Pet-Care Industry Follows Human Fad: Seen as `Tail End of Health Movement'

By Duin, Julia | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 25, 1998 | Go to article overview

Pet-Care Industry Follows Human Fad: Seen as `Tail End of Health Movement'


Duin, Julia, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Judy is only 5 years old but her large, brown eyes and bone-thin body betray her condition: a body eaten from within by cancer.

Not all is lost, however. Although close to death a month ago, the much-loved pet boxer is rebounding, thanks to a mixture of herbal remedies prescribed by an unusual veterinarian specializing in "natural" pet therapies. "I get these patients when other vets have given up," says Sandy Bradley, a vet in Upper Marlboro. At fault, she said, were injections given to the dog to fight heartworm, which included an arsenic compound, plus a flea medicine that contains toxic chemicals. "All this stuff wears the poor animal down," she said.

After feeding the dog a dark-green liquid chlorophyll mix, she pops a clove of garlic in its mouth. The grateful pet has gained 7 pounds in the past three weeks at the home of owners John and Jeanne Armbruster of Beltsville.

"One vet told me he wouldn't have any problem putting her down," says Mr. Armbruster, who desperately sought out a local health food store for help. A clerk at the store told him about the holistic vet.

Growing numbers of vets like Dr. Bradley are prescribing "natural" pet therapies, organic solutions and herbal medicines for the country's 70 million cats and 56 million dogs. The natural-foods craze of the 1970s has become the natural-pet-foods craze of the 1990s.

"It's the tail end of the health movement," says Tim Carambelas of PetSage, a natural-pet-foods supplier in Alexandria. He says the natural-pet-products industry has grown from $2 million in gross sales in 1993 to about $65 million annually and added, "People are starting to put two and two together and realizing there is a direct correlation between what we feed our animals and their health." The new pet products are Earth-friendly, chemical-free and healthy. For instance, when Doctors Foster and Smith, a popular Rhinelander, Wis.-based catalog for pet supplies, published its most recent issue, it ran eight glossy pages on items usually reserved for humans: multivitamins, light-brown Vitamin C tablets and brewer's yeast. Added to that were "natural flavored ultra-low-fat alternative-to-high-calorie treats" and low-fat dog bones in cheese, carrot, corn, peanut and spinach flavors.

The ultimate delicacy was vanilla sandwich cream cookies - actually dog biscuits disguised as a "natural whole wheat cholesterol-free treat."

"Before, people didn't go out of their way to care for pets," company buyer Linda Krehmeyer said. "Now we relate to pets in terms of the way we live. We say, if we have to eat healthy, our pets will, too."

When Terri Grow, founder of PetSage, asked one customer what her priorities were, "She said, `My pets, my children and my husband,' " reports Miss Grow. "People travel with their animals; we have a large gay community that's attentive to their pets and there are older people for whom their pet is what gets them up in the morning."

Americans spend $10 billion a year on pet food, according to the February Consumer Reports. Individuals pay anywhere from $80 to $1,200 a year for dogs and $50 to $900 a year for cats. But some of the most expensive brands, touted for their health benefits, are no more nutritional than supermarket varieties, the magazine said.

"People love their pets as much as they love their children," says Linda Aljibori, president of Lend-a-Paw, a Falls Church-based cat and kitten rescue organization. …

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