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7:59 AM   April 27, 2015
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Be Prepared

Retailers can challenge customers to stock up on first-aid products. 
By Elisa Jordan 

A functional bandange can also be bright and stylish. (Courtesy of Bramton)
No family should go without a first-aid kit of some sort, especially if that family includes children. Prone to bumps, skinned knees and bruises, exuberant little ones often find themselves in need of a bandage and antibacterial ointment. Even adults occasionally need something after a paper cut or kitchen knife nick. 

It only makes sense, then, that four-legged family members have their own kits in case of emergency. Once pet supply retailers recommended human products when customers requested first aid for their pets. That's no longer the case. 

Awareness of this need has been steadily growing over the past few years, in part because owners have embraced animals as family and also because of highly publicized large-scale disasters.

"The pet industry has been doing a great job of making dog owners more aware of the emergencies that can occur that they just might not think of," says Randy Hylton, chief executive officer of VSI Pet Care Products in Liberty, Mo.

"Hurricane Katrina was a real eye opener for the thousands of dog owners who suddenly had to transport their dogs someplace and had no vet care available if an injury occurred," Hylton says. "Even when they returned home there might not be vet care available for weeks or months."

While preparing for worst, owners can also prepare for more common, minor mishaps.  "Injuries are usually fairly small, like cutting the nail too close or having a bee sting or some other type of bug bite," says Melissa Whitton, president of Most Valuable Pets, a retail store in Nicholasville, Ky.
It's the small disasters that customers will most likely encounter. Thorns in paws, twisted ankles at dog parks, scratches from bushes, clipped nail quicks or insect bites may not be serious enough for veterinary care, but they still require attention. And all too often, Whitton says, owners don't think of such things until there's an immediate need. Candy Munday, an employee at Fairwood Pet Center in Renton, Wash., notes similar findings. 

"[Customers] need it any time they go outdoors, like when they go to off-leash dog parks," she says. "I've been to dog parks and nobody has a first-aid kit and a dog gets hurt. Have the basics of a cold compress or a hot compress or even bandaging, wraps and a little bit of hydrogen peroxide, alcohol wipes and tweezers so if you have a dog that has something stuck in its paw or its arm you can pull it out."

Richelle Nassos, who co-owns the first-aid kit company me4kidz with her husband, Peter, in Phoenix, agrees. 

"It's no different from children," she says. "They cut themselves or get a thorn or splinter and you need to get it out and then wrap it. They get a little infection you want to put some antibiotic on it and then bandage it up."   On the Go While having first-aid items available at home works great for backyard bumps, today's dogs are more than mere house pets. Dogs are often travel buddies and on the go with owners, accompanying them on hiking expeditions, hunting outings, camping trips and family vacations. 

Bandages and antibacterial ointments should go along on the adventure. Keeping everything together in a kit can help items stay organized. Many manufacturers understand that, and some even make specialized kits for certain types of outings, such as sporting or hunting kits. 

"One complete kit is beneficial to the pet owner because it can be economical and gives them peace of mind of being prepared for any incident that may arise," says Carol Smith, sales manager for AGS Laboratories Inc. in Dallas. "The owner does not have to search for all the necessary items, and nothing is forgotten."

Owners can now buy kits that are suited to the specific lifesyle of each dog. 

"I believe one of the biggest innovations has been that dog first-aid kits are now geared more to your dog's needs and size," Hylton says. "In the past it was more of a 'one size fits all.' Now you can make several choices based on your pet's needs."

First aid for dogs or animals is often seen as a joke or an extravagant item, but in this day and age it should be a requirement for good dog ownership.

During camping season and in the spring when the bugs are out, Whitton puts up signage to draw extra attention to the first-aid products and kits she sells. Because April is National Pet First Aid Month, the spring also presents an ideal opportunity to discuss first aid with customers. But things don't have to stop there.

"We have a very big gift market with the pet industry," Nassos says. "We used to not think of giving first aid as a gift, but it can be a gift. It's a thoughtful gift. We are at a point right now in the market where people are concerned with how their dogs look-you've got nail polish and $100 and $200 collars-but we should tie in safety to every aspect of the market. If their dogs aren't safe and healthy, they're not going be wearing fancy outfits."

Education, Hylton emphasizes, is key in getting word out on the importance of first-aid products. Stressing health and safety can help reinforce bonds between owners and pets.  "Dog owners are very dedicated to their dogs but quite often just do not know how quickly something can happen that can endanger the lives of their dogs," he says. "We quite often tell dog owners, 'We hope you never need our product, but if you do it could be the best purchase decision you have ever made.'"  Getting Noticed The marketplace seems primed for canine first-aid products. Customers are aware enough of their dogs' possible bumps and bruises. It's a growing market.

"One reason is that there is so much more information about pet health in the media now than ever before," Smith says. "Pet products, advice and facts are easy to find on the Internet and in pet stores."
There is still a little way to go and not everyone has found huge success. Town & Country, a distributor based in Baltimore, doesn't stock them. 

"They don't sell," says owner Loreen Peterson. 

That doesn't mean there isn't a market for these products. It means there is great potential to grow the product segment. Nassos says she added a pet first-aid kit to her line because of consumer demand.

"It's on the rise," she says. "People are much more conscious of the health and safety aspect of their animals, so they are a little more proactive than they were in years past." Owners are taking the need to provide first aid far more seriously these days.

"First aid for dogs or animals is often seen as a joke or an extravagant item, but in this day and age it should be a requirement for good dog ownership," Hylton says. 

Carrying first-aid products in the store benefits both retailers and consumers. Whitton knows firsthand.

"People don't realize the importance of it so a lot of people won't even carry the items," she says. "It's a whole segment they could be missing out on. They're not the most popular items in the store, but when people need them they'll remember if you had what they need. They remember that, and it helps build customer loyalty." <HOME>

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