Solving Skin & Coat Problems

Skin and coat issues can be a source of incredible discomfort for dogs and a huge worry for pet owners who are often at a loss as to what to do.

Being a dog owner naturally involves a bit of worry. After all, many folks look at their pets as four-footed, furry children and as such, they’re highly concerned about their charge’s comfort and safety. Increasingly, their attention is being directed toward skin and coat health, driven by the growing realization as to how important these are for the dog’s overall wellbeing.

Additionally, skin and coat issues—such as hot spots, infections, mange, itchy and dry skin and so on—seem to be popping up more frequently. Some of this is attributed to an increase in allergies, which have become very common, says Deborah Brown, vice president of Pet King Brands, Inc. Headquartered in Chicago, the company provides a line of treatment products for dogs, cats and other animals.

Unlike humans, whose allergies tend to show up in the respiratory tract, an animal’s allergies are generally reflected in the skin and ears, resulting in infections, she says.

“It is believed that allergies can make the pet more susceptible to infections due to bacteria, fungus or yeast,” Brown explains. “An allergic pet will typically have recurring symptoms and are often plagued for life. Allergies can’t be cured, but the symptoms can be managed, so finding relief becomes the No. 1 job for any pet owner.”

Infections can make headway through the animal’s scratching, which inflames and irritates the skin and can damage the coat. But allergies aren’t the only culprits; bug bites, dust mites, mold and pollen can also lead to problems, as can chemicals like pesticides, weed killers and air fresheners, says Lynda Winkowski, president of Angels’ Eyes, a Sunrise, Fla.-based manufacturer of natural pet supplements for dogs and cats. If the pet spends a lot of time indoors in air conditioning or heat, this can also dry out the skin, causing itching and flaking.

When it comes to maintaining skin and coat health, dog owners tend to fall into two camps: proactive or reactive. They either come in ahead of problems, seeking to support optimal skin and coat health—oftentimes because they take vitamins and supplements themselves—or they are seeking a remedy for a particular problem, says Matt Ryherd, national sales manager for HealthyCoat. Headquartered in Urbandale, Iowa, the company provides essential fatty-acid supplements for dogs and other species.

Because the trend is toward natural, non-medicated options, pet owners are increasingly looking to pet specialty retailers for these solutions, he adds.

Stepping Up
Serving these sometimes desperate customers requires a lot of product knowledge, says Susan Weiss, CEO/founder of Ark Naturals Products for Pets. Located in Naples, Fla., the company manufactures natural remedy, wellness and lifestyle products for dogs and cats.

Consider omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, which are popping up in all manner of products because of their nourishing and protective qualities. Talking with authority about these ingredients and their action requires retailers to have an understanding of EPA, DHA, AA and GLA, says Weiss.

“This is easier said than accomplished,” she admits. “It’s homework, homework, homework. There are no shortcuts. But once you get it, you can sell it.”
Educating staff about how and why a particular product works can also prevent them from misinforming customers, thereby achieving poor results that send shoppers to other stores for help, says Ryherd. For example, HealthyCoat’s canine product is in liquid form and is meant to be mixed into the dog’s food. However, it will sometimes get merchandised with the shampoos, leading some customers to think it is a topical product.

Staff should also receive training about the importance that good nutrition plays in maintaining skin and coat health and be able to incorporate this information into any discussion involving problems, solutions and options, says Winkowski.

Finding the best product for a customer’s needs requires a bit of interrogation from the staff, especially if the pet is having an issue. Inquire about what form the problem is taking—itching, flaking, hot spots, hair loss, constant licking, dull or dry coat, open sores, etc.—says Winkowski. Also ask if the pet owner has seen a vet, and if not, suggest consulting with one in order to rule out more serious issues, she adds.

A pet’s age, breed, lifestyle, activity level, grooming and routine also come into play and will affect recommendations, so ask about these as well, says Jacqueline Hynes, founder of Madra Mór Canine Spa Treatments. Located in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., the company provides canine mud treatment products designed to promote skin wellness.

Solutions on Display
Skin and coat care products afford a great deal of merchandising and display flexibility. For example, dermatology items can be located near the grooming, nutritional and remedies areas, says Brown.

Similar cross merchandising is possible for ingested supplements and other kinds of skin and coat care products. Retailers can also deploy floor or shelf displays and endcaps to call attention to these items, being sure to incorporate informational signage.

Offering a variety of skin and coat care solutions and providing informed assistance are great ways to establish the store as a destination point, says Hynes. Plus, stores that carry these kinds of products tend to attract customers who are less concerned about pricing and more focused on doing the best by their pet. In the long run, by offering expert assistance and emphasizing prevention, retailers can help their customers save money, since recurrences can be expensive, and if allowed to go on unchecked could even require veterinary care, says Hynes.

Retailers stand to reap good rewards for their efforts, says Brown. “Once [pet owners] find the products that work, they will often share that news with their friends, write reviews online, and will make sure they always have the products on hand,” she explains. “And due to the recurrence of many skin and ear issues, they return to the retailer to replenish their supplies.”

But perhaps the best reward of all is the satisfaction that comes in providing effective solutions that help owners keep their pets comfortable and happy, and provide much needed relief when problems do occur.


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