Pet oral health takes the spotlight in February, but this category deserves attention every month similar to other health issues. Pet Age recently spoke with Michael Stoeckle, president and CEO of Ark Naturals, a company that sells natural products for pets, including joint, dental, lifestyle, remedy and overall wellness products. Stoeckle joined Ark Naturals in 2017 and has worked in the CPG industry for his entire career on big brands, small brands and pioneering brands with a measure of success.
Why should dental care be a part of a pet’s year-round, daily health regimen?
I think first and foremost, you can’t have good general health without good periodontal health. Have you ever had an occasion where you couldn’t clean your teeth on a particular night? It is an awful feeling. Now imagine seldom cleaning your teeth throughout the week or month. It is uncomfortable to imagine. Without a good daily oral care regimen, you can put your pet in a compromised health position with a possibility of broken teeth, cracked gums, bad breath and consistent bleeding. Not to mention, more serious health issues, potentially putting them at risk for things like respiratory infections, potential reduction in bone mass which results in lost teeth, possible cardiovascular problems and possibly the incidence of a stroke. When you think about how our pets use their sense of smell and taste to view and evaluate the world around them there are a crazy number of occasions where they can pick up foreign bacteria in their mouth which could result in infection and lead to disease. It can be the first entry way for troublesome bacteria. A good oral care regimen will help guard against any of these issues. Ark Naturals has designed easy to use and delicious tasting products to begin, and maintain, a great dental care habit for your pet. Our dental care products are recommended for a twice per day cleaning regimen. Our Original Brushless Toothpaste product is an incredible way to provide a tasty and simple maintenance routine with your pet. It is a 4 in 1 dental care solution which is a natural low-calorie chew designed to fight plaque, tartar and freshen breath; all with a toothpaste center. Additionally, we have just launched a groundbreaking new dental product called Protection+ which actually stops plaque and tarter before it starts. This is a 5-in-1 dental care solution which is designed to protect and prevent plaque and tartar buildup. Our Original Brushless Toothpaste is used as a daily maintenance for pets with plaque and tartar buildup (which can happen at any time), and our Protection+ product is a daily preventative chew which does not allow plaque and tartar to form on teeth. When you combine using these products with our Plaque Zapper enzyme rinse for dogs you have an excellent oral care regimen for your pets.
When is the ideal time for consumers to begin paying attention to their pets’ oral health?
Puppies enjoy and really need to chew. Getting them started early is a big key to healthy gums, teeth and bones. From the time they first get their baby teeth (usually once they start weening from milk or 6 to 8 weeks old) they will have a need and urge to chew. Teething can be painful, so it is very important to provide things for them to chew to satisfy their urge and sooth some of the pain of teething. At this age it is usually some sort of a chew toy. By the time a puppy is 8 months old, it will have all 42 of its permanent teeth. Our veterinary experts tell us once a pet turns 16 weeks old you should begin to introduce dental chews for their teeth. Good dental care through the process of losing and gaining teeth will give your pet a terrific start to strong and healthy teeth. Starting them at 16 weeks with Ark Naturals dental chews will give them a distinct advantage and great foundation for healthy bones, teeth and gums.
Why is it important that brands educate retailers on the value of dental care?
I think everyone loves to talk about their pets, and I am certainly no exception. It is particularly enjoyable to talk to knowledgeable people about our pets because we can relate to stories and ask questions aimed at making your pet a healthier and happier companion. I have been fortunate enough to be able to chat quite extensively with the owners and staffs at local pet shops about products that I purchase from them. I think all of us feel better when we have received the advice or council about a specific problem about our pet that is grounded in knowledge and specific training. The fact is, 80 percent of dogs 3 years of age and older have some measure of periodontal disease. There are many products on the market that will help scrape teeth and provide a breath mint. A knowledgeable pet shop owner or staff member can help pet parents to navigate the numerous items and get to those products that really assist in a great dental care regimen for their pet. They can also save money in the long run with lower vet bills if they provide a good dental care regimen for their pets.
What are the different forms of dental products for pets?
There is quite a wide variety of dental products for pets available in the marketplace today. The largest segment, of course, is the dental chew category. Dental chews are the products most used by pet parents to ensure proper dental care. In addition to chews, pet parents can purchase toothpaste and tooth brushes (a very small segment), rinses which contain enzymes to fight plaque and tartar buildup, animal parts like antlers and bones to provide scraping action on teeth, and enzyme products to add to water to provide protection. Ark Naturals has a terrific product called Plaque Zapper that is a water additive type of rinse for pets. It actually is a dry packet that fizzes when you add it to a water bowl, which is tasteless, odorless and clear and provides enzymes to help fight against plaque and tartar buildup. When used in combination with our Brushless Toothpaste products it provides a comprehensive regimen for pets.
What are some recent advancements in oral health products for pets?
We believe Ark Naturals has clearly taken over the leadership position of bringing new innovative dental products to market. In the past, dental chew innovation consisted of a new mold/form of hard chew, or a functional ingredient added which would support a separate indication for pets (immunity help, antioxidant help, etc.). Here is our track record of innovation:
Ark Naturals was the first company to launch a 4 in 1 benefit chew with a toothpaste center designed for a twice per day cleaning/maintenance regimen for pets. We launched the first senior specific dental chew with our Gray Muzzle dental chews, and the first Sensitive Gums chew for dogs that can’t chew hard dental products. Most recently, we launched a ground breaking innovative (and we think game changing) chew specifically designed for protection and prevention with our latest Protection+ product launch. Protection+ is the most innovative product to hit the dental category in years. This one-of-a-kind innovation uses the active ingredient astaxanthin, which is nature’s most powerful antioxidant. It actually boosts antibodies in the saliva to create an invisible barrier on teeth, which prevents plaque and tartar buildup. It also has an active ingredient toothpaste center that our Brushless Toothpaste line is known for, but also supports healthy gums and even boosts immunity. The chews are available in four sizes, with the proper dose of astaxanthin for each weight category. We believe it is simply not enough to only provide some scraping action and a breath mint. Pet parents should take a comprehensive approach to dental care, which includes the products we offer with four and five unique benefits.
In what sections of their store should retailers display the dental products that they carry?
I think this is a question as old as the category. Given the importance of good oral health care we like to see dental chews placed front and center in the store. Clearly, it doesn’t belong with food due to the nature of those shelf sets, but we think it does belong as a subcategory to treats because there are so many functional treats on the market today. A defined section which merchandises dental chews adjacent to other functional treats is ideal in our view. I think it makes sense to merchandise other dental products like toothpastes, brushes and rinses adjacent to the chews if possible, but many pet retailers merchandise those items in the supplement section of their store. The difficulty of placing the category there is visibility. Most pet retailers will tell you the foot traffic is lower in that area, and as such, doesn’t allow for strong visibility into what is available for your pet. Wherever pet retailers place the dental category, everyone wins when the team understands the dental care products they stock and can explain and recommend specific items to pet parents.