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A Little Something Extra

Posted: September 27, 2013, 9:25 a.m. EDT


Small mammal supplements can help boost overall health and sales.

By Audrey Pavia

Products designed for dogs and cats have long dominated the dietary supplement market. More recently, pet owners have discovered that small animals, such as rabbits, hamsters and chinchillas, also can benefit from dietary supplementation.

"As any pet owner will tell you, no two pets are exactly alike,” said Melissa Ross, marketing operations manager for Oxbow Animal Health in Murdock, Neb. "While complete and balanced fortified foods provide the vitamins and minerals required for the general day-to-day health of most small pets,” individual animals sometimes need supplmentation. 

In response to this consumer need, several manufacturers are offering supplements meant specifically for small animals.

"Healx nutritional supplements are all-natural wellness products,” said Dana O’Donoghue, director of Harrisons’ Pet Products in West Palm Beach, Fla., adding that the products, designed to aid in skin care, boost the immune system and reduce inflammation, are made from unadulterated, unrefined, whole-food ingredients.

Chinchilla
Share with owners of small mammals that their rabbits, hamsters and chinchillas can benefit from dietary supplementation. Galakan/Shutterstock

"The ingredients are non-GMO, sustainable and organic where possible, and are produced using a patented process that allows for extraction of active ingredients and elimination of antagonistic parts,” she said.

O’Donoghue noted that the vitamins used in these products come from whole-food sources; no synthetic ingredients are used.

"This means that each animal’s body will biochemically select the vitamins it needs and safely pass the rest without risk of toxicosis,” she said. "Also, whole-food ingredients are not isolated nutrients like synthetic vitamins, and the whole-food ingredients work synergistically with their enzymes, co-enzymes and cofactors to produce the intended biological effects.”

According to O’Donoghue, the Healx line was developed because nothing comparable was available on the market for small pets.

"Most large pharmaceutical and food companies have invested in the largest markets, which are usually dogs and cats,” she said. "Veterinarians were forced to use dog and cat products ‘off-label’ for bird and exotic mammal patients.”

Ross noted that pets are living longer lives, thanks to proper nutrition and care, and more pet owners are taking their small pets to the vet. 

"The most common ailments vets see with these small animals are related to digestive, urinary, joint, and skin and coat issues,” she said. "As these pets age, vets also see more chronic, recurring health issues that need support.”

O’Donoghue pointed out that Greg Harrison, DVM, exotics veterinarian and creator of the Healx products, noticed that most drugs just treated or masked symptoms and did not actually address the nutritional or wellness concerns of the whole animal. The Healx wellness line was developed to address these issues, she said.

Oxbow produces a line of nutritional supplements designed specifically for small mammals.

"Oxbow’s Natural Science supplements were designed to meet a very important health and wellness need for small pets, providing individualized support for chronic, recurring health issues common with these animals,” said Ross.

Prior to the formulation of these products, pet owners had a difficult time finding targeted nutritional support for many of these issues, she added.

"To date, we offer eight supplements to address a variety of common health issues,” she said. "They are made with novel, premium herbal ingredients not available in most conventional foods.”

She said that, in addition to these ingredients, the products are made with a high-fiber timothy hay foundation, making them familiar and highly palatable to small pets, such as rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas and others.

The Natural Science supplement line, which includes Digestive, Immune, Joint, Multi-Vitamin, Senior, Skin & Coat, Urinary and Vitamin C products, was formulated through the consultation and guidance of scientific research, exotics veterinarians and nutritionists practiced in holistic medicine and the use of herbal ingredients, according to Ross.

Other companies also are producing nutritional supplements for small mammals, including Wysong in Midland, Mich., and Manna Pro in Chesterfield, Mo.

Wysong offers the Rabbit and Cavy Health Supplement, formulated to promote healthy body and coat condition for rabbits and cavies. According to the company, the product improves reproductive success, digestion and the immune system, as well as boosts nutrients during periods of stress or reduced feed intake.

The Rabbit and Cavy Health Supplement contains a blend of prebiotics, probiotics and enzymes for healthy digestion, immune strength and fortification against pathogens. Essential fatty acids (omega-3, -6 and -9) are included to promote healthy skin and a shiny coat.

The Select Series SHO Supplement for rabbits, made by Manna Pro, is designed to support overall body firmness and condition. The product contains papaya and yucca extract, and is particularly beneficial for show rabbits, according to the company.

Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass., produces a supplemental source of calcium for small animals called Living World Small Animal Mineral Stone. The product is available in a variety of vegetable shapes.

Display & Marketing
Retailers are finding that small animal supplements sell best when combined with customer education. Dorothy Hunter, owner of Paw’s Natural Pet Emporium, in Richland, Wash., finds that these products often need explanation so pet owners understand the benefits.

"They are easy to use but don’t sell themselves, so it’s up to the store to sell them,” she said. "We call them ‘assistance needed’ products because owners are vague on what they really do.”

It sometimes has nothing to do with where you place the product in the store but everything to do with how you interact with customers, Hunter noted.

"Create good rapport with them, and educate your customers,” she said. "Teach them responsible pet ownership.”

When it comes to small animal supplements, education is key, O’Donoghue said.

"Once you have used and understand these products, nothing else compares,” she said. "Once the retailers use these products for their own animals, they are in a better position to educate the consumers. Then there really isn’t any selling involved—it is just education and informing the consumer on how and why it works.”

Patience is needed, however, because natural products can take a little longer for external results to be visible, O’Donoghue added.

"But the end result is a healed, whole animal; not just a masked symptom,” she said.

Small animal supplements are appropriate products to push during the holiday season, according to Sandy Schultz, manager of Tomlinson’s Pet Supplies in Lakeway, Texas.

"During the holidays, the focus is on the pet’s stress and anxiety,” she said, adding that customers prefer products that are meant to help relax pets during this busy season.

Manufacturers of small mammal supplements recommend displaying products in a way that helps pet owners understand their uses.

"We encourage retailers to merchandize our Natural Science supplements with the Natural Science foods whenever possible, as the combination of these products offers customers a customizable nutrition program all within the same line,” said Ross. "If the Natural Science foods are not on a store’s shelves, we recommend keeping the supplements with the other foods or hays.”

Ross strongly recommends keeping supplements separate from treats to prevent end consumers from mistaking supplements for this product category. She also suggests keeping supplements at eye level. 

"Because the Natural Science supplements are new and novel, it’s important to provide maximum exposure to encourage sales to new customers,” she said.

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