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Life Lines

Dog owners will turn to pet specialty retailers for guidance during various stages of their pets’ lives, particularly during the puppy and senior years.


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Dog owners are bound to have a lot of questions and might require special products during the puppy and senior stages of their pets’ lives. Both life stages present particular challenges, and many dog owners will likely turn to an educated independent pet specialty retailer for help. 

According to Janet Monaco, owner of Pet Pros in Rockledge, Fla., the two life stages do, in fact, share certain similarities that might have customers shopping for similar products.

“As a dog transitions into that senior stage, they often revert back to puppyhood in many ways,” Monaco said. “I get the most interest in products like pee pads from both puppy parents and senior dog parents.”

At both stages of life, dogs might need a tremendous amount of care, and it’s important that retailers are there to support owners by stocking products that could help. Pet owners are truly treating their animals as part of the family, and that includes doing everything they can to care for them later in life. Diapers were once the lowest-selling item at Pet Pros, according to Monaco. Now, she said, they are the store’s hottest commodity—and are mostly being used for senior dogs. 

Alison Schwartz, general manager of All Pets Considered in Greensboro, N.C., said that, at her store, she’s witnessed a growing interest in products that help support pets as they age. Additionally, there has been a boost in supplement sales and pet owners looking for products that will make their pets’ lives easier.

Liz Rubinstein, co-founder of Englewood, Colo.-based GingerLead, which sells dog support and rehabilitation harnesses, said that as dogs are better taken care of by their owners, they are also living longer. This has led to increased consumer interest in products such as the GingerLead, a padded support sling that steadies and supports a dog requiring some extra help.

“Senior dogs may develop various conditions as they age that impact their mobility like arthritis, hip dysplasia, vestibular disease or degenerative myelopathy, to name a few,” Rubinstein said. “They often need assistance up and down stairs, going for a walk, getting in and out of a vehicle or just going potty.”  

Merchandising

Set the Stage 

Pet specialty retailers can bolster the education they provide to their customers about puppyhood and senior lifestyles through their in-store displays. 
Karen Neola, founder of My Perfect Pet Food in Poway, Calif., said that educational displays are valuable in helping customers understand what might be best for their pet.

“While most displays focus on calls to action to ‘buy now,’ incorporating information that helps the customer learn how to make informed choices for their pet’s diet can be a differentiator that leads to customer loyalty,” Neola said. 

Alison Schwartz, general manager of All Pets Considered in Greensboro, N.C., said that a recent endcap featuring puppy products helped her customers to understand what types of products a new puppy might need. It turned out to be very educational to customers who never owned a dog before, she said. 

“We generally see an uptick in puppy ownership around the holidays and in the spring, which is a good time to have a puppy display,” Schwartz added. 

Customer Education

Teachable Moments 

Educational support during the puppy and senior life stages is crucial for dog owners. It’s quite common for customers to have many questions about the special circumstances that often arise during these key points of a dog’s life. 

“The greatest add-on value that a retailer can offer to their customers is education,” said Karen Neola, founder of My Perfect Pet Food in Poway, Calif. “Customers will make the trip to visit a retailer they feel offers the best personal advice and recommendations for their pet. Pricing discounts may work once to get a customer to the store, but building a reputation as a knowledgeable source of information about pet health builds loyalty.” 

At All Pets Considered in Greensboro, N.C., general manager Alison Schwartz said that the store holds seminars to provide customers with education, which gives them an opportunity to ask questions. Experts from Greensboro’s Bingo Pet Hospice, a nonprofit organization that supports owners of aging pets, come in to give talks covering not only how to handle an aging pet, but also how to think about one’s own mortality. This is particularly important for aging pet owners who might not have a plan for their pet should they pass first. 

“They talk about how to write a pet into your will and why this is so important,” Schwartz said.  

Nutrition is also a vital topic for owners of both puppies and senior dogs, and research is making it easier for them to decide how to feed their pets during different stages of their lives, said Robert Downey, founder and CEO of Annamaet Petfoods in Telford, Pa., which recently added three life-stage-specific diets—Annamaet Re-juvenate, a grain-free senior diet; Annamaet Ohana, a grain-free puppy formula; and Annamaet Original Puppy, a grain-friendly puppy formula—to its lineup.  

“As nutritional research has evolved for both humans and our pets, there is more information available to help us make educated decisions on how to feed our pets during various life stages and how to maximize their health and well-being,” Downey said.

Given the high quality of many of the diets available today in independent pet specialty stores, some pet owners may choose to stick with the premium foods their pets are used to.  
Gary Roberts, owner of Pet World in Lakewood, Colo., said that, by far, the most questions he receives regarding the puppy and senior stages of life involve food. Pet owners want to make sure they’re feeding their puppy and senior pets the right food.

“As more food companies seem to move toward foods that are labeled for all life stages, I am getting more questions about whether it’s OK [to continue feeding them the same diets],” Roberts said. “There are still many customers who want to see that word ‘puppy’ or ‘senior’ on the bag. But we talk about superpremium diets and how they are safe for puppies or seniors.”

However, sometimes, pet owners will determine that their animals need a bit of a nutritional boost and will turn to supplements to meet a wide variety of needs. 

“Vitamin supplementation in pets is highly influenced by continuing trends in human nutrition,” Downey said. “Over the past 15 years, vitamin levels have increased an average of 30 percent in pet food. This increase in vitamin supplementation targets the improvement of health and disease prevention. Recent studies in dogs have shown increased vitamin levels can have a pronounced effect on lifespan, veterinary costs and incidence of tumors.”

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