Condition-targeted foods catch on as consumers get educated.
By Angela Pham
For consumers seeking solutions to their dogs’ health issues, the diet can be a logical place for them to turn. With dog food manufacturers producing new solution-centric formulas every year, using food as an aid for coat quality, allergies, urinary health and weight loss is becoming an increasingly popular remedy, retailers reported. As customers learn the importance of diet in a dog’s health, they look to food to help target whatever their dog’s health issue may be.
“I think before, dogs itched and people just thought their dogs were itchy,” said Brittany Bang, owner of Audrey’s Pet Supply and Services in Boston. “Now, with more education and knowledge, people are realizing it’s so important what you put into your dog’s system—problems can possibly be fixed.”
Weight control formulas are the most requested and sold preventative diets at her store, primarily because of its location in a city, she said. Customers also frequently request food to help treat skin allergies more and more every day, Bang added.
“As a result, people are trying to switch up proteins a little bit more—I see a lot more lamb being requested, fish diets, things that just aren’t as common,” she said.
To meet such requests, dog food brands such as Del Monte Foods’ Nature’s Recipe use unique ingredients in their condition-specific dog diets. Nature’s Recipe’s new Cuts in Gravy canned Healthy Skin diet comes in venison and vegetarian varieties, with canola oil and brown rice, and its similarly new Cuts in Gravy canned Healthy Weight formula is available in lamb and rice, chicken, and rice and barley. Additionally, an Easy-to-Digest diet formulated for gastrointestinal health is available for dogs with digestion concerns.
“Our foods are carefully formulated to contain nutrients that are important to natural structure and functions in dogs,” said Carrie Schliemann, director of dog food marketing at San Francisco-based Del Monte Foods. “Pet store retailers should simply communicate the benefits of their natural brands, and consumers will follow for the best care of their dog.”
Nature’s Recipe’s newest products, Grain Free formulas, include vegetables such as sweet potatoes, peas and pumpkins, which are combined with chicken or fish to avoid potential allergens, Schliemann added.
Limited-ingredient diets and grain-free options are a growing trend, industry sources stated. The Rachael Ray Nutrish line, launched by Dad’s Pet Care, a division of Ainsworth Pet Nutrition in Dumas, Ark., includes a formula for weight loss called Healthy Weight, in addition to a limited-ingredient diet called Just 6, which is formulated to contain no wheat, corn or soy.
Both products launched this year, said Steve Joyce, marketing director for Ainsworth.
“Almost 45 percent of dogs are overweight or obese, and 80 percent of pet parents are concerned about their dogs being overweight,” Joyce said. “The food is obviously not a cure-all, but we think it is part of a good plan.”
As for allergy-prone dogs, “We see a trend toward limited-ingredient diets for dogs with allergy-type issues as well,” Joyce noted. “People seem to know that their dogs are having allergies due to certain ingredients in dog food.”
Indeed, many pet owners are going to retailers requesting certain ingredients—or the lack thereof.
“The first thing [customers] want when they come to us is something with no wheat or corn—that’s the first priority,” said Charles Wright, owner of Critter Corner Pet Supplies in Kanab, Utah.
“They like to know where the food is sourced from,” Wright added. “They also try to get a protein level that is appropriate to the dog. If dogs are a little overweight, they’ll be looking for a lower protein, lower fat, weight-control type of food.”
The same trends have proved true across the country at Mary’s LB., a retailer in North Miami, Fla. Store manager Maria Ramirez reported that the two preventative-diet requests she receives most frequently are for allergy-targeted and weight-control foods.
“They want grain-free, limited ingredients for dogs with allergies,” she said. “They want something low-calorie for dogs that need diet food, but definitely something more natural. For digestive issues, you want to try to stick with something bland, or even offer a probiotic or enzymes for their doggy’s digestive system.”
Allergy-targeted diets are also best-sellers for Kriser’s, an independent pet store with locations in the Chicago metropolitan area and Southern California.
“We do sell a lot for the other conditions, but we see a lot of dogs with protein and grain allergies that we can work with through many different diets we offer,” said Brad Kriser, founder and CEO. “The next on the list would be for weight loss. We use more supplements rather than a food-specific diet for the skin/coat and digestion issues.”
At Eukanuba, a Procter Gamble brand in Mason, Ohio, the lineup of preventative diets includes a Custom Care Weight Loss formula, Sensitive Skin diet and Sensitive Stomach diet.
However, “The most common conditions that consumers think about are the ones they can observe themselves,” said Dr. Marcie J. Campion, Ph.D., scientific relations manager for the company.
Thus, problems that show in the skin and coat, or even the joints, can be most prominent in customers’ minds.
“While free samples are a great way to determine if your dog likes a food, they usually only provide one or two meals, which isn’t enough time to see any visible benefits for the dog,” Dr. Campion noted. “So we recommend that consumers feed their dog the food for four weeks to see the full benefit.
“We would also recommend that consumers work with their veterinarians to ensure that the issue isn’t something more serious that would require medical attention,” she added.
Agreeing with Campion’s view is Chuck Everitt, owner of Award Pet Supply in Columbia, Mo. For canine health issues that customers frequently turn to food for help with, Everitt said he reminds customers that the veterinarian should be the first stop before making any dietary alterations.
“That’s our No. 1 priority, to make sure if they’ve gone to the vet first,” he said. “Is the problem specifically what they’re coming in for, or are they guessing, playing like a barstool nutritionist? The [conditions] that we can treat the most are sensitive stomach and sensitive skin…but if we think it’s severe enough, we always tell people to go to the vet first.”
Dogs with skin issues can be especially prevalent due to changing climates, noted Tiffany Jen, who works in creative services for Breeder’s Choice Pet Foods in Irwindale, Calif. Summer causes a dog’s skin to become dry and itchy; winter and fall can cause further skin and coat issues, she said.
“A dog’s skin and coat is the largest and most vulnerable organ on [its] body,” Jen added. “Food is definitely a more popular treatment choice than ever. Nowadays, dog foods aren’t just used as treatments, [but also] as preventatives.”
Offerings from Breeder’s Choice include its AvoDerm formulas with avocado oil and meals to treat such conditions, Jen said, as more dog owners want diets tailored specifically for their pets.
Skin and coat health is also a focus for Hill’s Pet Nutrition of Topeka, Kan. New at the company is Hill’s Science Diet Ideal Balance formula, which is all-natural with whole grains, according to Amy Thompson, communications specialist at Hill’s.
“After feeding Ideal Balance for just 30 days, owners will see a noticeable difference in their canine’s skin and coat,” she said.
Whether for skin and coat, weight control or digestive issues, condition-specific diets are gaining ground in the pet food marketplace. Retailers who educate themselves on these products can help owners find the best food for their dogs, resulting in satisfied customers and healthier pets.