Taking a page from pet supplements

Functional pet food and treats, as well as pet supplements, have their place in the pet market, and pet owners are making the most of it.

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Pet owners are finding a place for functional pet foods and treats as well as supplements in their pets’ diets. (Valery Kudryavtsev | iStock Photo.com)
Pet owners are finding a place for functional pet foods and treats as well as supplements in their pets’ diets. (Valery Kudryavtsev | iStock Photo.com)

Product innovation is heating up competition between functional pet foods and treats versus pet supplements, as one facet of the “omnimarket” (omnichannel and cross-category) battle for the pet wellness dollar. As part of this process, pet owners are becoming savvier about functional ingredients, due largely to the enormous amount of information — and new products — now available online.

The rise of functional pet foods and treats

Pet foods and treats keep pushing boundaries in addressing specific pet health issues, with brain health, digestive health and joint health among the most popular benefits. Dental treat giant Greenies (Mars), for example, has launched a veterinary-formula chew variety that not only works to reduce dental plaque and tartar, but also contains ingredients supporting cognitive, immune, metabolic and skin health.

Functional pet foods and treats play two of the biggest trump cards in any consumer product market: economy and convenience. These products enable pet owners to avoid both the extra expense of supplements and the struggle of trying to get their pets to consume a pill or tablet. The latter is no small advantage; one of the biggest issues pet owners have with pet supplements is the difficulty in getting the pet to swallow them, which has led to the introduction of various novel pet supplement formats, such as transdermal (through the skin) or sublingual (through the underside of the tongue) dosing. Additionally, many pet owners enjoy pampering their pets by giving them treats, valuing the “quality time” and bonding experience created, and functional treats offer that benefit as well.

The advantages of pet supplements

But pet supplements also have their trump cards. Many functional foods and treats do not contain the same levels of the functional ingredient found in supplement form, as the amounts considered to be efficacious are only possible using the concentrated forms pills and tablets contain. While pet food or treats might do the trick for wellness concerns (such as aging pets), they might be too low-wattage for diagnosed healthcare conditions.

Another advantage of supplements over functional treats is that the latter are just that — treats — with all the calories that implies. Giving too many treats, even functional ones, can cause unhealthy weight gain in the pet, essentially negating any benefits derived from the functional ingredients. Moreover, supplement marketers always have the option of embracing functional treat formats (such as soft chews) to expand brand line appeal and grow sales.

How pet owners decide between functional foods and supplements

When it comes to deciding among supplements, functional foods or functional treats, the issue being addressed helps determine which product option pet owners choose. For the joint health, as shown by Packaged Facts’ February/March 2019 Survey of Pet Owners, 12% of dog owners purchase supplements compared to 6% for joint health treats and 7% for joint health food (see Table 1). For a more general health boost — for a wellness concern, that is, rather than for a diagnosed or otherwise evident condition such as reduced mobility — the tables are turned. In this case, 16% of dog owners go the pet food route and only 8% opt for pet supplements. Among cat owners, supplements don’t lead in any category, which is partly if not largely attributable to cats (who can be finicky even about treats) being less tolerant of supplements in pill or chew formats.


When it comes to joint health, dog owners tend to go for supplements first, but when it comes to general health, pet food and pet treats are the go-to for both dog and cat owners.

Whether in the dog or cat categories, any purveyor of premium or superpremium pet foods or treats looking to stand out in a saturated market should take note: offering products featuring functional ingredients to address wellness concerns can be a potent and innovative way to do so.

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