Keeping Fido and Fluffy nourished, active and pampered has become big business as more consumers view and treat their pets as valued family members: American Pet Products Association reported that Americans spent an all-time high of $72.5 billion on their pets in 2018—up 4.4% from 2017—and spending is expected to reach $75 billion in 2019 (1). “The pet industry is more dynamic and stronger than at any time since I’ve been in the business—and I’ve been in the business since 1999,” asserts Bill Bookout, president and chair, National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) in Sun City West, AZ. The driving force behind this rapid growth: “In the Millenial space, younger adults are less focused on having kids and more focused on having a companion dog or cat,” explains Bookout. “At the same time, in the baby boomer space, people are retiring and kids are leaving home, so their pets become the focus. At both ends of the demographic, we’re seeing circumstances conducive to continued growth.”

Natural health retailers stand to benefit the most from consumer’s increased investment in their pets’ health and well-being: The global organic pet food market is forecast to grow 9% by 2023—that’s nearly twice the rate of conventional pet food (2). A well-stocked premium pet product section may be key in helping you grow your millennial customer base: A recent Packaged Facts report found that 69% of millennial pet owners look for foods made with natural, whole-food ingredients, and 55% are willing to try holistic nutritional supplements before resorting to conventional pet medication (compared to 30% and 44% of those 35 and older).

To help you cash in on the booming pet product market, we tapped experts for the science-backed food guidelines and results-driven supplements that will keep pets and their parents coming back to your store again and again.

Pet food follows the clean label trend Grass-fed, grain-free, organic, non-GMO, raw, sustainable… The pet food aisle now boasts as many nutrition buzz words as you find in the human snack market. “We know that pet parents are shopping for their dogs and cats the same way they shop for any other member of their family,” affirms Jilliann Smith, director of communications for Merrick Pet Care, the makers of Castor & Pollux. “We are seeing a rising concern among shoppers over harmful chemicals, pesticides, GMOs and artificial additives in our foods.”

Smith notes that that’s why Castor & Pollux has emphasized transparency in its PRISTINE pet food line, which is made from responsibly raised animals, including free-range chicken and turkey and grass-fed lamb and beef, and organically grown fruits and vegetables. “Organic is a great way to avoid potentially harmful ingredients and give pet parents reassurance that they are making the right decision for their pets.”

Sourcing pet food with a clear “Made in the USA” label is another good bet, since FDA regulations ensure safer manufacturing practices and carry less risk of recalls or contamination. “Dog foods from China, while inexpensive, have been found to have a history of contamination,” notes C. Leigh Broadhurst, Ph.D., nutritional chemistry and food safety research scientist at Ark Naturals. “As with any human food or supplement, brands you already know and trust are key.”

Holistic veterinarian Judy Morgan, DVM, author of Yin and Yang: Nutrition for Dogs, stresses that avoiding foods that contain added dyes or food coloring, preservatives including propylene glycol, ethoxyquin, BHT and BHA, which can be carcinogenic, as well as any kind of sugar, can go a long way toward improving the health of pets. Another tip from Dr. Morgan that you can pass along to customers: “When reading the label, remember than anything listed below salt makes up less than 0.5% of the ingredients. So labels that promote antioxidant-containing foods like blueberries and other fresh fruits and vegetables may be misleading if those ingredients are far down on the list.”

Also on the “to avoid” list, according to Cheryl Myers, chief of scientific affairs and education at Europharma/Terry Naturally: products with a lot of corn or other grains. “Dogs and cats don’t need those ingredients, and they are often in food to simply ‘bulk’ it out,” Myers explains. “Unfortunately, it can have the effect of blasting through the digestive system, causing discomfort, inflammation and loose stools.”

Vegetarian and/or vegan pet food have drawn interest for their sustainability and potential cost-savings: A recent survey published in PLos One found 35% of pet owners were interested in switching their pet to a vegan diet (4). Dr. Morgan advises against this for the time being, though. “Taurine and carnitine are amino acids that dogs and cats need for heart health. These are found in only in meats, fish and organs.”

Dr. Broadhurst agrees, noting, “Cats are obligate carnivores and cannot tolerate large amounts of carbohydrates; many plant foods are toxic to them. Dogs are omnivorous, but only slightly so, and they can have digestive difficulties and allergies from plant proteins. So I suggest using plant proteins only in small amounts in dog foods, mixed in with nonvegetarian proteins.”

There is hope for plant protein in pet food on the horizon, notes Dave Louvet, founder and CEO of Innovet Pet Products. His company is looking to develop a hemp-based dog food in the next few years, now that there’s sufficient supply from hemp growers to experiment with new products.

One new trend in the pet market that is worth stocking up on: Meal enhancement products. “Nielsen data shows sales in this category have grown by 30% just in the last year,” explains Smith. “Pets love different textures and flavors, so adding a topper, broth or other mixer brings more variety to mealtime.” It also offers an opportunity to give meals an extra boost of nutrition. For example, fish oil toppers add a dose of omega-3 fatty acids shown to boost the shine and moisture of pets’ skin and coat, while bone broth products, like Castor & Pollux PRISTINE Bone Broth, provide joint-nourishing collagen.

Targeted supplements boost well-being

As dogs and cats get older they deal with the same issues as aging humans, such as aching, stiff joints, bladder control and obesity. But just as with your human customers, there’s a host of supplements (often in easy-to-dose soft chew treats) that can help stave off age-related issues and keep pets healthy and active through their golden years. (Customers should check with their vet first.)

Soothing angst: If car rides, fireworks or thunderstorms trigger stress symptoms in a furry friend, natural ingredients can help, says Dr. Broadhurst. “Supplements can also be useful for calming other acute anxieties or helping your pet through transitions and rough patches with separation anxieties, but they are not intended to be used every day for the life of an animal and do not permanently change behavior.”

Echinacea root extract (EP107), a standardized extract found in Europharma/Terry Naturally’s Calming Formula, is a fast-acting botanical that works via specific cannabinoid receptors to promote calm and dial down stress without causing drowsiness, says Myers. “For best results, give dogs a 20 to 40 mg dose of these chewable tabs (depending on your pets’ size) 30 minutes before a stressful event.”

L-tryptophan. This amino acid stimulates calming beta waves in the brain to bring instant feeling of calm. Dr. Broadhurst recommends pairing it with a blend of time-tested calming, anti-anxiety and mildly sedating botanicals that work synergistically. For example, the mix of valerian, hops, chamomile, passion flower, St. John’s Wort and magnolia, plus L-tryptophan found in Ark Naturals Happy Traveler Soft Chews helps to soothe stress, plus contains ingredients that help to minimize motion sickness for easier road trips. It’s safe for both dogs and cats.

CBD for Calm, Content Pets: 3 Keys for Retailers 

The most buzzed-about ingredient in human health shows potential for pets, too. Touted as a natural way to ease anxiety, reduce joint pain and calm nausea, the pet market for cannabidiol (CBD) has exploded. “Last year at Global Pet Expo, there were 70 pet CBD companies; this year there were 160,” says Bill Bookout of NASC. “We’ve had 17 new members in the last six weeks. And 14 of those have been cannabis companies.”

One reason so many products have flooded the market is that different formulations are designed to deliver targeted results. Dave Louvet of Innovet Pet Products notes that his company is looking at pairing CBD or hemp oil with complimentary ingredients to deliver targeted benefits faster. One example: Innovet’s Advanced Mobility Support Chews, which combine CBD with wild Alaskan salmon oil and glucosamine to keep dog’s joints healthy and ache-free.

Having high quality, pet-specific CBD products in stock can be a great way for natural heath retailers to stand out from the e-commerce crowd, says Flexcin’s Cecilia de la Torre. “Amazon’s restrictions don’t allow it to sell pure CBD oil or products really rich in CBD.”

Bookout notes that over 35 million administrations of hemp or CBD products, there’s been no evidence that CBD is dangerous for animals or humans, but to be safe as you navigate the market, it’s smart to keep these 3 factors in mind when stocking CBD:
  1. Ask for documentation. “Check out a company’s quality. Make sure that they can provide documentation that the THC percentage is less than .3% and that they can hit the CBD claim on their label,” says Bookout. “NASC checks all of those things in our admittance requirements.” He suggests checking for lot numbers in all pet supplements. “They don’t guarantee quality but they do demonstrate that the manufacturer likely complies with some type of quality standards that require product traceability.”
  2. Be open to experimentation/Dose by weight. CBD is not one size fits all, so pet parents should check with their vet and be aware that find the right dose can take some time. “CBD can be wonderfully effective, but it can take some trial and error. Some people give up too soon,” notes Louvet. “If it’s not working, it might be that you need a little more or maybe a little less.”
  3. Offer a caution for cats. There are hemp oil varieties that can pose severe risks to cats, particularly those that contain high concentrations of terpenes, which are toxic to felines, warns C. Leigh Broadhurst, Ph.D., of Ark Naturals. “My advice would be to ask the manufacturer of any hemp oil product intended for cats or senior animals to provide the analytical profile of the major terpenes.”
Easing joint health: Joint problems are common for older dogs, says Myers. “One report said that the prevalence of osteoarthritis reported in dogs here in North America ranged all the way to 80%  for canines over eight years old.”

Most pet owners wait until their pet is already experiencing pain and impaired mobility before they start them on supplements, but our experts point to a better way that you can share with your customers: “There’s no downside to incorporating anti-inflammatory botanicals into your dog’s regimen even before you notice these signs—especially if you have a breed of dog that is prone to hip or joint issues,” says Myers. In those cases, pets can start on a joint-nourishing supplement as early as 2 to 5 years old. “Providing connective tissue, bone and joint support for the animal’s life not only defers arthritic, lumbar, and cruciate ligament disease, but also helps strengthen the jaw ligaments and tooth sockets,” Dr. Broadhurst notes. “Start young animals on 1/3 or 1⁄2 doses of joint supplements and continue for life, increasing to full dosage by 8 years.” For best results, opt for a supplement that contains one or more of these ingredients:

Glucosamine. It has been a gold standard for joint health in humans and animals alike for over a decade, and no wonder: Experts say it works to dial down inflammation and boost levels of the cartilage that cushions joints and strengthens tendons and ligaments, helping to reduce pain in arthritic canines as effectively as NSAIDS without the side effects. Look for it in soft chews like Ark Naturals Joint Rescue or sprinkle capsules.

Cetyl Myristoleate. CM8 from Flexcin is a proprietary ingredient that works to stimulate the production of immunoglobulins and curb inflammation, plus helps to lubricate joints and curb pain, notes Cecilia de la Torre, marketing manager at Flexcin in Tampa, FL. She says the company only recently entered the pet supplements market after years of hearing back from human customer who were sprinkling the flagship product in the pet’s food and seeing amazing results. “Now we offer Flexpet, which contains the same CM8 plus glucosamine but in a delicious soft-chew that’s easier and tastier to give to dogs.”

Curcumin. The active compound in turmeric, this phytochemical is a powerful anti-inflammatory shown to reduce swelling and curb activity of pain receptors to ease aches and pains, says Myers. For best results, Myers recommends opting for a product that contains the standardized extract BCM-95, like Curacel Curcumin or Terry Naturally Joint & Hip Formula.

Safeguarding bladder health: “For bladder health, you don’t have to wait until there are accidents in the home,” says Myers. Her advice for consumers: “Consider a supplement to strengthen the bladder walls and capacity as soon as it seems like your canine companion needs to go out more often than before.” She recommends Angelica archangelica extract, derived from a potent Icelandic herb.

Pampering skin: “An animal who is continually scratching and biting itself, has hot spots or an allergic coat or skin condition has an immune system problem, and is almost certainly deficient in essential fats,” asserts Dr. Broadhurst. “The first line of defense is a liquid essential fatty acid supplement with both omega-3 and omega-6 added to food daily to break the inflammatory cycle, and regrow a healthy coat and layer of protective, antibacterial skin sebum. I recommend a supplement in a liquid form because it is cost-effective and very easy to add to food; dogs and cats love the taste. Even just a teaspoon provides as much oil as 10 regular capsules.”

Maintaining oral health: “Periodontal disease is the most common companion animal disease—80% of dogs and cats have some degree of periodontal disease by age four,” says Dr. Broadhurst. Left unchecked, dental issues can lead to chipping, abscesses and other issues that make eating a painful experience. Since tooth brushing is not a realistic option for pets, Dr. Broadhurst advises letting healthy canines chew on fresh bone slices with bone marrow, which scrapes the teeth, or offering bone substitutes or dental chew that also help scrape the surface of the teeth. “Natural antibacterial sprays, gels, or chews: relatively small amounts of cinnamon, cloves, and gotu kola, for example, can safely help control oral bacteria in dogs.”

Did you know? 5 Health Perks of Pets

Pass this good news along to your customers: Their fluffy buddies are helping them live healthier lives!
  1. Less stress: Researchers at Washington State University found that petting a cat or dog can significantly reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol in as little as 10 minutes (5).
  2. A healthy heart: A study in Scientific Reports showed dog owners had a 33% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death, compared with people who did have a canine companion (6).
  3. Sound sleep. In a survey for Mayo Clinic’s Center for Sleep Medicine, 41% of pet owners said sharing a bed with their furry friend increased feelings of security and relaxation, helping them sleep better (7).
  4. Increased fitness: A University of Liverpool study found that dog owners walked an average of 200 minutes per week than pet-free adults (8).
  5. Healthy kids: Canadian researchers found that babies exposed to dogs and cats had higher levels of two types of beneficial bacteria shown to protect against allergies and obesity (9).

Winning at selling

Online e-tailers are honing in on the pet food market, but there’s lots of room for natural health retailers to stand apart and win loyal customers that come back week after week. “Wise retailers are including separate, defined sections on pet care in their stores and staffing them with people who know and love pets,” observes Myers. “Education is very important, because pet owners are reading a lot online—some of which is inaccurate—so it is a good idea to be prepared with the science behind the supplements you offer.”

Also smart: Setting up a display calling out buzzed-about supplements for joint pain or a selection of your best organic pet foods. “Even a single display with a few targeted natural products is going to get attention, because the demand is huge,” says Myers. “And capturing business that might otherwise go to mass market pet products is a win-win: more revenue for the store, and better health for the beloved pet.”

If customers balk at the price point of organic or grain-free foods, try educating them on the long-term benefits of buying a higher quality food, says Dr. Broadhurst. “Thinking penny-wise and pound foolish can result in higher veterinary costs, potentially causing animals to suffer needlessly.”  WF
  1. “Pet Industry & Market Size and Ownership Statistics”
  2. “Organic Pet Food Market In-deep Analysis And Experts Review Report to reach CAGR of 9.08% in 2023”
  3. “1 in 3 U.S. Pet Owners Millennials: What it Means for the Pet Food Market”
  4. Dodd et al. “Plant-based (vegan) diets for pets: A survey of pet owner attitudes and feeding practices”. PLOS ONE, 2019; 14 (1): e0210806 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0210806
  5. Pendry et al.  “Animal Visitation Program (AVP) Reduces Cortisol Levels of University Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” AERA Open, 2019; 5 (2) 10.1177/2332858419852592
  6. Mubanga. “Dog owners and the risk of cardiovascular disease and death- a nationwide cohort study.” Scientific Reports 2017.
  7. Krahn et al. “Are pets in the bedroom a problem?”. 2015, 90 (12), 1663-1665.
  8. Westgarth et al. “Dog owners are more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than people without a dog.” Scientific Reports, 2019, 9 (5704)
  9. H. Tun et al. “Exposure to household furry pets influences the gut microbiota of infant at 3–4 months following various birth scenarios.” Microbiome, 2017; 5 (40)