The Dietary Supplement Industry Goes to the Dogs
"Take your vitamins!"
It's what Mom told us as kids, then the nutritional supplement industry drove the point home, to the tune of $23 billion. According to the 2009 Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements conducted by the Council for Responsible Nutrition, 65% of U.S. adults take dietary supplements.
It seems that everyone and their mother takes their vitamins, and dogs are following their lead. High-profile supplement companies have pounced on the $45.5 billion pet industry by marketing supplements for Spot, the four-footed equivalents of the same products for humans.
So, if you boost your Omega-3s with Nordic Naturals fish oil, you can do the same for Fido by adding a loving spoonful of Nordic Naturals Pet Cod Liver Oil to his kibble. Got a senior dog with stiff limbs from arthritis? FlexPet is the K9 equivalent of Flexcin, which claims to offer arthritis relief that enables an 80-year-old Floridian to waterski.
Concerned about cellular aging? If you're already taking the popular antioxidant supplement Juvenon, now you can give Spot Juvenon's spinoff, Vigorate, "nourishing dog treats" designed to counter the cell-aging process and increase alertness.
Dr. Elizabeth Higgins, a staff vet at the Humane Society of New York, says the trend makes sense. "As people got more and more into supplements for themselves, they started looking to give the same supplements to their pets." (The supplement spinoffs do not require a prescription; they're available over-the-counter and online.)
As recently as five years ago, Higgins adds, most conventional vets didn't prescribe supplements for their patients; now, glucosamine and chondroitin are quite commonly recommended for pets' joint pain. "Here at our hospital and shelter, glucosamine, chondroitin, and Omega-3s have become standard for the older dogs," she explains.
Supplement entrepreneurs, especially those with pets at home - like Flexcin CEO Tamer Elsafy, whose Pomeranian Tiny appears on every bottle of FlexPet - sat up and took note, unleashing pet-specific formulations of their products. So, do they work?
Best Friends Animal Society thinks so; the Utah shelter and sanctuary featured in the National Geographic series "DogTown" gives FlexPet to its senior canine residents. The before-after videos on FlexPet's site, of unsupplemented dogs struggling to walk, then enjoying greatly improved mobility after taking the pork-flavored chewable tablets - which in addition to glucosamine and chondroitin also contain the patented ingredient CM8 (Cetyl Myristoleate) to stimulate the joints' own lubricating fluid - are certainly compelling.
Scientist Benjamin Treadwell, who formulated Vigorate, noted that the anti-aging supplement had a welcome side effect. While dark-coated dogs grow white facial hairs in their golden years, white breeds go reddish-brown around the eyes and mouth. After giving Vigorate to Petie, his family's elderly Bichon Frise, the little white dog's brown hairs vanished. (Owners of dark-coated dogs, meanwhile report, a positive "Grecian Formula" effect.)
Supplement manufacturers are betting that even the 35 percent of Americans who shy away from supplements themselves - perhaps in late-life rebellion against Mom's "Take your vitamins" order? - won't hesitate to pill-pop pets.
It's a safe bet: Pets don't live nearly as long as their besotted owners would like, so any pill promising increased longevity and improved quality of life, especially for older animals, has legs. With 45.6 million dog owners and 38.2 million cat owners in America, that's a profitable pet project.
"Flexcin launched 10 years ago and FlexPet is now only a few years old," Elsafy concludes. "But with a surging market for pet products overall, our FlexPet sales jumped 91 percent in 2009 and we believe in just a few years FlexPet will be a much larger revenue producer than the original Flexcin line."