Despite the recession, veterinary supplement makers are reporting better sales in 2009 than they experienced last year, along with a steady flow of new inquiries from veterinarians.
Consumers spent $1.3 bill-ion on veteri-nary supplements in 2007. The industry is experiencing 15-18 percent growth each year, with annual revenue of $1.8 billion projected by 2012.
Holistic veterinarians have long praised supplements and nutraceuticals, but the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) says some producers don’t provide enough evidence that their products work. Practitioners of evidence-based medicine also can be skeptical.
While the CVM hasn’t changed its stance, some in the veterinary industry have.
“Supplements are an acceptable component to veterinary medicine today,” says Bill Bookout, founder and president of National Animal Supplement Council, which is trying to create a nationally consistent framework for veterinary supplements. “Supplements are used by 90 to 95 percent of general practitioners and 100 percent of holistic veterinarians.”
More research is being conducted and has been publicly presented. Many supplement companies are forging strong relationships with veterinarians and are working together, providing one more tool for veterinarians to use.
Internet-savvy clients are finding information online and asking their veterinarian about using supplements for their pets—for preventive care, maintenance and as a replacement for or complement to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.
The majority of supplement products target specific issues, offering a less expensive, yet very effective treatment for a range of companion animal issues.
“Supplements can fit into clients’ budgets a lot easier than some other treatments,” says Teresa Bath, president of Animal Health Options Inc., a supplement manufacturer in Golden, Colo. “Even in hard times, clients want to make sure their pets are comfortable, and in many cases, supplements can provide that. In a recent trial of 63 dogs using ProMotion, there was a 50 percent pain reduction in just 10 days.”
Bath says ProMotion, for dogs and cats with degenerative joint disease and as orthopedic support after surgery, is a top seller for the company. It contains gluco-samine, hydrolyzed collagen and grape seed extract, which she says helps reduce pain faster and more efficiently than other joint supplements that don’t contain the patented combination.
Veterinary supplement manufacturers often offer free samples to veterinarians to run an in-house test before purchasing or promoting the products to clients. Vets who took up the company’s offer say supplements can be a godsend.
The industry is experiencing a much greater acceptance of supplements, says Craig Kisciras, president, and Robert J. Silver, DVM, chief medical officer of Rx Vitamins for Pets, an Elmsford, N.Y., veterinary supplement manufacturer.
“The reputable manufacturers are making sure their labels reflect the products inside,” Kisciras says. “They’re attending conferences, putting research evidence out there and have scientifically based formulas.”
The National Animal Supplement Council’s self-regulatory efforts comprise the only current industry regulation. The group hopes to forestall federal regulation and bring credibility to the supplement industry.
“Some manufacturers are just bad actors, citing false claims about their products like it is a medication for hip dysplasia or other ailments,” the council’s Bookout says. “Glucosamine, for example, isn’t hip replacement in a bottle, it’s a product that is given to prevent or maintain some animals’ joint issues. No good manufacturer will make claims it is a cure-all.”
Bookout says veterinarians looking for supplement companies should keep in mind that there is no substitute to knowing the company and having a strong relationship with it. He says veterinarians should realize that if a supplement claim seems too good to be true, it is. And if it’s cheap, it’s cheap for a reason.
“Tell clients that all supplement claims should say they support health and not say they are a treatment for cancer or hip dysplasia, for example,” Bookout says.
Manufacturers say compliance comes with products that are easy to administer and have understandable instructions. Manufacturers are curbing past resistance to using feline supplements by creating more palatable products that are easily administered.
“The introduction of products designed with cats in mind, meaning they taste good and are easy to administer, has been really key in boosting sales of previously less popular nutraceuticals,” Kisciras says. “If there’s no compliance because of difficulty administering, the best product out there is useless.”
Supplements encountered great resistance upon entering the veterinary industry and still have not received research priority, making some authorities leery.
“The Center for Veterinary Medicine is concerned about these products because we do not have scientific data to show that they are safe or even contain the ingredients listed on the label,” said the agency’s communications director, Laura Alvey.
“CVM has authority over and concerns about certain animal dietary supplements and what companies can do legally to market their products. The regulatory status of a product is determined by CVM on a case-by-case basis,” she says.
The supplement industry might get some of the research kudos the FDA is looking for through work being performed by Robert J. MacKay, DVM, a professor at the University of Florida. Dr. MacKay is researching a combined treatment of acupuncture and herbal medicine to cure anhidrosis in horses. The ailment occurs in horses in hot climates when they fail to sweat properly.
Morris Animal Foundation is helping to fund the research, which could lead to the first treatment of anhidrosis. The prime ingredient is xiang rusan, a mixture of herbs and roots.
“It’s no secret that the medical industry is the last to see revenue reductions, considering their necessity in our lives, but growth in a recession is a rarity,” says Keith Garber of PetLabs 360, an Oceanside, N.Y., supplement manufacturer.
“The supplement industry’s growth is due to a new respect among veterinarians, research and client demand. The majority of supplement products target specific issues, offering a less expensive, yet very effective treatment for a range of companion animal issues.
“This treatment can be very key in the tough economic environment, in helping care for pets in a budget-friendly way, which also brings in revenue for vets.”