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Consumers today are looking for a variety of options to address their pets’ dental health needs, and are increasingly turning to natural and functional solutions.

The natural dental product category is growing, report industry insiders, who often attribute the sales boost to the rise in cat and dog ownership.

“People have been at home and they either are spending more time with their old dog, or they’ve just got a new dog, and they’re really overwhelmed with bad breath,” said Audree Berg-Farnsworth, co-owner of Auggie’s Pet Supplies, a pet supply store in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “They want something natural to deal with it. They want to help maintain less pungent doggie breath.”

Dog and cat owners are increasingly aware of the need for pet dental health solutions—and not just for the purpose of better-smelling breath.

“Interest in pet oral care is growing,” said Christine McCoy, co-owner of The Natural Pet Enrichment Center, a pet store in North Royalton, Ohio. “Customers are becoming more aware that dental health can really drive overall health. It’s being discussed more. Nobody wants a dog with bad breath or a cat with bad breath.”

Consumers are also looking for dental products that address other health issues.

“The natural dental category has seen a renewed interest in looking beyond just the dental properties of the treat,” said Glenn A. Novotny, president of Emerald Pet Products, a manufacturer in Walnut Creek, Calif. “Retailers and end users are interested in products that address digestive health and bring new qualities to a segment that has been saturated over the last five-plus years.”

Pet owners continue to humanize their pets, and as this accelerates, insiders increasingly see customers looking for dental products that offer health benefits they seek for themselves.

“The future of the pet oral care category will be the same trends that we see in human products,” said Jennifer Green, food scientist for NPIC, a manufacturer in Plano, Texas. “This always trickles down. Even though pets are not humans, we treat them like our family members. Companies are compiling multiple benefits into one dental treat. For example, adding other ingredients to the dental chew like omega-3 fatty acids that can help with skin and coat. People are cracking down on the ‘no artificial colors or flavors.’ People are switching from artificial preservatives to natural ones.”

Natural dental products are in demand, agreed Moronke Tyler, senior brand manager for Merrick Treats Portfolio, a division of Merrick Pet Care, based in Amarillo, Texas.

“Pet parents are looking for treats that are crafted with natural and easy-to-recognize ingredients, but also offer a functional health benefit,” Tyler said. “This trend has created a lot of momentum for natural dental treats.”

New Products

Cleaning Treats

Several new offerings designed to address the market demand for natural dental products are becoming available.

“We are just in the process of launching Yummy Combs in new packaging, both for a 12 package and a 1-pound individually wrapped, contained in a unique box,” said Doug Pendley, executive vice president of Pet’s Best Life in Boise, Idaho. “We have new magenta primary colors.”

Pet’s Best Yummy Combs are designed with a hexagonal shape to offer functional pet teeth cleaning on a 360-degree basis around dogs’ teeth to the gum line, Pendley said, and the product works on teeth in both the upper and lower jaws simultaneously.

Treats that address a wider portion of pets’ mouths as well as products made in the United States are also popular. Emerald Pet introduced its Feline Dental Stixx natural treats in April.

“Our USA-made-and-sourced treats are designed in unique stick shapes to reach the back teeth and massage the gums deeply,” said Glenn A. Novotny, president of the Walnut Creek, Calif.-based manufacturer. “Emerald Pet Feline Dental Stixx are the newest product made specifically to reward and clean at the same time with a shape unique to the industry.”

NPIC recently released its N-Bone Twistix Naturals Daily Dental Treats, said Jennifer Green, food scientist for the Plano, Texas-based manufacturer.

“[The treats] are made with all-natural breath fresheners like mint, parsley and vanilla, enhanced with collagen for added flavor and texture,” Green said. “Twistix Naturals have no artificial colors, dyes, flavors or allergens.”

Merrick will be offering a holiday-ready package of its dental treats.

“Our natural dental treats have been a popular holiday gift,” said Moronke Tyler, senior brand manager for Merrick Treats Portfolio, a division of Merrick Pet Care, based in Amarillo, Texas. “This holiday season, we’re bringing back a limited-edition large box of our Merrick Fresh Kisses, which features a big red bow and gift tag. … With the functional benefit of cleaning a dog’s teeth and freshening their breath.”

Selling Natural Dental Products

Encouraging Add-On Sales

Natural dental products are available in a wide variety of formats, and because many are formulated to address multiple health concerns, retailers reported, the opportunity for add-on sales is high.

“We perform anesthetic-free teeth cleaning twice a month,” said Audree Berg-Farnsworth, co-owner of Auggie’s Pet Supplies, a pet store in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “We’re getting more cat patients in as well. In-store dental cleanings are phenomenal. … Another nice thing, too, is that we work with our dental technician, and when she’s through, a staff member can make an add-on sale with a high-quality chew.”

The wide variety of new formats also helps drive demand, as customers are looking for products that meet differing needs.

“Manufacturers are putting out more products, such as chewable toys, that help exercise the gums and get things moving,” said Christine McCoy, co-owner of The Natural Pet Enrichment Center, a pet store in North Royalton, Ohio. “There is also increasing interest in better ingredients and better diets in order to help with better dental health.”

Offering in-store dog grooming, and even self-serve dog washing, also draws attention to the category, as many customers notice dental issues at that time.

“I do get a lot of questions when people are in the wash, asking about dental care,” said Kymber Webb, general manager for Natural Pet Supply in Vancouver, Wash. “They’re getting up close and personal with their dog, and I do get a lot of questions about dental health while they’re using the wash.”

Merchandising natural dental solutions near supplements is a common technique that retailers use to put these products on shoppers’ radars.

“We have two locations—our retail store and our spa area, which is not as product-dense as the pet supply store—and we sell dental products out of both,” Berg-Farnsworth said. “The spa area has a display wall, and we use clamshell packaging, so everything hangs on pegs. We don’t display products heavily there, so it’s easy for the staff to go over and point dental products out. Our pet supply store is pretty packed with products. Our supplements and related products are laid out like a drug store. We don’t merchandise per brand. We merchandise based on the condition our customers are trying to address.”

Repeat sales are growing in the category because customers want products that are easier to use.

“People don’t want to brush their pet’s teeth daily,” said Jennifer Green, food scientist for NPIC, a manufacturer in Plano, Texas. “The gold standard of at-home oral care would be to brush your pet’s teeth on a daily basis. I read that 97 percent of veterinarians recommend brushing your pet’s teeth, and only one percent of actual pet owners do this. More people are going to the vet regularly and they realize that at-home care along with regular visits to their vet provide their pet with the best oral care.”

Raw Dental Options

Many pet specialty retailers promote raw dietary products as natural dental solutions.

“We sell a lot of raw diets, and those help because they have ground bone in them and they act as a soft abrasive,” said Audree Berg-Farnsworth, co-owner of Auggie’s Pet Supplies, a pet store in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “As the dog eats it, they don’t have a tendency to build up as much tartar because a raw food already has abrasive bone particulates in the diet.”

Raw chews and natural chews are also trending as pet dental products.

“We do a lot of natural chews that increase saliva, such as beef tendons and sometimes the bully sticks and beef cheeks,” said Christine McCoy, co-owner of The Natural Pet Enrichment Center, a pet store in North Royalton, Ohio. “We don’t sell any rawhide at all. We do a lot of raw bones, but that’s a smaller percentage. We have 27 freezers, so we do a lot of raw bones. A smaller percentage of our customers use raw bones for teeth cleaning. It’s our most recommended [product for that purpose], but it’s not for everybody.”

Opinions differ regarding the efficacy of using raw options as dental chews, but retailers find these products effective for their customers.

“We usually recommend neck bones, like chicken necks, duck necks and turkey necks,” said Kymber Webb, general manager for Natural Pet Supply in Vancouver, Wash. “I offer my dog raw bones once a week. She’s 6 years old this year and has never had any issues with her teeth. They are totally sparkling. … With a chew being only specifically [for] dental [health], I think people just get tired of spending money on it. The raw bones tend to last a little bit longer, and they have benefits for anal gland health and other things, as well. That’s why customers stick with those a little bit longer than they would a purely dental chew product. The raw bones are providing multiple health benefits, including dental.”


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Trade Talk

Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis

Do pet owners see the connection between good dental health and overall health in their pets? How do Whitebridge’s products support pets’ dental health naturally?

Poor dental health has an enormous, and not widely realized, impact on your dog’s or cat’s overall health. When bacteria from plaque enters the bloodstream, it can damage major physiological systems, even contributing to diabetes and heart disease.

I think most pet owners recognize how poor dental health impacts the teeth and gums because it is so visible—swollen or bleeding gums, cracked or lost teeth and bad breath. But the internal impact remains invisible until it is too late.

Functional pet treats are becoming increasingly popular, according to a study by market intelligence agency Mintel, with one quarter (24 percent) of owners giving their pets treats designed to address specific health issues. Dental is the No. 1 functional category in the marketplace and drives the highest velocity.

Good dental care starts with prevention, and while that includes treats, pet owners have to get their pet’s teeth cleaned on a regular basis. Treat can’t clean teeth—even crunchy ones—but post-cleaning, dental treats can effectively prevent the formation of plaque and tartar.

Dogswell Dental Jerky offers an effective dental treat solution for dogs who don’t readily accept crunchy. Dogswell Dental Jerky is made in the U.S. from antibiotic-free and hormone-free chicken. Dried seaweed attacks plaque in the bloodstream, parsley contributes to good breath and coconut oil is an antibacterial that keeps the mouth free of harmful bacteria.

For those pets that prefer a crunchy biscuit, Cloud Star Dental Biscuits are a great option. The ingredient panel is modified to also include peppermint for fresh minty breath and bone charcoal to help reduce discoloration of the teeth.