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Catering to Comfort

Aging is an inescapable evolution, and pet owners’ desire to see dogs live well during their golden years is fueling demand for senior-specific products.


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Not long ago, the canine transition from active puppyhood to the more sedate twilight years was considered the inevitable progression of age.

Today, it’s a different world for senior citizens of the four-legged variety. Hip and knee surgeries are common, as is cancer care. Instead of pulling teeth, veterinarians discuss dental health. Readily available joint supplements help dogs stay limber, special equipment allows easy access to the bed, couch or family car, and senior nutritional needs are subject to scrutiny, said Susan Weiss, CEO and founder of Ark Naturals Products for Pets in Naples, Fla.

“It’s actually not so different from the evolution of humans,” Weiss said. “The senior portion of a pet’s life may require products similar to those used when they were younger; however, certain ingredients, hardness of products or manageability are considerations that need to be adapted as a dog ages.”

Pets are living longer these days, thanks to “better veterinary care, healthier diets and well-educated pet parents,” said Mandie Sweetnam, category manager, travel and access, for PetSafe, a brand of Radio Systems Corp. in Knoxville, Tenn. “It’s all about maintaining or improving the quality of life for our pets.”

At Dollys Pet Shoppe in Sandy, Ore., owner Anna DePaolo noted an increased demand for hip and joint supplements and said education plays a strong role in product selection.

“A customer may not come in asking about a senior product specifically,” DePaolo said. “For instance, they might be looking for joint supplements, and, at that point, we’ll have a conversation about the age and needs of their dog, and discuss the most appropriate product.

“Not all supplements are created equal; I’m very specific in what I recommend and also suggest customers do their own research,” she added.

At Hay Connection in Norco, Calif., customer service associate Michelle Laning said that the majority of customers purchase an all-life-stages food and tend to stay loyal to their brand of choice.

“The products we carry already contain glucosamine and chondroitin,” she said. “However, if a customer comes in looking for relief for an elderly dog, we recommend InflamAway by Natura [Health Products], which we carry in moderate and maximum strengths.”

Along with proper nutrition and supplementation, pet owners want their beloved pets to remain as mobile as possible, and that includes providing a range of products, such as ramps and steps, that will allow dogs to feel relaxed, content and comfortable, said John Sandiford, CEO of Gen7Pets in Elverson, Pa.

At Piglet’s Pantry in Mt. Dora, Fla., co-owner Carla Pereira said that looking after the dental concerns of elderly pets is also a consideration, and, for that reason, the boutique stocks Leba III, a dental spray from LebaLab Inc.

“Because veterinarians prefer not to perform anesthesia on older dogs, this product is sprayed into the dog’s mouth and, over time, alleviates the tartar,” Pereira said. “It’s a homeopathic remedy.”

Make a Senior Section

John Sandiford, CEO of Gen7Pets in Elverson, Pa., noted the three key “Ds” in marketing products for senior dogs.

“Display, demonstrate and delight,” Sandiford said. “Display the products, demonstrate them and delight with exceptional customer service.”   

Mandie Sweetnam, category manager, travel and access, for PetSafe, a brand of Radio Systems Corp. in Knoxville, Tenn., said that customers like to see and feel products.

“Displaying a product or showing it in use really resonates with a customer,” she said.

For Sally Adams Trufant, general manager of B&B Pet Stop in Mobile, Ala., changing things up has dramatically increased sales of pet strollers.

“We moved our pet strollers from up above, on the top shelf of the pallet racks, and put them in our ‘ballroom’ area up front—where we host events—and they are selling like crazy,” she said.

The store used to sell one stroller every six months, and now it is selling a couple of strollers a week, Trufant added.

“Customers want to continue their daily walks with their older pets and need a place to allow the pet to rest,” she said. “Quality of life is the goal these days.”

Susan Weiss, CEO and founder of Ark Naturals Products for Pets in Naples, Fla., recommended setting up a senior section, including the foods, supplements, remedy products, piddle pads, collars, stairs, beds, etc., that accommodate senior needs.

“Make it easy for pet parents to learn how they can continue to have a great relationship and life with their senior pet,” Weiss said.

Education is the key to marketing senior dog products, agreed Holly Allen, co-owner of Dee-O-Gee in Bozeman, Mont.

“We try to couple products such as joint-support supplements next to senior foods or digestive enzymes alongside omega supplements,” she said. “We also do a lot of in-store signage with facts, statistics and pictures.”

Allen also suggested utilizing customer testimonies. For example, before and after photos, or placing an aging pet’s “bio” and photo alongside product information, with a discussion of product benefits.

Making Aging Easier

Maturation is unavoidable, and pet owners are seeking products that will afford their dogs more comfort as the years advance.

Ark Naturals Products for Pets recently added two formulations to its U.S.-made Sea Mobility Joint Rescue line of supplements. The Sweet Potato and Cranberry formulas are meat free, and they contain veterinarian-recognized standards for joint-support ingredients for mobility and flexibility, said Susan Weiss, CEO and founder of the Naples, Fla., company.

“We know that lower protein levels are helpful for animals as they age,” Weiss said. “These meat-free formulations still offer amazing palatability and immediately lower protein levels while providing an alternative for dogs who have difficulty with various meat proteins.”

The unique nutritional needs of older dogs is receiving particular attention, said David Yaskulka, vice president of marketing communications for Halo, Purely for Pets in Tampa, Fla. In July, the company relaunched its brand with a holistic, humanely sourced line of foods for dogs and cats, which can help meet demand for diets for aging dogs.

“The offerings consist of whole meat, humanely sourced OrigiNative proteins and non-GMO vegetables that reflect the brand’s broader mission: to change the way companion animals are fed and farm animals are raised,” Yaskulka said.

The grain-free Holistic line includes both dry and wet senior selections. Dry formulations include wild salmon and whitefish, and turkey, turkey liver and duck recipes. Wet food proteins include chicken and beef.

“The key ingredient in Halo products is whole meat versus meat meal, making it highly digestible for dogs of all ages,” Yaskulka said. 

Many senior dogs suffer from arthritis and incontinence issues, and Snappy Snoozers’ orthopedic beds are designed to comfort aging pets by taking pressure off their joints, said Roberta MacDowell, president of Snappy Snoozers in Loxahatchee, Fla.

“The pet parent has the ability to make the bed as firm or as plush as needed based on the amount of air added to the mattress,” MacDowell said.

The mattress can be cleaned with a sanitizing wipe, leaving little room for the harboring of germs, bacteria and viruses, while the quilt is machine washable, MacDowell added.

Climbing in and out of a vehicle can be problematic for an elderly dog, so Gen7Pets recently introduced ramps and steps to make the process easier, said John Sandiford, CEO of the Elverson, Pa.-based company.

“The Natural-Step Ramp with its Poly-Grass surface is ideal for all pets,” Sandiford said.

Poly-Grass allows the dog to obtain a grip and feel secure while walking up a soft surface that will not scratch its paw pads, Sandiford said, adding that the artificial grass will not scuff or scratch the vehicle interior.

Meanwhile, Gen7Pets’ Conversion Steps are designed to provide safe and easy access to couches, chairs and beds. Furniture-grade, wood construction offers sturdiness, while carpet treads and standard stair height provide ease of use, Sandiford said. 

Shopping for Seniors

When it comes to product recommendations for aging dogs, consumers often turn to their pet retailer for solutions, said Roberta MacDowell, president of Snappy Snoozers in Loxahatchee, Fla.

“It is critical that pet retailers be knowledgeable regarding what’s new and innovative in the pet product market,” MacDowell said.

Manufacturers also bear responsibility in offering education to retailers and consumers, said Susan Weiss, CEO and founder of Ark Naturals Products for Pets in Naples, Fla.

“It’s not enough to ask retailers to place products in their stores; it’s up to the manufacturer to ensure employees, retailers and pet parents are able to determine the correct product for a particular situation,” Weiss said.

Along these lines, an understanding of proper product use is critical to pet safety, and both retailers and pet owners should read and understand manufacturer-provided instructions and care information, said John Sandiford, CEO of Gen7Pets in Elverson, Pa.

Because customers might not always be aware of the availability of products targeted to the senior dog, education and inquiry are important, said Anna DePaolo, owner of Dollys Pet Shoppe in Sandy, Ore.

“People aren’t always putting two and two together,” DePaolo said. “For instance, when starting out with a puppy, everyone is looking for puppy-specific foods, but I don’t think everyone understands that there are products and formulas specific to the senior dog. That’s where education comes in—if a customer is asking for a supplement, I’ll talk to them about a senior-blend food formula as well.”

Pet owners also need to understand how their pets’ nutritional needs change as they age.

“Much like aging humans, elderly dogs are not as active as they once were and need fewer calories to maintain a healthy weight and energy level,” said Matthew Golladay, president of Blackwood Pet Food, a brand of BrightPet Nutrition Group in Lisbon, Ohio.

At Hay Connection in Norco, Calif., customer service associate Michelle Laning noted the importance of employee education in assisting pet owners in selecting supplements for an aging dog.

“Dog owners want to keep their pet limber and comfortable for as long as possible,” she said. “We want to be prepared to help them find a solution.”

In order to provide guidance in food preferences for the senior dog, Golladay recommends retailers first ascertain what is important to the consumer regarding their older dog’s needs, taking into consideration the age of the dog, activity level and special dietary considerations.

Expanding the Scope of Senior Comfort

“Pet parents make a commitment to keep their furry family members healthy and comfortable in their golden years,” said Mandie Sweetnam, category manager, travel and access, for PetSafe, a brand of Radio Systems Corp. in Knoxville, Tenn.

As a result, more dogs are thriving in those golden years than ever before, said Susan Weiss, CEO and founder of Ark Naturals Products for Pets in Naples, Fla.

“The upshot is that dogs are living much longer and not just sleeping through old age,” Weiss said.

“Humans and pets want to be able to enjoy their special bond for as long as possible, older dogs are still engaged, and money is no longer an issue,” she added. “For this reason, we introduced our senior brand of supplements, Gray Muzzle.”

Consumers’ desire to give dogs a good quality of life in their senior years drives demand in food and other product categories.

“We see this with purchases of healthier dog foods, adding more nutraceuticals to the diet and spending on items such as orthopedic beds as opposed to more traditional foam offerings,” said Roberta MacDowell, president of Snappy Snoozers in Loxahatchee, Fla.

Maintaining the well-being of the older pet also includes affording access to areas of the home that might become more of a challenge to reach with age, such as the couch, bed or car, Sweetnam added.

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