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Aging pet population creates new market opportunities

Pets are part of the family and as such are treated that way. With better veterinary care pets live longer, but also face more physical and digestion problems. To reduce medical costs pet-owners have tended to move more towards preventative measures and that’s where nutraceuticals might become useful.

By: Dr Mukund Parthasarathy

Pets go through a lot of stress during the life span just like humans do. The increasing use of dietary supplements by humans to improve their immune system, treat or prevent specific disease conditions is a testimonial to some positive impact of these supplements. US dietary supplement market was $25 billion in 2009 and is growing at an annual rate of 8-10%. Two thirds of adult Americans take some form of dietary supplement. Some people simple cannot afford healthcare as the cost of healthcare continues to rise. Many consumers are turning to preventive health as opposed to curative. There are 5,000 dietary supplements companies (including distributors) and 10,000 dietary supplement stores in the US. Most popular human supplements in 2010 were: Fish oil, multivitamins, calcium, vitamin D and CoQ10. Vitamin D surged from 48% in 2009 to 56% in 2010. As pet industry follows the trends in human food and human dietary supplement industry, the growth of pet food supplements will not be far behind. And as the pet food industry does not want to be left behind it will try to incorporate nutraceuticals. The regulatory bodies like CVM/FDA may slow the process of incorporating nutraceuticals in pet foods. Their reasoning is well understood as they have to protect the consumers from unlawful and dangerous ingredients. Many dietary supplements or nutraceuticals that are good for humans are not necessarily good for pets. For example – Xylitol is used in chewing gum industry to prevent dental caries; however the same ingredient is poisonous to dogs.

The pet population in the United States numbers 411.8 million and more than 71.4 million households have pets. Fish, cats, dogs and horses continue to be the pets of choice (Figure 1). The pet related expenditure jumped from $17 billion in 1994 to $47.7 billion in 2010 (Figure 2). Pet food accounted for almost 40% of all expenditure followed by supplies and OTC medicines (Figure 3). The average life span of pets has increased due to advances in veterinary medicine and better understanding of nutritional needs of pets.

As pets tend to live longer they are also more prone to age related ailments. Commercial pet foods containing too much grain and too much animal by-products may contribute to allergies and other ailments. High consumption of certain minerals found in pet foods may cause urinary tract infection and kidney diseases. Lack of physical activity and lack of water consumption, especially among cats, is leading to many health related conditions. Obesity is also an issue in pets. Cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs over the age of two. 15-20% of the general cat population suffers from Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). More than one third of the pet population is obese (Figure 4). Obesity related illnesses in the pet population are as follows:

• Osteoarthritis and poor joint health
• Insulin resistance & Type 2 diabetes
• Cranial cruciate ligament injury
• Heart & respiratory disease
• Kidney disease
• Cancer

Market and technology trends

- Aging pet population is creating new market opportunities.

- Pet obesity and chronic disease conditions are affecting half of the pet population.

- Consumers are moving towards prevention by adopting healthy life style (food, nutrition, behaviour, dietary supplements) and they carry this attitude towards their pets.

- Health care in the US is becoming a luxury for consumers so are the visits to vets. So more pet owners are leaning towards nutraceuticals not only for themselves but for their companion animals.

- Holistic approach to health of whole body and mind is gaining traction.

- Non traditional approaches to health, wellness and nutrition is getting attention.

Non traditional approach Modern medicine as we know treats symptoms but not the root cause of the problem. An holistic approach relies on treating the whole body by using conventional medicine in conjunction with non-traditional methods (Ayurveda, yoga, homeopathy, Chinese medicine, etc). This approach is gaining momentum. Major cancer centres in the US are using a holistic/multi-pronged approach to treating diseases like cancer. At University of Rochester Medical Centre, Beth Israel Medical Centre, MD Anderson Cancer Centre, yoga is part of cancer treatment. Some hospitals allow or even permit patients to try non-traditional medicines (herbs, nutraceuticals). Non traditional approaches to treating diseases are becoming more popular.
The map of the canine genome has been used to confirm that many of the same genes involved in dog cancers are also involved in human cancers. Many holistic veterinarians see nutraceuticals as extension of an animal’s natural diet. At the North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC-Orlando, Florida, January 2011) there were sessions on pet food supplements. There were practising veterinarians touting the benefits of supplements for joint health, urinary tract health and other conditions of companion animals. Several clinical studies are available on the use of nutraceuticals to help maintain or prevent certain health conditions.

Uniqueness of pet supplements
Pet supplements have their own challenges. The important factors to be considered are safety, quality and purity, palatability, efficacy, bio-availability and bio-equivalence. Safety of the nutraceutical takes precedence over all other criteria listed. GRAS ingredients are preferred. Taste is a big factor in the acceptance of supplements by pets. Creating a palatable single functional ingredient or multiple functional ingredients can be daunting. Bio-availability and bio-equivalency is a difficult measure in dietary supplements. Nutritional supplements provide benefits that are variable and often qualitative in nature. It is dependent on host factors. Host factors include homeostatic mechanisms that regulate absorption or excretion depending on the nutrient status of the host. These factors vary by age, sex, and physiologic state. Also efficacy is difficult to measure. What works in humans may work in pets but not necessarily.

The supplements do not show a characteristic dose-response curve. Efficacy can be proven in in vitro studies but gets more complex in large animal studies. Then there is quality and purity as a criterion for choosing a supplier. Reputable suppliers rely on quality and purity to be ahead of the competition. Furthermore consumers are concerned about the country of origin of the ingredients. Ingredients from China are viewed with suspicion. Pet food and pet supplement manufacturers give high importance to product availability and customer service.

Checklist of questions to ask the vendor of nutraceuticals

Are the ingredients GRAS?
Are they approved for pet use?
Are there clinical trials data on pets- data ?
Are there palatability studies on pets? Data needed
How do you ensure quality?- HACCP/ GMP/Audit Reports from outside agencies-preferably by reputed organisations
How do you ensure purity?- Certificate of analysis, technical data sheets, country of origin statements
What is the stability of the ingredients?
What is the cost and availability of the ingredient's?

*Dr Mukund Parthasarathy is an Independent Consultant with 20 years of experience in the human and pet food industry. He worked for Nestle Purina, ConAgra and SPF-Diana and created, developed and helped to commercialise pet food and pet snack brands globally. E-mail: yuthero@yahoo.com


  • Aging pet population creates new market opportunities
  • Aging pet population creates new market opportunities
  • Aging pet population creates new market opportunities
  • Aging pet population creates new market opportunities

Dr Mukund Parthasarathy

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