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7:07 PM   May 04, 2015
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Function over Form

Today’s treats go beyond mere snacking to provide canine health benefits.
By Lori Luechtefeld

For picky dogs, a tasty treat can disguise the flavor of important nutrients.(Courtesy of Isabelle Francais)
When shopping for dog treats, many pet owners look to provide more than just a tasty snack for their four-legged friends. Fortunately, many dog treats available today provide added health benefits to their canine consumers.

Amy Kreutzen, vice president of marketing for Dogswell in Los Angeles, notes that the continued trend toward the humanization of pets extends to the types of treats that owners prefer to give to their dogs.

“Pets have many of the same issues that humans do, and the marketplace offerings reflect some of the same functional benefits,” she says. “For example, supplementing with glucosamine and chondroitin to help hips and joints is a market trend that has recently proliferated.” (See page 72 for additional information on glucosamine.)  

As with all dog treats, those that provide functional benefits come in a variety of forms, including biscuits, jerky treats, wraps and chews. Options also include all-natural meat or vegetable and fruit treats that tout their absence of fillers, artificial flavors and colors, and byproducts. In addition, gravies—although somewhat outside the traditional treat realm—serve as palatable vehicles for omega fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.

Ingredients for Life
The benefits of a treat can stem from both its shape and texture—as with many promoting dental health—as well as its ingredients.

Such ingredients encompass a wide range of herbs, vitamins and minerals whose professed health benefits run the gamut.

For example, treats containing glucosamine, chondroitin and vitamin E are often promoted for the maintenance of healthy joints.

Functional Ingredients
The following ingredients, included in some dog treats, are commonly promoted for their health benefits:

  • Glucosamine, chondroitin and vitamin E: healthy joints
  • Flaxseed, taurine and turmeric: healthy heart
  • Chamomile and lavender: calming effects
  • Mint, chlorophyll and parsley: fresh breath
  • Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids: heart, joint and immune system health
Flaxseed, taurine and turmeric are components of treats designed to help maintain a healthy heart. At the same time, flaxseed—a versatile ingredient—also combines with other vitamins designed to promote the maintenance of pets’ eyes, skin and coats.

Some functional treats also target behavioral issues, such as anxiety in dogs. Chamomile and lavender are often promoted for their calming effects on canines.

In addition, certain dog treats are formulated to promote fresh breath and dental health. Commonly touted ingredients for this function include fresh mint, chlorophyll and parsley.

Marcia Sundberg, co-owner of Pookie’s Pet Nutrition and Bow Wow Bakery in Winter Park, Fla., says her store offers a wide variety of beneficial treats, most of which are meat-based and feature some sort of herb treatment. In addition, Sundberg’s bakery produces its own biscuits that promote added health benefits. These offerings include treats for healthy joints as well as breath biscuits containing parsley.

Christina Schubert, co-owner of Mom and Pup’s in Marietta, Ga., says that her store carries a wide variety of functional dog treats.

Popular options include biscuits, jerky-style items and vegetarian options, such as dried sweet potato varieties. She says some of the best-selling functional treats in her store include edible ones designed to help clean pets’ teeth, as well as charcoal treats designed to help gas and upset stomachs.

There are multiple benefits to providing health supplements to dogs in treat form. But as with any snacking, limits need to be established.

Bart Greenhut, owner of HealthPro Nutrition in Pico Rivera, Calif., notes that giving supplements in treat form is a fast and easy way to deliver beneficial supplements to dogs.

“The treat will also mask any potential ‘off’ taste that accompanies many supplements,” Greenhut says.  
Kreutzen agrees.

“The primary advantage to giving supplements in treat form is that the dog or cat is more apt to eat the product,” she says. “Additionally, feeding supplements along with a food can aid digestibility of the supplement.”  

Sundberg also notes that it can be difficult to get dogs to take pills or liquids that might taste peculiar by themselves. Thus, treats containing those supplements can make the feeding experience a more pleasant one.

“However, you have to be reasonable,” she says. “The dosage in each treat is often not excessively high. So you need to be careful—you don’t want to over-treat a pet, which can lead to weight problems.”

Sampling Success
Many manufacturers offer merchandising enhancements—including racks, signage and shelf-talkers—to retailers who stock their products. Such options can help retailers educate their customers on the added health benefits of certain treats. But perhaps one of the most useful sales tools in this category is samples, which enable customers to gauge their dog’s acceptance of a treat before buying a package to take home. 

“Once dog owners see results with their own dogs, they will return to that store to re-purchase,” Greenhut says.

Indeed, Sundberg says her store’s promotion of treats revolves mainly around samples.

“We open packages and keep them at the register,” she says. “That’s how we do marketing.”

Schubert agrees that, with proper sampling, dog treats essentially sell themselves. And in the case of those designed to produce added health benefits, a little customer education can go a long way.

“Any dog that comes in our store gets a treat, so long as the owner says it’s OK,” Schubert says. “If the dog likes it, then that opens the door for us to discuss the added health benefits of the product. It also helps to listen to the customer. They often tell you about the problems their dog is having. Does the dog get carsick? Is it getting older? There’s often a treat we can recommend that’s designed to help.”

In addition, Schubert says she groups her beneficial treats together on her store’s shelves, which enables pet owners to easily peruse the available options. <HOME>

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