Natural Marketplace: Sensory Saviors
Healthy sales of therapeutic essential oils and fish oils depend on quality products.
By Cheryl Reeves
As the natural pet wellness category expands to include more products developed for animals based on what’s popular with humans, manufacturers and retailers are focusing on the growing popularity of aromatherapy and fish oils with omega fatty acids.
The use of essential oils to help soothe anxious pets or boost the immune system is becoming a more accepted holistic healing strategy, industry sources agreed. Essential oils diffused into the air to provide a calming scent or a hint of lavender dabbed on a floppy ear can make a world of difference to a pet, they reported. The key to selling successfully in this sector is to stock quality products and offer expert guidance to pet owners on how to use them safely.
“More people are becoming aware of the powerful healing effects of essential oils,” said Dr. Pamela Fisher, DVM, whose holistic practice is coupled with her Natural Pet Store in North Canton, Ohio. “It would be great to see more educated retailers who know what to recommend, how to apply and the benefits derived from such treatments. Most important, retailers should only sell quality therapeutic essential oils. That means researching suppliers and asking questions about purity, grade and integrity of sourcing.”
In addition to aromatherapy, more consumers are adding omega-3 fish oils as a supplement to their pets’ diets.
“We believe omega oils are essential to life—for people and pets,” said Erin Hay, national sales retail pet department representative for Nordic Naturals in Watsonville, Calif. “Our pet collection of oils is one of very few omega oils that is third-party tested with all test results available for review.”
Vertical integration also sets her company’s brand apart, as every step of the Nordic Naturals manufacturing process, from boat to bottle, is managed to result in a fresh, pure product that reflects industry-setting standards, she said.
The Smell of Success
Before Kim Maahs, owner of Salon Fido in Cross Plains, Wis., started selling essential oils in her grooming salon and boutique, she learned everything she could by taking a series of classes under the tutelage of Tresa Laferty, a medicinal aromatherapist in Kansasville, Wis.
“There’s a lot to learn about what oils to use and how to present them to pets,” Maahs said. “You’ve got to be able to tell customers that what’s good for a dog might be toxic for a cat.”
Armed with an education, Maahs said she found quality products that offered soothing scents such as geranium, peppermint, lavender and more.
“We love the line of essential oil sprays by Aromadog, as they offer a lot of unique scents and work very well, especially for hot spots and minor scrapes,” she said. “Wisdom of the Earth is another brand we stock for its quality.”
The future of aromatherapy is in finding the perfect formula by blending oils, said Elena Volnova, CEO of Dog Fashion Spa, a manufacturer in New York.
“Instead of using one type of pure oil, I think the market trend is about offering a mix of essential oils that are diluted with a carrier oil, such as coconut, olive or almond, to make the scent less overpowering,” Volnova said. “We’ve found that 50 percent of people use aromatherapy for relaxation, so they’re going to go in that direction for their pet, too. That’s why we offer an affordable travel-sized roll-on of essential calming oils for dog relaxation. People can take it on a plane or a car ride to help with a pet’s anxiety, and it includes a mix of tangerine peel, lavender, ginger root, rose geranium, bergamot oil and more.”
Essential oils should never be used full strength on a pet; rather, they should be diluted in some fashion, Dr. Fisher said. Further, because cats can metabolize oils through their fur, retailers should tell pet owners to be very careful and check with a holistic veterinarian to determine the safety of an oil and what levels to apply, she said.
“Overall, aromatherapy is so helpful to pets that I’ve recently launched a line of products under the brand name Calm My Pet,” Fisher said. “The line includes Calm Ride, to ease travel anxiety, and Calm Aroma, to spray on beds and toys to encourage calmer playtimes.”
To help dogs weather thunderstorms, fireworks and other potentially frightening situations, Vicki Rae Thorne, owner of Earth Heart Inc., in Dundee, Ill., created Canine Calm, a mist of essential oils and other plant-derived ingredients.
“Our mists are USA made and packaged in BPA-free recyclable containers,” Thorne said.
At Pet Nutrition Center in Carlsbad, Calif., store manager Heatherlyn Colontonio said that she’s a big believer in essential oil therapy. A favorite product among her customers is the NatureVet Quiet Moments line, she said.
“These products are designed specifically for dogs or cats and come in a variety of formats such as sprays, gels and tabs,” she said. “They’re formulated to simulate pheromones to provide a feeling of well-being. We’ve seen these products significantly calm down very nervous pets, so we strongly recommend them.”
Lynn Reizer-Heftman, assistant manager at Howlistic, which has locations in La Mesa, Calif., and San Diego, said that before dispensing advice about essential oil treatments, retailers should ask if a pet has any underlying medical issues.
“You’ve got to be careful, so ask a lot of questions because every situation is unique,” she said. “If you’re not sure, refer your customers to a holistic vet. Inviting a vet in for a store event on the topic is a great way to increase confidence with knowledge.”
Fatty Acid Oil Boom
“There’s a huge demand for omega oils by pet parents who are into them for themselves,” said Pet Nutrition Center’s Colontonio.
Salmon oil is the most popular, followed by coconut oil that can be offered in a variety of ways: licked off the hand, massaged into skin or added to food, she said. The bestselling product at her store is CocoTherapy from Oscar Newman, she added.
“We’re also seeing a growing demand for shark oil to help with cancer,” she said. “Iceland Pure makes the shark oil that is most popular here.”
The top-selling edible supplement from Pet Skin Doctor, a manufacturer in Bloomsburg, Pa., is Essential Needs Food Supplement, which contains essential fatty acids from whole-meat sources of emu, ostrich and chicken; olive oil and lecithin; and vitamin A, D3 and E, said David Long, president.
“Our other top-selling natural oil is Essential Needs Skin Therapy,” Long said. “This product is applied topically to skin for conditions such as hot spots or dry skin. It also encourages hair growth while relieving itching.”
Nordic Naturals’ bestselling product in the sector is Omega-3 Pet, which contains a potent sardine and anchovy blend with high omega-3 fatty acid content, Hay said. It’s available in either liquid or soft gel formulations.
Retailers who expertly educate on the benefits of natural oils, whether they are supplement form or used as aromatherapy, will win the most sales, said Dog Fashion Spa’s Volnova.
“Your mantra should be to change every pet owner into a pet parent,” she said. “Great customer service, free samples, testers, brochures and events that bring everyone together, like a Yappy Hour, will raise awareness—and sales.”
Oil’s Well That Ends Well
Five basic rules retailers should know before introducing essential oils to customers and their dogs.
“Customers will be grateful for the advanced knowledge that will keep their canine companions happy and comfortable,” said Tresa Laferty, a medicinal aromatherapist in Kansasville, Wis.
1. Find quality product: Research suppliers; ask questions. Essential oils aren’t regulated, and “pure” can mean anything from a single oil ingredient to a mix of oils diluted with a carrier. Confirm ingredients with manufacturers.
2. Respect sensory sensitivity: What’s not overpowering to humans can be to dogs. Dab a drop on your hand, let the animal sniff it and watch for behavioral cues. Allow the pet to escape if the experience is unpleasant.
3. Relieve a bad reaction: If a dog reacts badly after topical application, using water will increase the pet’s discomfort. Instruct customers to dab the area with a tissue coated with a fatty oil, such as olive, almond or coconut, to slow the absorption.
4. Diffuse the situation: Oil diffusers are great for introducing aromatherapy to pets. If an animal moves closer to the diffuser, you have a winner. If it leaves the room, the message is loud and clear.
5. Display appropriately: Displaying or grouping essential oils with supplements tells customers that these products are powerful—not perfume-type pet-grooming products.—CR