Posted: February 26, 2014, 3:30 p.m. EDT
The once-limited dental category now offers an impressive array of all-natural products for cleaning dogs’ teeth.
By Kristin Mehus-Roe
The world of dog dental health is no longer just about toothbrushes and toothpaste. Now, dogs are getting their pearly whites clean with everything from specialized dental chews to bacteria-eating gels to breath-freshening water additives.
Despite good intentions, many frustrated dog owners have waved the white flag when it comes to tooth brushing. Only 1 percent of owners brush their dogs’ teeth, according to Rebecca Rose, president and product developer for Boulder, Colo.-based In Clover, manufacturer of Grin, a dental chew for dogs.
"Folks are looking for an easier way,” she said.
Dental Care Roundup
To facilitate dental health without relying on tooth brushing, there is now a range of items on the market. Some work to physically clean the teeth, while others use supplements to keep teeth clean or breath fresh.
Dental gels are formulated to adhere directly to the teeth and eat away at the sticky bacteria that create tartar. Powders, such as ProDen PlaqueOff, are sprinkled in the food and work systematically.
There also are water additives, which are formulated to kill bacteria in the mouth and often include breath-freshening scents. Dental chews are made to physically clean the teeth and usually also have enzymes to attack the bacteria on teeth.
There also are several products that address dental health in addition to a dog’s overall health, as well as dental products for dogs with allergies or other dietary restrictions.
Z-Bones from Zuke’s, for example, are grain-free edible dental chews designed with a dog’s digestive system in mind.
"Our all-natural potato-and-pea-based formula supports fresh breath, clean teeth and healthy gums,” said Chris Meiering, director of marketing for the Durango, Colo., manufacturer.
Beverly Lefevre, store manager for Paw’s Natural Pet Emporium stores in Richland and Kennewick, Wash., sees a need for dental products that address specific needs.
"At our store we deal with a lot of dogs with allergies whose owners are trying to find the package deal—trying to provide dental chews, provide the treats, but hypoallergenic,” she said, adding that Natural Balance Pet Foods has come out with a new limited-ingredient dental chew that she believes will sell well.
Some manufacturers, such as Fetch … for Pets! and TropiClean, offer a range of dental products, including sprays, foams, gels, breath drops, toothpaste, water additives, edible chews and, of course, toothbrushes.
According to Fetch … for Pets! president Steven Shweky, the New York-based company recently acquired Spinz Edible Chew Toys and will be re-releasing the line with new packaging later this year.
"We aim to provide pet parents a large number of options for caring for their pets’ oral health,” said Shweky. "Say a dog doesn’t respond well to the typical toothbrush, we make sure that there are still other products out there to use instead.”
The company also distributes the Burt’s Bees Natural Pet Care line, which offers several dental products designed for convenient application.
Until recently, dental products were limited, but there is now a wide selection for customers, retailers reported.
"We brought in new dental treats: Whimzees made by Paragon. They are in cute little shapes and they have more limited ingredients [than products they previously carried],” said Jake Neupert, operations manager for an All the Best Pet Care store in Seattle.
In addition to new products, there also are new innovations to existing products, such as SynergyLabs’ new toothbrushes being introduced as part of its Dental Fresh line.
"Our new toothbrushes are designed to help with gums,” said Carlos Zamora, marketing coordinator for SynergyLabs in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "Dogs’ gums need brushing just like humans', but most pet toothbrushes are hard on gums. Our toothbrushes are U.S.-made and softer.”
According to retailers and manufacturers, the rise in dental health products is motivated by an unwillingness to brush dogs’ teeth coupled with a growing awareness of the importance of dental health.
Pet owners are especially attracted to effective products with as natural and as few ingredients as possible.
"We sell toothbrushes and toothpaste, but honestly most people aren’t going to do it,” said Michelle McConnell, co-owner of Amy’s Natural Pet Pantry in Osprey, Fla.
"The fact that dental health can impact a pet’s overall well-being has caused an increased interest specifically in natural dental treats,” said McConnell.
Safety is an important factor when consumers are browsing products.
"Pets are such an important part of the family, and therefore pet parents are looking for the safest and most effective products,” said Shweky. "Pet parents are concerned about the purity of the products they use on and around their pets. For this reason, there has been an increase in more holistic products that pet parents can trust.”
According to Neupert, "Customers are seeking out products they can trust but instead of brushing the teeth, they want bullies, raw bones, [dental] sticks,” and other physical cleaners that don’t involve the battle of tooth brushing.
Customers are motivated to seek out dental care products for a variety of reasons.
Despite the many gels, foams, sprays, toothpastes, water additives, chews and powders now on the market, many retailers and consumers are reaching for the old standby: raw bones.
"As far as dental health, what we encourage people to do is feed a diet that is conducive to dental health,” said Michelle McConnell, co-owner of Amy’s Natural Pet Pantry in Osprey, Fla. "We are advocates of raw bones rather than a dental-specific chew.”
Beverly Lefevre, store manager for Paw’s Natural Pet Emporium, with stores in Richland and Kennewick, Wash., agreed that raw bones are a surprisingly strong share of the dental market.
"With big dogs, it’s the bones,” said Lefevre. "Frozen bones are a big category now for keeping up with dental care.
"Water additives have been pretty steady, but I haven’t seen a spike in sales. I’ve really seen a big increase in frozen raw bones—and I’ve noticed a lot of people buying toothbrushes.”—KMR
"A lot of people are coming in and very consciously asking for dental products,” said Lefevre.
"Especially people with small breeds. People are preparing for it since puppyhood.”
At All the Best Pet Care and Amy’s Natural Pet Pantry, staff often see customers looking for ways to improve their dogs’ breath, and they also see a growing awareness of dental health, said Neupert and McConnell. Often customers have just had a cleaning and want to have more time between procedures, they added.
For manufacturers, the foray into dental care—and new or improved dental care products—generally arises with their customers.
"Consumer needs was our motivation,” said Rose of In Clover. "We started looking at the products out there, and there were a range of hard chews that are working with the physical approach, so we looked at what chemically and physiologically causes the problem. The problem is the sticky residue of bacteria.”
Grin is a soft chew with an active ingredient that works to stop the bacteria that creates tartar, she said.
"We go to the root of the problem,” Rose added.
SynergyLabs’ newest product, Dental Fresh Natural, a water additive with no dyes, was created with direct input from customers, Zamora said.
"We’ve heard a lot of feedback from our customers and how they prefer things with no dye,” said Zamora.
"Pet parents are becoming more cautious.
"We try to ask our customers what they want. We have social media and email surveys. Sometimes the ideas aren’t worth the business risk, but … we had several hundred responders indicate that this was an interest. Dye is not what people want.”
Brian Collier, creative marketing coordinator for TropiClean in Wentzville, Mo., said the company’s Fresh Breath dental health line was started in 2010 with the understanding that there was a need in the market for an easy solution.
"We need to remove the task of brushing,” said Collier. "We look both at what customers are wanting and we look ahead to what customers haven’t thought of. We’re all pet owners here, so we know what the needs are. We want better and longer lives—and fresher breath!”
While dental care products make up a small portion of the pet care market, many manufacturers are working hard to both promote awareness of dental health and their products.
Zuke’s, for example, promotes its dental health products through in-store events, trade advertising, consumer advertising, and attending and sponsoring regional community events, said Meiering. The company also promotes its products at outdoor festivals, fairs and dog sports events, such as dock dogs and disc dogs, he added.
"Zuke’s is on the road throughout the year giving out samples and meeting the real Zuke’s customers—the pets and pet parents at these events,” said Meiering.
Companies with a range of dental products are able to cross-promote their products. TropiClean, for example, just kicked off a promotion for its new Fresh Breath Plus dental chew with a bundling that provides a free dental chew when pet owners buy a water additive.
"Supporting the dental chew effort, we are doing our first social media campaign,” said Collier. "We’ve created an app to do a photo contest on Instagram and Facebook. If you share a photo of your pet smiling, you get an opportunity to win a year’s supply of free dental chews. Just for participating you can get a coupon for $2 off dental chews.”
In Clover has focused on an education campaign and has seen significant growth since the 2010 launch of Grin, Rose said.
"We don’t have huge celebrity launches, what we have is grass-roots growth. People see it, see the results, and they use it and tell their friends,” she said.
"We do a webinar every month, and we also have archived webinars,” Rose added. "We have a really short two-minute informational video. Depending on interest, customers can do the 30-minute webinar or the two-minute video.”
SynergyLabs also takes an educational point of view with its marketing of Dental Fresh Natural. Because the water additive has no dyes, it’s clear.
"The next question is, is there anything in it since there is no dye,” said Zamora. "Now we need to introduce educational material so we will be rolling out consumer stuff: social media, some online, and some retailer education to show that even though it’s clear, there is something in it.”
The company also plans on bundling some items in a test run and will be giving away small bottles of Dental Fresh Natural, he said.
"We want to take away any fear,” said Zamora. "In just a matter of days, you see a change. If they try one small bottle, they will see changes.”
Because dental care products were a limited product category in the past, many manufacturers provide little sales support and retailers rarely have dental care-specific promotions.
An exception is All the Best Care in Seattle, which flies in a veterinarian for anesthesia-free cleanings one day each month. On those days, the store offers deals on all its dental products.
Retailers agreed, however, that the best way to promote a new product is to provide samples for staff to try with their own pets.
Neupert said that all All the Best Pet Care employees have a stipend to try out new products, and All the Best Pet Care and its distributors generally provide an adequate stash of samples for customers to try out.
"More support could be helpful,” said Neupert.
He added, though, that the category is still a very small percentage of a pet supply store’s sales.
According to McConnell of Amy’s Natural Pet Pantry, few manufacturers provide much support regarding dental health.
"In Clover is good with education and their webinars. But honestly, it’s best for us to just try it with our pets,”she said.
In Clover uses all the standard point-of-sale and marketing materials, but it also has an education certification called the Grin module, Rose said.
"It takes five to 10 minutes to complete and then you take a test,” Rose said. "If you pass the test you get a Grin certification, and also a T-shirt and a certificate to hang up in the store.”
She added that employees also are provided samples to use on their pets so they can answer questions based on personal experience.
TropiClean has invested in retail sales support with a variety of counter and floor displays.
"We have a big endcap that has a TV in it with a video promoting our oral care line,” said Collier. "The cap holds all our oral care products and treats.”
The company recently held a meeting to look at new ways to create educational materials to help stores train their staff, he said.
Ultimately, retailers stated, the best way to sell product is to recommend the products staff use with their own pets.
"I tell reps if they want our staff to sell the product, they need to provide samples for their animals,” said Lefevre. "On a daily basis people ask for our personal recommendations. If we’ve tried it and like it, we will sell that one over another product.”
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