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Gut Check

As interest in products related to dog digestive health grows, retailers need to be ready to respond with information and solutions targeting a pet’s individual needs.


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There was a time when dog owners would assume that their dog just had gas and leave it at that. But manufacturers and retailers report that these days, dog owners are paying a lot closer attention to their dogs’ digestive health and what they can do to help improve it. A better understanding from pet owners and a demand for more solutions continues to drive the market for products in this category.

“The days of just assuming the dog has gas and leaving it at that are over,” said Heidi Nevala, president of Natura Petz Organics in Minneapolis. “There is so much more emphasis on the digestive system for humans that they’re paying more attention to it for their pets as well. People know that the digestive system is directly related to so many other things, including immune health, skin and coat, and just a general reflection of their well-being.”

Brad Gruber, president and COO of Health Extension Pet Care, based in Deer Park, N.Y., also pointed out how pet owners are increasingly making the connection between the foods their pets eat and conditions associated with digestive problems.

“They are looking for products that prevent their pets from being sick and the complications that arise from poor digestive health,” Gruber said, adding that pets need more support than what is provided by their food alone. “On occasion, we have to nourish digestive health beyond food with supplements, such as probiotics and digestive enzymes to address a pet getting sick or its digestion disrupted.”

In general, the term “probiotics” has become part of people’s everyday lexicon thanks to products for humans such as Dannon Activia yogurt, said Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Odyssey Pets in Dallas. She agreed that as more people become educated about their own digestive health, they’re paying closer attention to that of their pets.

Patti Vincent, owner of Puppy Love Dog Store in Beaumont, Texas, said that she is seeing customers coming in with issues about their dogs’ digestive health. She said she works closely with these customers to determine the best solution but that her go-to aid is goat’s milk from Answers Pet Food, a liquid probiotic that she says takes care of stomach trouble.

Choices Abound in Digestive Health

There’s no question that digestive health is important to dog owners, and there are many new products out there to support this interest. At Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., in March, The Honest Kitchen unveiled two limited-ingredient diets—Hope: Beef & Chickpea and Spruce: Duck & Sweet Potato—bringing its Minimalist Grain-Free Dog Food line to a total of five recipes, each with just six whole food ingredients. Lucy Postins, CEO of the San Diego-based company, said the line is ideally suited to pets with multiple food sensitivities.

Healthy Treats Inc., the maker of Dogs Love Kale, introduced its Dogs Love Snapeas line at Global Pet Expo. Peas contain insoluble fiber, soluble fiber and resistant starch, providing benefits for the digestive system, said Paula Savarese, president of the Naples, Fla.-based company. The line is available in three limited-ingredient flavors.

NWC Naturals Pet Products in Laguna Hills, Calif., recently reformulated its flagship products. Total-Zymes now contains inulin from chicory, a prebiotic, which encourages probiotics to flourish in the gut. In addition, Total-Biotics has even more inulin now. John R. Taylor, CEO and founder of the company, said he made the decision to slightly increase the amount of this valuable nutrient after considering recent research.

Natura Petz Organics in Minneapolis also has new products for digestive health on the market including Organic CBD Dog Treats, Petabolics Perfect Meal Balancer, Petabolics One & Done Daily Meal Topper and Digestion Meal Topper for Dogs, said president Heidi Nevala.

Lucy Pet Products of Thousand Oaks, Calif., recently launched Formulas for Life with P.B.F. Prebiotic Balanced Fiber. These formulations promote good gut health, which helps the body absorb nutrients more efficiently and plays a key role in natural immunity, said Joey Herrick, the company’s founder and president.

The formulas contain a unique fiber system to optimize dietary fiber concentration and the insoluble dietary fiber to soluble dietary fiber ratio, said Dr. George C. Fahey Jr., Ph.D., professor emeritus of animal sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who helped create Lucy Pet P.B.F. Prebiotic Balanced Fiber technology. 

“In addition, a unique blend of prebiotic fibers is present that not only impacts the large bowel microbiota in a positive manner, but also aids in immunomodulation, a process that has positive effects not only in the gut but throughout the entire body of the dog.”

Smart Displays

The biggest display issue with digestive health-related products is where to place them within the store. One common mistake that retailers often make when displaying digestive enzymes, probiotics and other digestive health products is to put them in the “remedy aisle,” said John R. Taylor, CEO and founder of NWC Naturals Pet Products in Laguna Hills, Calif. This sends the message that these products are only needed after a problem shows up. Taylor equated it to changing a car’s oil only after engine problems arise. Retailers are better served ensuring that customers know these types of products are important daily and as a means of preventing problems, he added.

“The most successful stores selling digestive enzymes and probiotics may display those products in the supplement aisle but are also putting them behind the counter or at the check-out station,” Taylor said.

Paula Savarese, president of Healthy Treats Inc. in Naples, Fla., said that with so many functional treats on the market these days, retailers must also consider putting such products in their own section to separate them out from regular treats.

It also makes sense to capitalize on technology trends. Consumers use their phones and other mobile devices for instant information, said Joey Herrick, founder and president of Lucy Pet Products in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

“One idea is to provide QR codes on shelf signs for consumers to scan while they are in the aisle to link to each brand’s website,” Herrick said. “This way, the consumer can immediately access information that each brand provides.”  

Ensuring that pet owners can easily assess products and the benefits is key to merchandising supplements formulated to address particular health issues. Brad Gruber, president and COO of Health Extension Pet Care, based in Deer Park, N.Y., said that having a proper “call-out vehicle to merchandise products by category and by health issue is critical.”

“Too often, supplements are just lumped together in an aisle as an overall category rather than by specific need: digestive disorder, skin and coat, hip and joint, etc.,” he said. “Having informative POP materials on the shelf help call out and explain specific problems and the correct product to purchase as a remedy to solve their pet’s issue.”

Gruber said pet specialty retailers should consider merchandising digestive health items in a designated section.

“Retailers should merchandise canine digestive health products in a visually appealing way in their own area of the store, rather than getting lost in the supplement aisle,” he added. “This section can be located in a number of different locations throughout the store—on endcaps, power panels and in line with the dog food.”

Understanding Digestive Health

Joey Herrick, founder and president of Lucy Pet Products in Thousand Oaks, Calif., said that the basics of human digestive health is a good place to start when getting up to speed on canine digestion. For example, it might be useful to read articles on gut health for people, as many of these same principles apply to dogs.

While most people are already humanizing their pets in many ways and making the correlation between human gut health and pet gut health, Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Odyssey Pets in Dallas, said that it doesn’t hurt to remind pet owners that they should be paying attention to their dogs’ digestive health just as they are their own.

“My tagline that I use on people when selling probiotics is ‘I use a probiotic, so why shouldn’t my dog benefit from one, too?’” Redwine said.   

George C. Fahey Jr., Ph.D., professor emeritus of animal sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, helped create Lucy Pet P.B.F. Prebiotic Balanced Fiber technology, which is found in Lucy Pet Products’ recent food introduction. He pointed out that the gut is the largest immune organ of the body. 

“As such, nearly everything related to dog health is impacted by the health of the gut,” he said. “It is critical that the gut remain healthy if all other organ systems are to operate in an optimal manner.”

“Dogs should eat high-quality foods that address their nutrient requirements, immunological status and their microbiota profile,” Dr. Fahey said. “If all three are working in concert, we would expect the dog to be in excellent health most of the time, and to be more effective at warding off outside insults that will result in disease.”

If customers come in talking about digestive health, there is a lot of opportunity to discuss diet and potential food issues. When talking to customers, Lucy Postins, CEO of The Honest Kitchen in San Diego, said it can be helpful for retailers to point out the signs of food intolerance and how food sensitivities can manifest as gastrointestinal upset.

Dogs’ digestive issues are sometimes related to dogs not drinking enough water, said Jim Reimann, brand manager for American Pet Nutrition in Ogden, Utah. There is an opportunity for retailers to educate their customers on ways to help with dehydration, which is a common cause of constipation, he said.

“Retailers can continue to reinforce the importance of always having a bowl of clean water available to the dog,” Reimann said. “They can also help educate pet parents about alternative ways to provide additional moisture to a traditional dry kibble diet with either canned food or a semimoist topper.”

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