Emerging alternatives help repel bugs on pets, and in their homes.
By Lori Luechtefeld
Pet owners love their pets—but not always the creepy-crawly pests that sometimes come with them. Thus, pet retailers serve as valuable allies in customers’ battles to defend their furry friends (and their own homes) from fleas, ticks, ants and other undesirable guests.
|Despite new alternative flea and tick control products on the market, spot-on treatments are still considered by many the sure-shot method of exterminating fleas.|
It doesn’t do any good to talk about controlling pest infestations within the home and yard without also discussing how to control them on pets.
Caryn Stichler, vice president of marketing for Sergeant’s Pet Care Products in Omaha, Neb., said topical spot-on treatments remain the fastest-growing segment in pest control. According to Stichler, consumers prefer products that kill both adult fleas and ticks, and that feature an insect growth regulator (IGR) and an adulticide to break the flea life cycle.
Despite the prominence of spot-on treatments in the pest control category, however, Mark Janczak, owner of Critters Pet Shop in St. Charles, Ill., said his sales for such products have dropped off in recent years. He said many customers have begun to rely on their veterinarians for spot-on treatments; however, he still offers a small selection of spot-ons, along with premise sprays, flea collars and flea shampoos.
The Natural vs. Chemical Debate
Dan Barry, assistant manager at Dogtown Pet Supply in Portland, Ore., said he’s seeing the broader trend toward healthier living reflected in the solutions pet owners are applying to their pets. While his store offers Frontline and similar topical spot-ons, Barry said he’s seeing more customers prefer natural pest control products, such as those featuring Neem oil, tea tree oil and other natural remedies with anti-pest qualities.
“The natural products are ones that pet owners really have to keep up with,” Barry said.
“But they’re less drastic than the atomic bomb of Frontline.”
Dennis Stewart, owner of Havahart Pets in Racine, Wis., said that, although pet owners tend toward natural solutions, many remain willing to use harsh spot-ons for flea and tick control because they work. He said his store continues to test new natural products that enter the market, including herbal sprays and powders but that, for the most part, these products are shorter-term solutions focused on repelling rather than killing pests. And while customers seem to accept natural fly repellants, such as lemongrass, cedar and citronella, most are looking for more definite (i.e., fatal) solutions for exterminating fleas, he said.
For years, natural pest control remedies have been on the market for pets, but Vin Hourihan, vice president of Natural Chemistry in Norwalk, Conn., said, in the past, many of these remedies have proven ineffective, prompting consumer frustration.
Hourihan said now many new natural pest control products coming to market are proving to be successful remedies, prompting market growth.
“After all, that’s the main reason people buy a certain brand of flea product—because it works,” he said.
The move to natural pest control products is also accelerating due to recent news headlines. For example, in 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it’s intensifying its evaluation of spot-on pesticide products for flea and tick control due to recent increases in the number of reported adverse reactions in pets treated with these products.
When it comes to shampoos, retailers are no longer limited to options with the heavy pesticidal scents of days past. Tropical breeze, fresh linen, Hawaiian ginger—all represent new fragrance options designed to be more appealing to pet owners.
“Pesticidal shampoos that feature oatmeal, a skin-soothing benefit, mimic what is happening in the grooming section of pet supplies, as oatmeal is rapidly becoming the highest spinning shampoo on a retailer’s shelf,” Stichler said.
Along these lines, Tiffany DeGraff, assistant brand manager for companion animal health brands at Central Life Sciences, said a trend to watch is the introduction of products that serve dual purposes, such as grooming shampoos that also have flea- and tick-control benefits.
“With the constraints on consumers’ time as well as their wallets, they are looking for solutions that serve multiple needs in one convenient application, thus saving them time and money,” she said.
DeGraff said, overall, pest control sales are up compared to a year ago.
“But more importantly, they are showing a much longer lifespan than in previous years,” DeGraff said, noting that strong sales of pest control products are now continuing even into traditionally cooler months.
Beyond on-pet treatments, Bob Merar, president of General Pet Supply in Milwaukee, Wis., said one of the biggest trends he has seen in the pest control market is a rise in sales of yard sprays. Yet despite the increased availability of natural and herbal spot-on remedies, yard sprays remain predominantly focused on more-traditional pesticides, he added.
“The natural trend is much more focused on products that people are putting directly on their pets, not what they’re putting in their yards,” he said.
Generally speaking, Merar said that, while the pest control category has seen steady sales in recent years, it’s one that he’s watching as a potential growth category in the future, as the trend toward healthier living with pets continues.
Indeed, Melissa Rogers, co-founder and CEO of Energetic Solutions Ltd., the maker of the Shoo!Tag, based in Austin, Texas, said the latest trends in pest control are all about going “green”—and this trend extends beyond the use of nontoxic topicals and sprays.
Perhaps the most “natural” products are those that avoid contact between pets and pesticides altogether. Flea combs, tick-removal devices and flea vacuums are examples of this growing category of products.
“Consumers are looking for more responsible ways to naturally combat insects that do not have the potential for adverse health risks.”
—Melissa Rogers, co-founder and CEO of Energetic Solutions Ltd.
Having traditional and natural solutions is important to cover the needs of the consumer base. Natural products are bringing incremental volume to the pet aisle.”
—Caryn Stichler, vice president of marketing for Sergeant's Pet Care Products
“Suppliers are reporting that, across all manufacturers, they are still producing products in November that typically would have seen a drop in August or September. Obviously weather plays a large part in this, but another contributing factor is the economy and the fact that more consumers are becoming aware of alternate solutions that are available over the counter.”
—Tiffany DeGraff, assistant brand manager for companion animal health brands at Central Life Sciences
The FleaVac, for example, is a system that consists of a vacuum cleaner attachment that sucks fleas off pets, along with all-natural “kill pellets” that are placed in the vacuum itself to exterminate the removed fleas. In addition, the system can treat the home, including carpets, beds and other areas where fleas and their larvae reside.
“If people buy flea treatments for their dogs but don’t treat the home, they haven’t broken the flea life cycle,” said Don Lewis, founder and CEO of FleaVac in Carlsbad, Calif. “Treating inside the home and good maintenance is the best path to flea prevention.”
However, given the prevalence of spot-on treatments for pets, many owners can’t help but think of flea and tick prevention as a process that occurs mainly on the pet. Thus, products like the Shoo!Tag have arisen as alternatives to chemical-based on-pet treatments. The Shoo!Tag, a nontoxic tag that pets and their people can wear, emits electromagnetic frequencies designed to keep pests away.
Dennis Stewart, owner of Havahart Pets in Racine, Wis., said he tested the Shoo!Tag during the most recent flea season and saw promising results. While he noted that he always proceeds with caution when testing new “natural” products and concepts, he’s hopeful that the product will be one he can promote confidently to customers in years to come.
Merar said he’s seen sales in ant-proof bowls begin to climb. Such bowls are offered by multiple vendors. For example, Petmate’s Fool-A-Bug bowls (based on the premise that ants can’t crawl upside-down) are designed to disrupt crawling insects’ navigation systems to keep them out of the bowl. Similarly, as an elevated feeder, the Neater Feeder by TowerStar Pets, also prevents ants and pests from getting into food. <HOME>
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