products are focused on balance, and the understanding that the body is always striving to maintain a semblance of homeostasis or balance whenever it encounters imbalance,” Wickens said. “Whenever the body is out of balance in an exercise situation it is doing work, thereby burning calories. When a dog gets on a balance ball, their leg muscles instinctively struggle to find that place of homeostasis for the body, thereby strengthening their core and limbs.”

Keeping Fido Fit

Tether Tug, which launched last year, is a canine version of the traditional tetherball. The strong, flexible pole is easily anchored in the ground, and it has a long rope attached for hours of tugging fun for the dog, said Dave Hayford, owner of Tether Tug in Nixa, Mo.

“Pet parents love the Tether Tug because it requires minimal interaction and less risk of injury to their shoulder or arm after an aggressive round of tug-of-war or fetch with their dog,” Hayford said. “Toys of this type are best for active dogs—those with a very high degree of energy.”

Blue-9 Pet Products launched the Klimb Canine Conditioning Kit at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., in March. In addition to the Klimb, which is a dog-training platform, the set includes an eight-minute DVD that provides tips on exercises to teach body awareness and increase strength and flexibility.

“We wanted to create products that could be used to help exercise a dog’s body and mind, whether they are indoors or outdoors, rain or shine,” said Jamie Popper, canine behaviors specialist for the Maquoketa, Iowa-based company. “We know that when a dog is exercised both mentally and physically, they lead happier lives with fewer problem behaviors.”

The science of weight management has yielded products formulated to help address metabolic response in dogs that are obese.

Natura Petz Organics developed Supermodel in a Bottle, which contains a mixture of herbs with adaptogenic properties.

“Adaptogens are a specific class of plant and marine extracts whose function it is to look for dysfunction in the body and nutritionally instead of chemically fix it,” said Heidi Nevala, president of the Minneapolis-based company. “In many obese dogs, the problem is metabolism—not food consumption—so these compounds reset the dog’s metabolism, as well as attach themselves to fatty lipids in the body, which are then excreted.”

Some retailers reported that slow feeders are popular with consumers who wish to prevent their pets from eating too fast. QT Dog in Dallas developed the Brake-Fast bowl for this purpose.  

“It can take a dog up to three to five minutes to finish their food because the prongs in the center of the bowl force them to eat around them, which prevents bloating and regurgitating of their food,” said marketing manager Lea Smith. “This also helps with the digestive process, which can have a positive effect on their health and weight.”

Food Matters

“When customers come to us for advice about their dog who has a weight problem, we’re trained to ask what they’re feeding their dog and how much,” said Anthony Leal, manager at the Pet Supplies Plus in Seguin, Texas.

Leal noted that a lot of consumers are feeding table scraps or cheap, high-grain diets.

“So we direct the customer to what we think is the best choice for their dog and make sure they follow the feeding directions,” Leal said. “The trust we build with our customers by asking the right questions and helping them have success with their pet leads to more sales.”

Jeremy France, assistant manager at Pet Supermarket in Tallahassee, Fla., said he relies on firsthand experience and product knowledge when making recommendations to customers for weight loss or weight maintenance pet food.

“We’re very enthusiastic about things we recommend, based on our knowledge of the product and customer feedback,” France said. “I’d say the bestselling dog foods for weight loss are the Natural Balance Fat Dogs formula and Taste of the Wild. The high protein and fiber content in Taste of the Wild makes it our top seller.”

Robert Pion, manager of Pet Supply Santa Clarita in Santa Clarita, Calif., said his store’s knowledgeable staff makes all the difference.

“The high-fiber, high-protein dog foods give the best results for our customers, so we recommend them. We all have pets, and we try the products out on them so that what we share comes from firsthand knowledge and experience.”

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