Animal magic

With April being ‘National Pet Month’, this is the ideal time for pharmacy teams to raise awareness of responsible pet ownership and get the local independent pharmacy recognised as a pet health destination

If statistics are anything to go by, promoting recognisable pet health brands in a colourful window display should reap rewards for independent pharmacies. In December 2016, in a survey of more than 1,000 pet owners, 40 per cent confessed to loving their pet more than their partner.

The survey was conducted on behalf of the National Office of Animal Health (NOAH) which, together with the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA), organises the annual National Pet Health public awareness campaign. “It’s heartening to see that we care so much,” says Dawn Howard, NOAH chief executive. “We’d encourage owners to make the most of these fantastic relationships with their pets by making sure that their healthcare needs are met at all times.”

Room to grow
The PFMA estimates that 40 per cent of households have pets, with the UK pet population now standing at around 57 million. Despite this, pet health is still only a minor category for many pharmacies, and few offer an extensive product range. However, with around 500,000 visits being made by pet owners to pharmacies every day, there is plenty of opportunity for pharmacists with the appropriate training to discuss common pet health issues and stock popular OTC medicines and healthcare products.

What to stock
A Euromonitor report in May 2016 revealed that pet healthcare and nutritional supplements are set to enjoy steady growth rates, thanks to demand from pet owners. Indeed, the PDSA launched a range of pet nutraceutical products, including glucosamine and chondroitin, last year. Customers may find it convenient if community pharmacies stock these products, alongside specialist pet foods, shampoos, skin supplements and ear cleaners.

The mainstay of pet health via the local pharmacy is, however, likely to be treatments for fleas, ticks and worms. These perennial parasites come to the fore in springtime as animals tend to spend more time outdoors once the weather warms up. However, many pet owners are not treating their pets with flea, tick and worm products as often as they should be.

According to the PDSA, milder winters and widespread central heating have provided the perfect conditions for the UK flea population to increase in recent years. Fleas and other parasites are not just an inconvenience. They can cause intense suffering and can even be deadly for young kittens and puppies. All pets need to be treated regularly, even if they don’t go outside, as flea eggs and larvae can still be brought into the home on clothing and shoes.

“Parasites are an enormous problem that affect pets across the UK,” says Katy Orton, a PDSA vet nurse. “Infestations of fleas can cause discomfort and even more serious diseases such as flea allergic dermatitis and anaemia. It’s great to be out and about, but just remember that the tick population is too, with numbers peaking between late spring and autumn. The problem is these little critters aren’t just unpleasant – they can also be potentially dangerous. Ticks can carry and transmit Lyme disease, or borreliosis, a debilitating bacterial illness that can affect people and their pets. It can lead to symptoms such as fever, pain and swelling in the joints, crippling arthritis, nerve damage and even meningitis.”

Customers need to continue giving their pets preventative worm, flea and tick treatments all year round, so pharmacists and pharmacy staff need to be able to advise customers about the best products to use and how to use them. When selling these products over the counter, advise customers to make sure that they follow pack instructions carefully to ensure they administer the correct dose for the animal’s species, age, size and weight.

“Flea, tick and worm treatments from veterinary practices or pharmacies only are clinically proven to be safer and more effective than versions bought from pet shops and supermarkets,” says Katy Orton. “Pet owners should check dogs’ and cats’ ears, faces, toes and underbellies regularly for ticks – especially if they are walking in long grass. If they see a tick, they should ask their local vet nurse for help removing it safely.”

Weighty issues
In October 2016, a British Veterinary Association survey revealed that 60 per cent of vets believe obesity is the biggest health and welfare concern for UK pets.

The PDSA estimates that a third of dogs and a quarter of cats are now overweight or obese, and its ‘Animal Wellbeing Report’ for 2016 revealed that 5.7 million UK pet dogs, cats and rabbits are being fed treats every day – including crisps, cake, cheese, chips and takeaway food. Coupled with a couchpotato lifestyle, this is fuelling a pet obesity time bomb.

As with humans, obesity is a serious health issue for pets and can lead to illnesses such as heart disease, breathing problems, diabetes and arthritis. “Nearly half of owners told us that they give treats because they believe it makes their pets happy, and over a quarter do it to make themselves feel good,” says PDSA vet Rebecca Ashman. “We love our pets, and owners often enjoy showing their love by giving food. Treats and human food can be high in fat and sugars, which are bad for pets’ waistlines and teeth. Some foods, like chocolate, are poisonous to pets and can even be fatal.”

Millions of pets are also not getting enough daily exercise. Some dogs are never walked because their owners mistakenly believe that playing in the garden is a suitable substitute. Cats are missing out too. “Owners have the ability to make a real difference to their pets’ health and happiness,” says Katy Orton. “A key part of that is ensuring a healthy diet and regular exercise – getting this right is an important responsibility.”

Of course, the added bonus of taking a pet dog for a walk is that the owner gets some well-needed exercise, too. And now that warmer and drier weather is here, there really is no excuse not to get outside.

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