It can be argued that the pet health care category saw the light in the early 90's of the 19th century when Bob Martin started to manufacture and sell their conditioning powders for dogs; essentially a mix of vitamins and minerals to compensate for the lack of such in the then common regime of feeding table-scraps and meat-offal.

These conditioning powders were made available to the animal owners through traditional grocery outlets, i.e., the veterinarian community was not strongly involved in the marketing of these products.

Over the last 4 decades pet health care developped into a category in its own right; in fact it developped into a huge reservoir of products with "maintenance", preventive or curative purposes.

Which makes it difficult to define the category precisely. An attempt could be to say that pet health care is "the category of products that aim to promote the health of pet animals by either endogenous or exogenous absorption of the actives".

When accepting this definition, we accept the fact that also pet foods belong to this category. In my point of view they do!

The more so since petfoods, particularly the dry ones for dogs and cats, are enhanced with functional properties to promote joint mobility, to promote digestion, to promote strong and healthy dentals, to name but a few.

So far these functional aspects seem to apply primarily to dog and catfoods; isn't it time that attention is paid to other species as well, as far as functional extras in their foods are concerned?

It may have been the case that in the past typical pet health care products (I wish to exclude petfoods in this case) were the domaine of the veterinary community; or even their quasi-monopoly. This is history; pet health care products were popularised over the years and now enjoy wide-spread availablity. Certainly those products that do not need a prescription of any sort; the assumption being that the pet-owners are perfectly capable to decide for themselves which product suits which purpose.

Which brings us to "OTC or prescription?" There are signals the regulations are being changed in the favour of the veterinary community, certainly for those products that are based on synthetic actives. Whether this would be to the advantage of the industry and the pet-owners is questionable.

In the last decade or so we have seen the growing importance of natural actives and nutraceuticals. Depending on the claims used, neither of these require the pain-staking process of license and/or registration. This enabled a great number of manufacturers to enter the segment without huge R&D investments, while offering them the opportunity of wide-spread distribution.

I may be so that the efficacy of natural actives and nutraceuticals are questioned by some scientists, but antropomorphism tells us that the owners feel that what is good for them is good for their pet. So the growth of natural actives and nutraceuticals for human consumption can be seen as a measure for the potential of the same for pet consumption.

Even if regulations would tend to become more in favour of restricted distribution in the veterinary channel, I have no doubt that the industry will (have to) seek ways to increase the popularity and use of pet health care products sold on an OTC basis.

I foresee further developments in the use natural additives in petfoods; as I do foresee a shake-out on the supply-side of nutraceuticals (as end-products). The latter segment will have passed its current state of experiment before long and bringing the segment to its maturity will primarily be done by those suppliers that have the knowhow and budget to educate the pet-owners into the use of these nutraceuticals.

All-in-all, I do firmly believe that the pet health care category provides serious (not going for the quick buck) players, which are committed to the longer-term sustainability of the category, with very healthy business –perspectives.

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