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Why Ingredients Matter When It Comes to Pet Dental Products

Manufacturers of dental care products for cats and dogs are offering a host of products that address pet owners’ top concerns.


A better understanding of the importance of dental health—coupled with increased concern over the safety of ingredients—has led to growth in the natural dental products category. However, retailers and manufacturers said that there is still room for more education.

Megan Trombley, store manager for Urban Tails Pet Supply in Minneapolis, said that she has seen a marked shift. Many customers express concern about their pets’ dental health without even being asked about it—a positive change for the category. She said the change is a result of today’s pet owners being all around more educated on their pets’ needs.

“The category is certainly growing—and growing quickly,” said Lauren Brecher, Whimzees brand manager at WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass. “A 2013 study revealed that only 2 percent of owners brushed their pets’ teeth daily. Fast forward to today, and more and more pet parents are making an investment in their pet’s overall health and understanding how dental health can play an important role.”

In addition to increased awareness, another trend has been the growing number of options. Pet owners appreciate that there is more than one way to care for their pets’ teeth. Dental products can include water additives, toothpastes, sprays, powders and treats.

“Not all pets like having their teeth brushed, so the availability of different formats is a big trend,” said Alison Schwartz, manager of All Pets Considered in Greensboro, N.C.

At All Pets Considered, Schwartz said that tooth brushing is offered as part of the grooming process. If the customer purchases a toothbrush from the store, the groomer will use it to brush the pet’s teeth, and then send the brush home with the owner.

“We encourage them to brush their pet’s teeth on their own, but we know that’s not always feasible, so we also encourage using the water additives or sprays in between visits,” Schwartz said. “Then, if the customer brings the toothbrush back for the next grooming, they’ll get a discount on our dental brushing service.”

With so many different products—especially for dogs—Glenn Novotny, president of Emerald Pet Products in Walnut Creek, Calif., said that the market for canine oral products is becoming a bit saturated and could be hitting a plateau. However, he added that there is great room for growth in the natural cat dental category.

“I personally think there is more growth in the category for cats,” Novotny said. “There isn’t as much on the market for them, but when customers find something that works, they’re committed. And there’s definitely an increasing demand for more natural cat products that really work.”

Store Placement

Merchandising and the location of displays can have an impact on sales of dental products for both dogs and cats. While many retailers said that they incorporate these items into a grooming section, ensuring that there is prominent placement is important.

Schwartz said that the store has an entire dental section near the grooming section.

“Having a full-fledged dental section, including natural dental products, shows our commitment to the category,” she said.

To get new customers interested in the category, Denise Strong, co-owner of Pawz on Main in Cottonwood, Ariz., said that she always keeps a dental product on the counter. This often prompts customers to ask about it and start a conversation.

Brecher agreed that this is a helpful approach.

“We recommend merchandising these products near checkout so pet parents who may not have come in with the intention to buy a dental care product still have a chance to see them before they leave,” she said. “Visibility and trial are two of the best ways to build buzz for something new.”


Generating Interest in Dental Care

When it comes to marketing natural dental products for cats and dogs, many pet specialty retailers said that they take advantage of Pet Dental Health Month in February to offer special deals and invoke consumer interest in the category.

Alison Schwartz, manager of All Pets Considered in Greensboro, N.C., said that they’ve given away toothbrushes in the past or offered discounts throughout the month.

Megan Trombley, store manager for Urban Tails Pet Supply in Minneapolis, said that using store chalkboards to talk about teeth and gum health facts has helped generate awareness and interest at the store.

Of course, oftentimes, nothing beats trial, said Lauren Brecher, Whimzees brand manager for WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass.

“We recommend making it easy for consumers to try new items at lower price points so that they can witness the benefits firsthand,” she said. “With Whimzees, we recommend our products in our bulk box offering to drive trial and bring new consumers in to the dental chew category. Products in bulk allow for a low barrier to entry so that pet parents don’t have to contemplate making a bigger investment to try a new product.”

On the Market

A Closer Look at Ingredients

While many pet owners like the idea of an increasing number of formats and options for canine and feline dental care products, Scott Reinhardt, vice president of sales and marketing for Swedencare USA in Poulsbo, Wash., pointed out that many of these products are not what retailers would consider “natural.”

“Often harsh chemicals and abrasives are clearly stated on product labels,” he said. “However, Swedencare’s products are unique in that they are naturally derived.”

The company’s family of PlaqueOff products for both cats and dogs supports dental health through the use of algae, including Ascophyllum nodosum, which, when ingested, is thought to affect the ability of plaque to adhere to surfaces in the mouth and softens hard tartar deposits, according to the company. For cats, ProDen PlaqueOff is available as a powder or a dental bite. For dogs, the company offers a series of dental bones in addition to the powder and bites. This year, the brand is launching an extension of its PlaqueOff Dental Bones with a Bison and Apple flavor combination.

Denise Strong, co-owner of Pawz on Main in Cottonwood, Ariz., also believes that consumers need to be increasingly aware of what’s in the products they buy, and said that it’s concerning that so many dental offerings have poor-quality ingredients.

“A lot of the dental rinses and toothpastes do not have natural ingredients, so pet parents can’t just pick up anything—they have to read the ingredient list,” Strong said. “When they come here, they know I’ve already limited my product assortment to products I believe in and would use on my own pets. I’ve done the research for them. Since everyone is busy these days, that’s often appreciated.”

When it comes to ingredients, what’s in a dental product, such as a treat, can also be an important consideration for the owners of finicky cats, said Glenn Novotny, president of Emerald Pet Products in Walnut Creek, Calif. Because cats are often very “picky with flavors,” it’s really important for pet owners to find a natural dental treat that their cats will actually eat, Novotny said.

The company offers Emerald Pet Feline Dental Treats, which it just introduced in bulk-sized tubs in direct response to consumer demand. The treats are free from grains, gluten, soy and dairy. The low-calorie treats are also made in the USA with U.S. ingredients in cat-friendly flavors such as salmon and tuna.

Of course, ingredients for dog products matter, too.

“A main focus of natural dental products is on the ingredients of the products themselves,” said Lauren Brecher, Whimzees brand manager at WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass.

Whimzees brand treats are gluten free and made with select natural ingredients such as potato starch and glycerin, according to the company.

“According to recent Whimzees research that surveyed dental treat givers, 72 percent of respondents reported that ingredients ranked as a top priority when deciding between dog dental chew brands,” Brecher added. “Consumers are looking for products that are limited ingredient and that align with the diet they already feed their dog.”

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