Animal Health Supplements Continue To Gain Traction

Posted: Sept. 27, 2012, 7:00 p.m. EDT



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Dietary supplements, both the nutritional and issue-targeted varieties, continue to gain interest among dog and cat owners—and veterinarians who recommend and sell them through their clinics have an opportunity to not only offer them as part of an overall health and wellness plan, but also to provide the best-quality products to their clients.

According to the Nutrition Business Journal, the animal supplement market represents more than $1.6 billion in sales, with a predicted 7.4 percent compounded annual growth rate increase from 2010 to 2015. Packaged Facts notes that 21 percent of dogs and 15 percent of cats are given a supplement of some kind, with 8 percent and 7 percent respectively being purchased from a veterinarian.

The supplements segment is strong, and more veterinarians are recognizing their value, says Bill Bookout, chair of the National Animal Supplement Council’s board of directors.

“There aren’t any magic bullets out there, but I think supplements are becoming more and more recognized and substantiated as a valuable component of a comprehensive care program where we either try to maintain general health and wellness, or manage health as a result of the aging process or some health challenge,” he says.

Though supplement makers have developed myriad formulas that target a range of health issues, the top-selling categories include products that support joint health, skin and coat health, gastrointestinal tract health, and liver and kidney health. Here’s what they are designed to do.

Healthy Joints

Popular among humans and their pets for years, supplements that support joint health typically contain chondroitin and glucosamine. They’re intended to do three things, says Bookout.

“They help maintain the viscosity of the synovial fluid in the joint capsule and the flexibility of the cartilage, which is the body’s natural shock-absorbing system; and they help relieve discomfort associated with the aging process or some other issue,” Bookout says. “A joint product won’t cure hip dysplasia, but it can be beneficial in recovery or helping maintain joint health over time.”

What differentiates the various manufacturers’ formulas is the extra ingredients, says Emmanuelle Lemaire, DVM, marketing director for Sogeval Laboratories Inc. in Irving, Texas.

“Everybody has glucosamine or chondroitin, ingredients that are well known on the human and veterinary side,” she says. “But what makes a product successful is the little tweaks and special ingredients that manufacturers add to those core ingredients, like selenium, zinc and grape seed extract.”

The delivery form and palatability matter as well, says Sara Phillips, a representative for Vetri-Science Laboratories of Vermont.

“The chewable form has been a top seller,” she says. “It’s palatable and very easy to give, particularly to dogs.”

Julie Bryant, chief executive officer of Bimini LLC in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., adds that ingredients that relieve discomfort can make a difference, too.

“Natural active ingredients like cat’s claw and willow bark help relieve discomfort and provide a high quantity of omega-3 to help lubricate the joint,” she says.

Robert Devlin, DVM, representative of Nutramax Laboratories Inc. in Edgewood, Md., says that these joint health supplements can be used in conjunction with pharmaceutical pain relievers, like Rimadyl and Deramaxx.

“For many dogs with acute lameness or very active arthritis, people will use a lot of the [non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs],” he says. “But with any pharmaceutical, there can be side effects. So many times, veterinarians will do a multi-modal treatment where they get over the acute issues and then use joint health supplements to bridge those times when they may need an NSAID. If we can help them feel better in between, then we have less risk of side effects than if we have to give a pharmaceutical every day.”

Skin and Coat Support

Another strong-selling and popular category, nutritional supplements that support skin and coat health, typically contain a blend of omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids, Bookout says.

“Omega products, essential fatty acids, for skin health are certainly a large category,” he says. “They help maintain normal shedding and skin health. It’s certainly a big issue for small dogs that can have some allergies and dermatitis, and omegas can be beneficial.”

Dr. Lemaire says that these skin and coat support supplements help manage pruritus, seborrheic conditions and restore the animal’s skin and coat.

“The omega-3 and -6 products are formulated to help the dermal function in case of dermatitis or hair loss and improve the state of the animal’s skin and fur,” she says. “And the EPA [eicosapentaenoic acid] and DHA [docosahexaenoic acid] control the inflammatory process and promote the production of anti-inflammatory and non-inflammatory mediators.”

EPA and DHA also help maintain cell membrane fluidity and permeability, immune system health, skin and coat health, joint health, heart health, and brain and eye development and maintenance, says Bonnie Johnson, manager of Nordic Naturals veterinary division, based in Watsonville, Calif.

Omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, are long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, Johnson continues. The only source of these fatty acids is through diet or supplementation, she says. 

“Daily supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA is a proactive way to help maintain the overall health for humans and dog and cat companions,” Johnson says. “Many clinical studies have been published providing scientific evidence on the important health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for humans, dogs and cats.”

The company maintains a resource library for essential fatty acid research at Omega-Research.com. Veterinarians can find published and objective third-party information on omega-3 EFAs, Johnson says. 

“Pet owners want their cherished pet companions to live a long and healthy life,” she says. “They greatly appreciate their veterinarians educating them on the importance of supplementing their pet companion’s diet with a high quality omega-3 fish oil product for all life stages.”

Healthy Gut, GI Tract

An up-and-coming supplement in the pet category that has already gained traction in the human marketplace is a spectrum of products that support a healthy gut and gastrointestinal tract, Bookout says.

“The gastrointestinal tract is the largest immune-supporting organ in the body,” he says. “If the GI tract doesn’t function properly, then that interferes with general metabolism of nutrients and can cause other issues related to other organs functioning properly. So GI health is an up-and-coming category, and it includes prebiotics, probiotics and digestive enzymes.”

Craig Kisciras, representative of Rx Vitamins for Pets in Elmsford, N.Y., says that these GI health supplements ensure proper digestion and absorption of food and nutrients, enhancing the animal’s immune system.

“It’s important to have a proper balance of flora, or beneficial bacteria, as opposed to pathogenic strains of bacteria,” he says. “When they’re out of balance, that’s when the animals can have problems with their immune systems. When they’re not absorbing food and nutrients, their immune system is not going to work as well.”

Liver, Kidney Support

Also growing in popularity are supplements that support dogs’ and cats’ livers and kidneys, Bookout says.

“There are a number of other categories that products specifically target, like liver health, kidney health and cardiovascular health,” he says. “The liver, kidney and spleen are the largest blood-producing and blood cleansing organs of the body, so if they are functioning well, that benefits the animal’s overall health.”

Liver support products typically contain milk thistle and adenosyl, note Kisciras and Lemaire.

“Milk thistle has been shown in trials to increase the uptake of hepatic glutathione,” Kisciras explains. “It’s a very important liver antioxidant that helps reduce stress on the liver.”

These ingredients help reduce inflammation and can even extend their lives, notes Devlin.

“Researchers at Colorado State University have used SAMe [S-Adenosylmethionine] and silybin [the active part of an extract from milk thistle] on Dobermans with predisposed liver inflammation issues,” he says. “These dogs have a shorter life span because their liver is wasting away, but by giving the [supplements], their life spans increase.”

Bryant says that kidney health products formulated for cats provide support to aging organs.

“As cats mature, kidney function declines,” she says. “Ingredients like astragalus root extract and rehmannia root extract provide gentle support for proper healthy kidney function by helping to reduce blood pressure and inflammation.”

Selling Supplements

Veterinarians face some challenges when it comes to selling dietary supplements, says Bookout: product availability and assessing product quality.

If veterinarians refer clients elsewhere to purchase a supplement, they’re missing out on the sale—but more importantly, he says, they’re losing control of the animal’s care.

“Health and wellness is a three-dimensional object, like a sphere,” he says. “There are many components to it, and the veterinarian is ideally positioned to coordinate all aspects of care and put those pieces together that create a picture that results in best outcome for the animal.

“The veterinarian should be very open to and receptive to dispensing supplement products as a component of a comprehensive and thorough care program,” he continues. “And if they refer the client somewhere else, then they lose that control point.”

When veterinarians select specific supplements to dispense through the clinic, they can also assure the products’ quality, Bookout says.

“Veterinarians are best positioned to assess the quality of the product and the reputation of the company to make the selection that they feel will result in maximizing the benefit for the animal,” he says. “They act as a screening process to make sure that they have faith and trust in the company and the products they dispense as a component of this comprehensive care program.”

With the increasing popularity of supplements, it behooves veterinarians to carry and dispense products they believe in, Bookout says.

“It’s an undeniable fact that supplements do provide benefits to pets,” he says. “And in order to maximize the outcome for the animal, they should maintain control over them.”

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