New Products Pamper Pets From Head to Tail

Spa and beauty treatments are the latest cat’s meow


By Sandy Robins contributor

updated 9:51 a.m. PT, Wed., April 27, 2005


Recently Muffin, an 11-year-old tortoiseshell cat living in Irvine, Calif., received a birthday card personally addressed to her in the mail. Inside was a gift certificate inviting her to spend a day at a southern California pet spa to enjoy a moisturizing body bath, massage and “peticure.” The invitation to de-stress and relax was sent to Muffin, who had recently suffered a bout of illness, by none other than her veterinarian.

Even if you’re allergic to animals, the pet beauty and spa business is nothing to be sneezed at. America’s 78 million cats and 65 million dogs have never had it so good. While the idea of sending the family feline to a pet spa may have been considered a gimmick a decade ago, such animal beauty regimens are now a growing trend across the country.

The keyword here is “family.” Americans no longer simply have pets. Dogs and cats are now referred to as animal companions and family members. More than 80 percent of U.S. owners call themselves “pet parents” and in this new role, naturally, they want only the best for their kith and kin.

For the skeptics who won’t come to heel, further evidence that pet beauty is big business comes from market research analysts, such as Pam Danziger, author of the report “Why People Buy Things for Their Pets,” and business forecasters like Kiplingers, which is urging investors to consider pet-product related stocks. With all this backing, the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association is chewing on the biggest bone with a prediction that pet spending will exceed $34 billion this year.

Retailers of pet beauty products are feeling the boom.

“I’m sending out more gift baskets filled with pet beauty goodies than ever before,” says Jennifer Wolf, owner of Leave An Impression, a Los Angeles-based customized gift service. Wolf has a large clientele of celebrities, including animals lovers such as Ellen Degeneres, who recently ordered a gift for a friend whose dog was recovering from surgery.

“We send gifts to friends who have had an operation, so why not some tasty treats and beauty products for a dog or cat?” asks Wolf, who confirms that some gift baskets cost as much as $350.

Like owner, like pet
Many pet owners now believe it’s important to take just as good care of their animal charges as they would themselves.

“Grooming and pampering your animal companion using organic ingredients is nothing more than an extension of the way people look after themselves, trying to improve their lifestyles and relieve stress,” says Los Angeles-based biochemist Tammy Ha, creator of the Mes Bon Amis (My Best Friends) range of prestige skin and hair-care products for dogs and cats. Her product line includes leave-in moisturizers to control flaking and scaling skin problems, vitamin-enriched conditioners, ear creams, deodorants, a special product for feline chin acne and the pet pawfume K#9 which, at $45 a bottle, is available from Barney’s New York.

While sales are increasing, the bulk of this specialty business is still in the hands of exclusive pet boutiques and Internet-based companies, like Harry Barker Inc., the Fresh Pet Club, which markets the Mes Bon Amis range, and HandsNpaws. Spending doesn’t necessarily reflect good or bad times in the economy; average Internet orders range between $100 and $150.

However, pet supermarket chain Petco is sitting up and hopes to take a bite out of the market. The company recently opened four “petiques” — a specialty store-within-a-store — with a focus on spa treatments, designer pet wear, pet jewelry, and general pet beauty supplies. The new petiques are located in New York City, Escondido, Calif., River Oaks, Texas, and Saratoga, Calif. At least five more petiques are scheduled to open across the country by the end of this year.

“We are aiming at customers with an above-average income who are willing to buy the best for their animal companions and who do things for their pets that they would do for themselves, which includes beauty supplies and fashion products,” says Shawn Underwood, a spokesman for Petco.

In addition, Petco’s grooming salons have taken on a more “human salon” look and feel. The groomers wear black smocks and go to extra lengths to pamper the animals, says Underwood.

Not just cosmetic gimmicks?
John Paul DeJoria, CEO of John Paul Mitchell Systems, the largest single-line hair care company in the world, was one of the first to recognize the potential in the pet beauty industry. With the launch of products under the John Paul Pet label, he insisted on trying all the products himself and the company still prides itself on the slogan “tested on humans first.”

“The tea tree shampoo for fleas and ticks is my personal favorite,” he adds.

Before putting his name to the line, DeJoria admits relying heavily on his animal friends for help in determining which scents would appeal. “Often the cat or dog’s No. 1 pick was their owner’s second or third choice. Ultimately we went with the pet’s selection.”

Retailers of pet beauty supplies say not all of their wares are frivolous luxuries for pampered pets. “While a lot of products may sound like cosmetic gimmicks, they have earned a legitimate place on the health and beauty protection shelf,” says Meira Scott, founder of the Internet-based pet beauty store HandsNpaws.

Among these products, Scott says, are sunscreen for noses and tummy areas, paw balm to protect pads from hot sidewalks, and eye protection, such as Doggles, for pets that enjoy riding in convertibles.

Even some veterinarians agree these products aren’t just fluff. Like good nutrition, grooming is key to healthy skin and fur, says Dr. Bonnie Beaver, professor in the Department of Small Animal Medicine and Surgery at Texas A & M University and president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

“Domestic pets are now living much longer. In 1975, reports indicated that the average age for a dog was four years and three years for cats. Now it is not uncommon to see dogs and cats that are 12 years and older. This is the direct result of better nutrition in the form of specialized pet foods and also better grooming,” says Beaver.

Good grooming is particularly important for long-haired pets as well as geriatric animals, which may have trouble taking care of their skin and coats.


Turning back the clock on Fido
In line with the current Botox craze, many pet “parents” are becoming obsessed with anti-aging products for their pets, too. Carol Perkins, founder of the Harry Barker line, is one of the pioneers of pet anti-aging creams and supplements. She was the first to produce a selegiline-based antioxidant cream for animals.

“The studies around selegiline are profound and document dramatic increases in longevity, boosting the immune system,” says Perkins. However, Harry Barker has temporarily suspended production of the cream since it requires a veterinary prescription and the company is not licensed to sell pharmaceuticals. Perkins says she hopes to have it back in production and available soon.

Because pets generally don’t suffer from wrinkles, there’s no need for Botox parties in the dog park. Instead, dull and lifeless fur, stiff joints and bad breathe are age indicators, and an enormous selection of products are now available to address these problems.

Glucosomine and chondrotin supplements have proved effective in alleviating pain related to joint stiffness, say animal health experts, and are currently available in pill form and as tasty treats. Fading fur is combated with special whitening shampoos for both cats and dogs, and products that contain mica and blue colorants make darker coats glow, deflecting gray hairs. Also available for special occasions is a spray-on chalk, which covers stains and discolorations in fur.

While dogs don’t suffer from hot flashes, many older canines become afflicted with “hot spots” when their glands stop producing enough secretion to combat dry and irritated skin caused by flea bites. Shampoo-conditioners, such as the prickly pear cactus-based product from Harry Barker, as well a range of shea butter creams and lotions with aloe, may help reduce inflammation and irritation.

In addition, there are now a number of products containing essential oils designed to give pets a general feeling of well-being and calm when they’re left at home alone, presumably while their owners are out working to pay for all these treatments.


Crossover products?
According to retailers, currently the most popular beauty treatment for pampered pets is an hour-long Thai doggie massage and herbal steam spray, while the two trendiest essentials are a Harry Barker bathrobe available in all sizes from Chihuahua to St. Bernard, and a bottle of K#9 PawFume.

After her recent illness, Muffin the cat also received a get-well goody bag containing a bottle of K#9. In his haste to get to an early morning meeting, her “father” grabbed the pet pawfume instead of his usual Pierre Cardin. But with its cool notes of cucumber, amber and orange peel, it got rave reviews in the boardroom.

Now it may be only a matter of time before an advertising executive coins the perfect word to epitomize this fragrant crossover from pets to people. It’s certainly something for Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein to think about for next Christmas.

Sandy Robins is a freelance writer and columnist based in Irvine, Calif. Her work has appeared in numerous publications in the United States and internationally.

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