Growth of the pet first aid and wellness category doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon, with manufacturers and retailers reporting year-over-year growth in sales of products such as over-the-counter skin, wound, ear, eye and dental care solutions for dogs and cats.

“Our sales are almost twice what they were this time last year,” said Terri Entler, president of Vancouver, Wash.-based Healers PetCare, a manufacturer of pet safety and health care products. “The pet industry is going nuts.”

With so much of the category’s success dependent on education, retailers such as Pattie Zeller, owner of Animal Connection in Charlottesville, Va., are putting additional legwork in.

“Our sales in the wellness category are up, but we are working harder to get the sale with one-on-one education,” Zeller said. “Shelf-talkers aren’t enough. People aren’t really willing to read them, but they’ll take our advice.”

With customers looking for quick, easy solutions, these educational conversations must be ongoing.

“[Customers] sometimes think one dose will do it, and if they don’t see nearly immediate results, they don’t buy a second time,” Zeller said. “We really have to work it.”

Vetericyn, a Rialto, Calif.-based manufacturer of first aid and wellness products, is seeing an increase in brand comparison shopping across the category, said marketing director Geoff Hamby.

“There’s still shopping for the best price, of course, but more and more owners are comparing what goes in the products they give their pets,” he said. “Pet owners are actively seeking first aid products that are safe, nontoxic, antibiotic free and, of course, effective.”

Westmont, Ill.-based Pet King Brands, the maker of Zymox ear and skin care products and Oratene dental products, reported similar trends.

“[A] trend influencing the products pet parents purchase and use is the demand for solutions that are nontoxic and work without antibiotics,” said marketing director Debra Decker. “The threat of antibiotic resistance is a concern for people and their pets, with more and more choosing veterinarian-recommended products such as Zymox skin products, which rely on enzymes versus antibiotics.”

Retailers and manufacturers agree that skin problems such as allergies, itching and hot spots continue to be a top concern for pet owners.

“Pet parents are feeling more comfortable with at-home care, especially with the large range of category product offerings available in stores to help with [skin] issues,” said Jeff Reibert, pet food and supplies buyer for CountryMax stores, which have headquarters in Victor, N.Y. “[CountryMax’s] large assortment of products will help our pet parents keep from costly and unnecessary vet bills.”

Another area of interest is oral care.

Healers PetCare intended to launch its charcoal toothpaste for dogs at SuperZoo 2020 but opted for a soft release in December after the show’s postponement.

Activated charcoal captures and binds with toxins, making it useful in air and aquarium filters, as an emergency treatment for poisoning, and in human toothpastes, face masks, soaps and more.

“Charcoal has been proven to be an excellent de-toxin, so it’s really great for killing that bad breath and the toxins in a dog’s mouth,” Entler said. “A lot of [pet product developments] pattern after what the humans do.”

Assortment Optimization

Cover All Your Bases

Building a diverse assortment helps retailers ensure they have all their bases covered in the health and wellness category.

“We suggest keeping a selection of products on hand for the more common eye, ear and skin ailments,” said Geoff Hamby, marketing director for Vetericyn, a manufacturer of first aid and wellness products in Rialto, Calif.

Skin issues that Hamby suggests stocking solutions for include cuts, scrapes, hot spots, torn paw pads and sores.

“To make this easy on the retailer, we’ve created a Pet Wellness Center point-of-purchase display that contains all of our best-selling Vetericyn Plus first aid products,” he said. “It comes ready to hang or stand in the store and has a great eye-catching design.”

Terri Entler, president of Healers PetCare, a manufacturer of pet safety and health care products in Vancouver, Wash., cautions independent retailers not to lose sight of what the first aid and wellness category can offer.

“Pet health is one of the fastest [growing] segments, so independents need to expand their pet health [offerings],” she said. “They tend to stick to food and treats because they’re a faster turn, and that’s kind of a mistake. People are looking for solutions before they actually have to turn to a veterinarian.”

Entler said Pet Food Express is one of the major independent carriers of the Healers Medical Booties line.

“They do it not because it’s a huge profit—because they make more money probably selling a ton of dog food—but they feel like that’s a service that they provide that brings new customers in,” she said. “I think that that’s where independents are kind of losing sight: They can provide this service of pet health to their customers.”

At Animal Connection, a pet store in Charlottesville, Va., owner Pattie Zeller is noticing increased interest in dental care products. She believes this can be attributed in part to teeth issues caused by kibbles high in carbohydrates.

“Our customers are asking for something to ‘clean the teeth,’ when we’d really rather be selling food that doesn’t put the tartar on the teeth in the first place,” she said. “They are looking for the easy way to keep the teeth clean, so dental bones are a hot seller.”

Earth Animal, GlycoFlex, Pet Naturals of Vermont and ProDen PlaqueOff are among Zeller’s favorite first aid and wellness brands.

“We provide a good selection of pet care ‘from nose to tail’ and select products that are well-known in the market, so they have brand recognition,” Zeller said. “They do not sell themselves, but brand recognition makes it easier.”

NaturVet, Nutri-Vet, Cosequin and Vetericyn make up the bulk of the first aid and wellness section at CountryMax stores, said Jeff Reibert, pet food and supplies buyer for the Victor, N.Y.-based chain.

“Retailers need to offer a range of products that help cover all first aid issues, as well as various options for a range of ages,” Reibert said. “Giving consumers these options could be the difference between the sale or not. We listen to our customers—what type of products they’re looking for—and if we see trends in requests, we look for the best options to have available in our stores.”

Product Development

Hot Spot Solutions

Skin allergies and resulting hot spots continue to plague many pets, and manufacturers such as Vetericyn, Pet King Brands and Healers PetCare have each come up with antibiotic-free options to provide soothing relief and promote healing.

Geoff Hamby, marketing director of Vetericyn, a manufacturer of first aid and wellness products in Rialto, Calif., said the first aid category was stagnant for many years before the Vetericyn Plus line was launched in 2014.

The line features wound, skin, eye and ear care products made with hypochlorous acid (HOCl), including Vetericyn Plus Hot Spot Antimicrobial Hydrogel and Vetericyn Plus Antimicrobial Hot Spot Spray. HOCl is a molecule that the immune system naturally produces in response to ailments, Hamby explained.

“We believe we’ve created one of the most exciting solutions in the industry right now with our proprietary manufacturing process for Vetericyn Plus technology,” he said. “Vetericyn Plus liquid and hydrogel products are a revolutionary antimicrobial that mimic what occurs naturally in the body’s white blood cells.”

Wound cleaners such as hydrogen peroxide and isopropyl alcohol can damage healthy tissue, unlike HOCl, which has a neutral pH and a safety profile similar to saline, Hamby said, adding that HOCl does not sting or burn when applied to hot spots or other wounds.

“[Vetericyn Plus products] give pet parents a safe, natural way to clean, treat and help the healing of wounds and other issues on their animal’s skin or in the eyes and ears,” Hamby said. “Beyond its safety profile, in-vitro preservative testing of Vetericyn Plus shows microbial inhibition activity for a broad range of microorganisms such as MRSA [methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus], ringworm, yeast, parvo and staph.”

Skin allergies are a driver in the category.

“There has been a huge surge in business due to the prevalence of skin allergies,” said Debra Decker, marketing director of Pet King Brands, a pet health products company in Westmont, Ill.

Pet King Brands offers hot spot relief through its Zymox Topical Spray and Zymox Topical Cream, which are made with tried-and-true natural enzymes, according to the company.

“All Zymox products are based on advanced technology that’s been used for over 30 years,” said marketing director Debra Decker. “These types of products will continue to be in demand due to increased resistance to conventional pharmaceutical treatments and pet parents’ preference to avoid antibiotics. The natural enzymes in Zymox will continue to show effectiveness and will remain a ‘gold standard’ for natural antimicrobial relief.”

Healers PetCare, a manufacturer of pet safety and health care products in Vancouver, Wash., offers Healers Medical Booties and Elastic Wrap Leg Bandages, which physically block pets from licking off medication and further irritating hot spots or other wounds. Both products are sold alongside gauze pad inserts that protect skin from infection, absorb moisture and promote healing.

President Terri Entler was inspired to create the booties when her own dog injured his paws during a hike.

“The only thing the vets had were vet wrap and gauze,” she said. “Unless you’re a veterinarian, it’s really difficult to wrap a dog’s leg with that, unless you’re trained.”

Looking to come up with a solution, she researched human medical wraps and incorporated some of the same materials into her designs.

“Even though we came out with [Healers Medical Booties] about eight years ago, we’re still just about the only ones who do a real medical dog boot,” she said.

The first aid and wellness segment is faring well, with dental care and hot spot solutions consistent areas of need for pet owners.