Help your customers capture more of the supplement spend

By Dawn Singleton-Olson
August, 2017

More consumers are buying products that support their health and well-being. Since many pet owners consider their animals members of the family, it’s no surprise that they’re seeking out similar products to enhance their pets’ overall health, as well as for specific health concerns.

According to Bill Bookout, CEO of the nonprofit National Animal Supplement Council, “We see the trends of animal supplements following similar trends for human supplements.” Consequently, the pet supplement market is expected to continue expanding significantly over the next several years. Taking the time to become supplement savvy – familiarizing yourself with the products your company offers, their active ingredients, benefits, and how your customers can position supplements as part of their practice protocol – will help you and your clinics capture more of this growing market.

Joint health
Just as with human products, some of the biggest trends for pets are for natural and organic products and supplements that help with issues associated with aging and obesity. Joint health products are by far the biggest category, with a 39 percent share of the pet supplement market in 2015, according to market researcher, Technavio. Experts at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine estimate that 60 percent of dogs over the age of seven have signs of arthritis. Dogs, cats and horses can benefit from Glucosamine hydrochloride, Chondroitin sulfate, omega-3 fatty acids and other active ingredients in joint health supplements.

Joint problems are just one of many health issues directly related to obesity, and weight management products are a growing supplement category. More than 50 percent of dogs and cats in the U.S. are overweight or obese, so it’s likely that the pets your clinics are seeing reflect those numbers. Discussing and dispensing weight loss supplements can have significant preemptive health benefits by helping to prevent diabetes, cardiac, mobility and digestive disorders and the costly treatments that go with them.

GI products
Just like the human market for gastrointestinal-health (GI) products, supplements to improve pets’ digestive health are one of the fastest-growing segments of the market. While animals’ GI tracts contain different types of bacteria compared to humans, formulations of probiotics, prebiotics and digestive enzymes help animals maintain the correct balance of good and bad bacteria and promote healthy digestion and nutrient absorption. While the use of probiotics can often lessen the need for antibiotics, treating animals with antibiotics often causes upset stomachs. This presents cross-selling possibilities for you with buyers ordering medications. Offering a probiotic to offset the possible ill effects of an antibiotic on the digestive system is a great opportunity for veterinary staff to explain the benefits of GI supplements and prevent the customer frustration of having a pet with a sudden – and messy – digestive problem.

Skin and coat
Skin and coat issues like itchy and flaky skin, excessive shedding and seasonal allergies are all reasons that supplements that address these issues are expected to grow 5 percent or more over the next few years. The majority of processed pet foods on the market contain very little omega-3 and omega-9 – two essential fatty acids important to protecting the heart, joints and skin. Omega fatty acids are typically formulated with other vitamins and minerals that nourish the skin and coat. They’re often combined with biotin to promote healthy hooves for horses. Naturally-sourced, organic fish oil or krill oil has become a popular source of omega fatty acids for cats and dogs.

Supplements for aging pets
About a third of dogs and cats in the U.S. are seven years or older, so senior pets are a major segment of the veterinary market, and those pets are living longer. Nearly half of pet owners in a Packaged Facts 2015 survey reported buying age-related food and nutrition products for their companions. The Global Pet Dietary Supplements Market report states “development of age-related health issues will be a key driver for market growth. As pets age, their memory, ability to learn and the functioning of sensory organs tend to decline.” Supplements that target aging dogs and cats who may develop some form of cognitive impairment will continue to expand. These products contain active ingredients such as SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine), apoaequorin, phosphatidylserine and omega-3 fatty acids.

Supplements work only if pets are willing to take them, so palatability and products’ delivery systems are major factors in their success. Rather than traditional pills or tablets, manufacturers have developed biscuits and soft chews that can be given as a “functional treat” as well as liquids, gels, pastes or powders that can be mixed with food for accurate dosing. A number of supplements are available in more than one form, so be ready to discuss those options with your customers.

Competing with other sources
With supplements readily available to consumers from several sources – online, in big box stores, from pet specialty retailers – how can veterinarians retain and grow their supplement sales?

Veterinarian and columnist Dr. Patty Khuly recommends pet owners talk to their vet before giving any supplements. Since they can be used to treat or prevent diseases, Dr. Khuly says “they’re very much like drugs. Unlike drugs, however, they don’t require a prescription … the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements, which is probably why we’ve observed tremendous variability among brands when it comes to labeling. Plenty of brands don’t have labels that accurately reflect the concentration of the supplements.”

Pet owners are understandably concerned about safe, high-quality ingredients and manufacturing practices, but with so much inaccurate information about supplements, they need the expertise of veterinary staff to make informed decisions for what is best for their animals. You provide value as a trusted source to recommend quality products with proven efficacy. Communicate with your manufacturers to provide research results, marketing materials and in-clinic training to get all clinic staff members on board helping pet owners make informed decisions. You can help your customers calculate comparisons to show pet owners how over-the-counter products are often not cost-effective.

Clinics that are pro-active about discussing and recommending supplements; display products and educational materials to encourage questions; and make refills easy and convenient with online ordering and direct delivery will build trust and loyalty with pet owners. Your knowledge and expertise of the growing supplement market will build equity with your customers and increased sales for you both. 


Dawn Singleton-Olson has over 25 years of experience in the animal health industry, including distributor sales, manufacturing, practice management, and as a zoo supervisor. She is a volunteer, fundraiser and board trustee for several humane organizations and the Omaha (NE) Police Mounted Patrol.

Topics: Inside Sales, Supplements

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