There's good news for your pet-loving customers: Dogs and cats are living longer than ever before. But there's bad news, too. Like their human companions, four-legged critters suffer aches and pains—and creaky joints—as they age.
Naturally, pet owners who treat their own arthritis and joint problems with supplements will want to do the same for their pets. And they have many choices—the supplement market for pets is booming. According to Packaged Facts, the publishing division of MarketResearch.com, U.S. retail sales of pet supplements and nutraceuticals, which have grown by 15 percent a year for the past four years, should soar above $2 billion by 2009.
The star of the pet-supplements boom? Joint-care products containing glucosamine, according to Packaged Facts. That makes sense—the American Veterinary Medical Association reports that osteoarthritis ranks sixth in the top 10 reasons dogs visit the veterinarian. For mild cases, pet owners may wish to skip drug treatments—with side effects that can include liver failure—and use a natural approach. Additionally, many pet owners just want to support their young pets' joints to prevent problems in the future.
The superstars: glucosamine and chondroitin
The dynamic duo of joint health, glucosamine and chondroitin, have been shown to work in animals just as they do in humans—by helping to repair damaged cartilage and joint tissue. And, with increasing demand for these supplements for pets, you have more choices than ever. Glucosamine-chondroitin combos now come in a number of forms, from chewable tablets to powders to liquids. Often the tablet forms are dog- or cat-specific because dogs and cats need different doses, but it's essentially the same stuff for both species.
"There are so many products now, it can be confusing for the consumer," says Phil Brown, DVM, a natural pet consultant for Nutri-Vet, based in Boise, Idaho. But Brown says it matters less which form you choose than that you get the supplement into the animal daily.
"The form I prefer is the one that's easiest to give the dog," Brown says. "You don't want to force it into the dog's mouth because pretty soon the dog is angry at the owner, and the owner doesn't want to do it anymore."
Brown says the most important thing to look for, aside from quality, is a low molecular-weight supplement, which can come in any form, and may be more easily absorbed by the pet because the particles of active ingredients are smaller.
Nutri-Vet, where Brown serves as vice president of product development, makes the supplement in a low-molecular-weight, chewable, liver- flavored tablet that Brown gives his dog daily. "It's like a functional treat rather than a make-your-dog-fat treat," he says. This is nice because many dogs that have joint pain also carry a few extra pounds.
Pet Naturals of Vermont makes low-molecular-weight Hip & Joint and Hip & Joint Extra Strength for dogs in a natural chicken-flavored, chewable tablet. And for cats, the company offers a multivitamin that includes glucosamine and chondroitin.
Some owners prefer a powder that can be sprinkled on the pet's food so they can control the dosage without worrying about cutting up pills. Palm Harbor, Fla.-based Halo, Purely for Pets uses apple pectin and beet powder in its powdered joint supplement, Hip, Hip Hooray. "That adds to the digestibility and gives the product a wonderful flavor, so the animals don't even know it's there," says Director Ginger Betties. "It's really easy to just sprinkle on the food." The product also contains vitamin C to support growth of new cartilage. Betties says it can be used for dogs or cats, and even aging ferrets.
The liquid form is less common, maybe because it can be messy. And some pets don't like the taste, says Guy Webster, owner of Earth Pets natural pet market in Gainesville, Fla. "The liquid isn't horrible, but it isn't exactly palatable either," Webster says. But Innovative Natural Products now makes a liver-flavored liquid supplement that has an improved flavor.
"That seems to be doing pretty well," Webster says.
Easing aches and pains
In addition to the glucosamine-chondroitin mix, there are other supplements and pet-health products designed to help joint function. Though these products probably don't actually help build new cartilage, some pet owners and veterinarians find that they seem to soothe pain.
If a customer at Earth Naturals complains that her pet doesn't tolerate glucosamine and chondroitin supplements, which happens rarely, Webster recommends Solid Gold's Sun Gold 75 Percent Pure Yucca, a powder with yucca, anise and peppermint, to help reduce swelling and ease pain. "That has worked really well," he says.
And herbal remedies abound, too. Valley Center, Calif.-based Genesis Resources makes Canine Pain Plus Formula with boswellia, yucca, MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), ginger and licorice.
"MSM is good—it's a natural anti-inflammatory, and it contains sulfur, which is important for joint function," Brown says. "Boswellia and willow bark may have some efficacy, but they're not well documented." And although, just like in humans, it's not clear how they work, homeopathic remedies also can be part of a joint-support regimen. HomeoPet Joint Relief, a blend of arnica and other homeopathic, anti-inflammatory and pain remedies, comes in liquid form.
Bach Flower Essences can be used, too, for good measure. Pet Essences makes an Arthritis/Achy Pain flower essence in a liquid. There's no scientific evidence flower essences work, but many holistic veterinarians and pet owners swear by them.
Because of lack of research, your customers might have to rely on anecdotal evidence or trial and error to find what works for their pets. Even with glucosamine and chondroitin, scientific evidence of benefit is a new thing.
"Five years ago, I wouldn't have been able to give much research on glucosamine and chondroitin, but now there's a fair amount of investigation and studies in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association," Brown says.
Quest for quality
Many natural joint-support supplements contain similar ingredients—green-lipped mussels (a source of glucosamine and chondroitin), MSM, vitamin C, manganese—but, of course, quality and price vary. "You have so many suppliers and so many products," Webster says. "It's difficult doing the research to find out what's the very best."
But the National Animal Supplement Council is working to change that by pushing to get pet supplements recognized and regulated by the U.S. government as a separate category from food and drugs. "Although the U.S. market for pet supplements is potentially vast, it remains underdeveloped due to the current, regulatory gray area," Packaged Facts reports.
For now, the NASC offers a seal-of-approval program, in which independent auditors thoroughly check out a pet-supplement manufacturer. That can save retailers some legwork.
NASC President Bill Bookout says the NASC seal of approval means that the company has been audited and the product is properly labeled. "If you see the seal, you basically know their heart's in the right place," Bookout says.
If a company doesn't have the seal, that doesn't mean it's not reputable, just that you have to do your homework. Brown suggests looking at how long the company has been in business to make sure it's not a fly-by-night operation. And Bookout recommends not assuming that a company with a good reputation in the human supplement industry necessarily makes good pet supplements.
"Any company that makes claims that sound too good to be true probably are," Bookout says. "And products that are cheap probably are cheap for a reason."Allie Johnson is a freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 10/p. 92, 96, 98