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Cat Marketplace: Snacking Solutions

Posted: December 16, 2013, 10:25 a.m. EDT


Help pet owners find cat food and treats that can aid in preventing or solving a specific health issue.

By Stacy N. Hackett

Cat owners want only the best for their beloved pets. So when the family cat gains some weight, experiences regular hairballs or suffers from a urinary tract infection, owners might seek solutions in the aisles of a pet store. Recognizing this, manufacturers offer foods and treats that address some common feline health issues.

Topping the list in this category are foods formulated to help with feline obesity.

"Many customers are looking for ways to reduce a cat’s weight,” said Laura Clark, owner of four Wylie Wagg pet stores in Northern Virginia.

To that end, Clark stocks foods high in protein and low in carbohydrates, noting that they "tend to help cats lose weight more successfully without depriving them of the protein they crave and that their bodies rely on.”

Manufacturers offer foods specifically formulated to help cats lose weight. Royal Canin’s Spayed/Neutered line of cat foods, for example, provides appetite control benefits to help "manage the changes that occur in cats after they are spayed or neutered,” said Brent Mayabb, DVM, director of corporate affairs for the St. Charles, Mo., company.

Cat Snacks
Carrie Brenner/i-5 Publishing at Pet Supply

"Most owners don’t know that [spaying and neutering] can lead to hormonal and behavioral changes that can cause cats to become overweight due to decreased energy needs and an increase in appetite,” Dr. Mayabb said. "With our Spayed/Neutered line of feline formulas, we’ve had cat owners comment on how their cats used to beg for food, and after making the switch to a Spayed/Neutered formula, their cats are much more satisfied.”

The special shape of the food’s kibble also contributes to weight control in spayed and neutered cats, Dr. Mayabb said.

"Cat owners have noticed how the kibble shape has helped slow down eating, encouraging their cats to chew their food,” he added.

Texture and palatability add to the success of weight control formulas. Fat Cats by Natural Balance combines ingredients such as chicken and salmon with garbanzo beans, peas and oatmeal.

"This formula…provides fiber and protein to make cats feel satisfied and reduce begging behaviors, while still providing them with balanced nutrition and great taste,” said Heather Govea, general manager of Pacoima, Calif.-based Natural Balance. "Many happy customers have reported that their cats have succeeded in slimming down on our Fat Cats formula.”

Tomlinson’s Feed & Pets, with eight stores in Texas, sells Fat Cats dry food. Miles Rowland, manager of the Westlake store in Austin, recommends this food because it is high in protein and has "less fat than other grain-free options,” he said. Rowland also cited Wellness Core Indoor food as a high-protein, low-fat option, noting that the extra fiber in this food also helps "move hairballs through the digestive tract.”

Rowland points to his employees as his best asset in promoting preventive cat foods. For example, if a customer wants to help prevent urinary tract infections in a cat prone to them, Rowland’s staff may recommend feeding a canned formula because of the extra moisture the food provides. Similarly, Clark stocks a range of wet foods at the Wylie Wagg stores.

"Our most popular and successful preventive cat foods are wet foods,” she explained. "We have a high percentage of customers who are trying to manage urinary and kidney issues. These customers often find that increasing a cat’s moisture intake helps significantly.”

Certain ingredients may help with urinary issues. For example, G-Zees cat treats manufactured by Durango, Colo.-based Zuke’s, include natural cranberry.

"These one-of-a-kind, grain-free treats contain both glucosamine and natural cranberry to support joint and urinary tract health in cats of all ages,” said Chris Meiering, Zuke’s director of marketing.

Natural Pet Food & Supplies in Temecula, Calif., stocks G-Zees cat treats. The store also offers NaturVet’s Natural Hairball treats and Cranberry Relief treats, formulated to address hairball problems and urinary tract health, respectively.

For customers seeking products that will help contribute to their cats’ dental health, Natural Pet Food & Supplies stocks Feline Greenies Dental Treats in four flavors: Chicken, Tuna, Salmon and Ocean Fish. The treats have a texture and shape designed to help prevent the buildup of tartar, according to the product’s website, and are recognized by the Veterinary Oral Health Council with its Seal of Acceptance.

Annette Merrifield, Natural Pet Food’s assistant manager, said the treats can help remove the tartar because of the chewing action. "Also, cats seem to like anything that has to do with food,” she said.

Regular Research
To ensure that they recommend the best possible foods to their customers, Rowland and his staff regularly seek information on new foods and breakthroughs about feline (and canine) nutrition.

"My employees and I are always reading, researching and testing new foods on our own pets,” he said, "so we can pass on what we learn to customers and can personally vouch for each product we recommend.”
While education is Rowland’s preferred method for selling preventive cat foods, Tomlinson’s Feed & Pets also regularly highlights the category with discounted pricing.

"We have monthly specials that often spotlight our top food formulas,” Rowland said. "These are a great deal every month, and an excellent conversation starter around the products.”

Joint Health
Often used as a supplement for humans experiencing joint issues, glucosamine also appears on the ingredients lists of some foods and treats for cats. G-Zees cat treats contain glucosamine, providing cat owners with a method for easily providing the supplement to their pets.
"We wanted to introduce an easy-to-feed treat that supports mobility without pills, liquids or powders,” said Chris Meiering, director of marketing for Zuke’s in Durango, Colo. "G-Zees are made in the USA from natural, whole food ingredients, and with the added health benefits, cat parents…provide a nutritional boost to treat time.”
Miles Rowland, manager of the Westlake location of Austin, Texas-based Tomlinson’s Feed & Pets, recommends that cat owners hoping to address joint health issues add either a fish oil or glucosamine supplement to the cat’s diet. His staff is trained in pet nutrition so "when a customer comes in with a particular problem, our team knows exactly where to point him.”—SH

At the Wylie Wagg stores, Clark encourages employees to engage customers in conversation about their pets’ specific nutritional needs.

"Our customer service model is based on personal consultation and discussion,” she said. "We always talk to customers, determine their specific needs and help them to find tailored solutions.”

Clark also offers free samples of cat foods.

"Cats can be particular about what foods they will eat, and it can be very beneficial for the owners to be able to try several options before making a purchase,” she said.

At Furry Face in Redlands, Calif., store owner Lorin Grow strives to help her customers prevent health issues through education about proper pet food choices. Her store offers free nutritional seminars so her customers can learn about their pets’ nutritional needs and select the optimal food.

"It’s about dialing in the food to the cat based on age, gender, any current issues (medical or otherwise), indoor or outdoor, etc.,” she said.

Such events work well for retailers to promote preventive cat foods, Natural Balance’s Govea said.
"We encourage them to host promotions like ‘healthy weight month’ to get the word out to their customers,” she said.

Natural Balance also offers a range of display materials to draw attention to the benefits of its Fat Cats formula.

Increased awareness of preventive cat foods is a priority for Royal Canin as well. The company teamed with pet behaviorist and radio host Steve Dale to educate owners about the nutritional effects associated with spaying and neutering.

"A laundry list of medical problems can be addressed, at least in part, with diet,” Dale said. "Spayed or neutered cats require significantly fewer calories than those who are not. Of course, growing kittens have different needs than elderly cats. It’s important for cat owners to understand how these specific health issues play a role in cat food selection.”

With retailers placing an emphasis on educating and training their employees on all aspects of feline nutrition, cat owners can easily learn the benefits of preventive cat foods from knowledgeable staff members.

As Clark said, "We focus heavily on educating our teams and promoting individual assessment of a customer’s issue rather than leaving it to chance that the customer will choose the right preventive option.”

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