Pet Health Ingredients for Dietary Supplements

October 8, 2013

Which pet health ingredients are making headlines this year?

Even during the economic downturn, the pet supplement market has remained remarkably recession-proof, driving home that Buster and Tiggy really are part of the family. According to the market research firm Packaged Facts, U.S. retail sales of pet supplements and nutraceutical treats are expected to reach $1.6 billion by 2017. Here’s this year’s update on pet supplements, including emerging trends and new products.

Recent Industry Trends

In 2012, Karen Howard became the new president of the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC), the industry’s voluntary watchdog organization. Having spoken with over 50 companies in the past year, Howard says a large influx of companies from the human side-raw ingredient suppliers, contract manufactures, and distributors-want to jump on the pet supplement bandwagon.

Newer ingredients used in human supplements are now showing up in pet supplements, with about a one- to four-year lag time, Howard says. “We’re seeing a pretty big increase in the use of herbs, enzymes, mushrooms, curcumin, colostrum, and a more diversified set of omega fatty acids.”

Another new development, Howard says, is the increase in “hybrid” products-where supplement ingredients, such as glucosamine or chondroitin, are added to approved feed ingredients. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) defines what constitutes an animal feed product. Although state laws govern pet food manufacturing, they closely follow AAFCO recommendations. Such products, which may be marketed as nutritional treats or pet supplements, are neither foods nor drugs. “They are really not products that fall under any regulatory scheme,” Howard says.

As with supplements for people, finding quality ingredients remains an area of concern in the industry. “Sourcing chondroitin has got to be the number one problem in the industry,” Howard says. “The burgeoning market in herbs and issues with adulteration are equally challenging.” NASC helps their members source good quality ingredients by providing access to reputable companies that adhere to NASC’s stringent benchmarks.

Although the NASC is committed to helping its members conduct quality research, there is still very little money available in the industry for such endeavors. “Unlike the human side, we’re still dealing with smaller companies, and a lot of start-ups,” Howard says. “It’s a very different culture.”

Boning Up on Joint Health

It’s no surprise that joint supplements continue to occupy the lion’s share of the pet supplement market. Dogs now have an average life span of 10–12 years, and many cats are living to 17–18 years or beyond. In senior animals, arthritis and other musculoskeletal problems are a fact of life.

Of course, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate have been the mainstays of joint supplements for decades now. While green lipped mussel and hyaluronic acid are now well-known additions, the category is fairly static, some industry experts say. “If it’s not static, it’s definitely in the decline mode,” says Jay Martin, vice president of sales and marketing at Interhealth Nutraceuticals (Benicia, CA). “People feel [glucosamine/chondroitin supplements] aren’t very effective, so we’re seeing a lot of interest in finding new ingredients.” Martin says Interhealth has developed a raw material for joint health, UC-II, an undenatured type 2 collagen made from ground chicken meal. While chicken is not the most exotic of substrates, Martin says several independent studies show UC-II is as effective as glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate in reducing arthritic pain and exercise-associated lameness in dogs. What’s more, Martin says, “UC-II is only 40 milligrams once a day-a very tiny amount compared to the 3600 milligrams often recommended for dogs. You can hide 40 milligrams in a dog chew or in food.”

HORN (La Mirada, CA), a distributor of specialty ingredients and raw materials, is looking into alternative sources for hyaluronic acid. Lisa Alley-Zarkades, vice president of animal wellness at HORN, says, “In terms of hyaluronic acid, how you get it and how you deliver it is really important.” Alley-Zarkades says that her company is looking at quahog-hard-shell clam- as a new source. “The amount of hyaluronic acid in quahog is really high,” she says.

Eggshell membrane is another relative newcomer to the joint supplement world, for both human and pet supplements. The ingredient is high not only in glucosamine and hyaluronic acid, but also in collagen. ESM Technologies (Carthage, MO) uses a patented manufacturing process to produce its  NEM eggshell membrane product. Stratum Nutrition, an ingredients supplier and joint venture partner with ESM Technologies, offers NEM for use in pet supplements. Ingmar Middlebos, manager of specialty products and the pet market at Stratum, says, “This really started out as a human nutraceutical, but it also works quite well in supporting joint health in dogs and cats.”

Although there haven’t been any animal studies on eggshell membrane, several published studies in humans have shown that 500 mg per day of NEM is more effective than placebo in alleviating joint stiffness and pain-and it starts working in 7–10 days, researchers claim. However, Middlebos says that eggshell membrane is not an AAFCO-approved food ingredient. “That presents a hurdle for adding NEM to pet food-which we’re looking to overcome-but it doesn’t present a hurdle for the dietary supplement side of things.” Pet Research, a manufacturer of pet supplements, announced in 2012 that its new Wag Lifetime Joint Care product would include NEM as an ingredient.

Other new joint health supplements introduced to pets this year included Jusuru Pet Blend, containing BioCell Collagen®, and Canine Flex Support from Standard Process Inc, containing ginger, turmeric, glucosamine, and chondroitin.

Ins and Outs of Gut Health

Gastrointestinal health is a growing segment in pet supplement markets because, as Bill Bookout of Kemin Health LC (Des Moines, IA) explains, “It’s not just about what comes out of a pet’s gastrointestinal tract that’s important. The gastrointestinal tract is the largest immune organ in the body, and gastrointestinal health and performance have a really significant influence on long-term health.”

One of Kemin’s approaches to pet digestive health is with pre- and probiotics. The company markets a patented prebiotic/probiotic formula called RESOURCES Protegrity GI, which contains an unusual strain of bacteria, Bacillus subtilis strain PB6. Boookout says his company has over 50 scientific studies showing the benefits of PB6 in supporting gastrointestinal health.

But Alley-Zarkades says the key issue with probiotics is still shelf-stability. “Many formulas out there don’t have the stability to keep the bacterial colonies alive and deliver the actual colonies over time,” she says. To address this problem, HORN offers Biomatrix’s bioSecure brand stabilized probiotics.

Remember Euell Gibbons asking, “Ever eat a pine tree?” He may have been on to something. Previda, Stratum’s prebiotic ingredient for dog and cat food, is a hemicellulose extract made from wood chip byproducts of southern yellow pine. The extract contains the fiber-rich carbohydrates galactoglucomannan oligosaccharides, or GGMOs. The carbohydrates are extracted from pine with nothing but steam, and “almost like a syrup…eventually it is spray-dried into the Previda product,” says Middlebos. Neil Price, a chemist from the USDA’s Agriculture Research Service, recently conducted a study in conjunction with the University of Illinois on how the carbohydrates in Previda affect gut health in dogs. Dogs that ate kibble with Previda had several significant indicators of a healthy lower digestive system, including an increase in beneficial Bifidobacterium bacteria.

Immune System

There’s immune magic in mushrooms, Alley-Zarkades believes, and the science backs her up. Medicinal mushrooms contain beta-glucans and other nutrients that activate immune cells to more effectively kill pathogenic viruses and bacteria-even cancer cells. M2 Ingredients (San Marcos, CA) grows 10 different species of mushrooms on organic oats in a controlled laboratory environment. The mushrooms are then dehydrated and finely milled into powder for use in dietary supplements for humans, pets, and horses. “I think it’s still a little too exotic for people, but M2 has made some inroads into the market-they have equine products and dog products,” Alley-Zarkades says.

Biothera (Eagan, MN) manufactures food-grade beta-glucan for use in supplements and foods, including its proprietary 1,3-1,6 branch beta-glucan derived from yeast. “Basically, beta-glucans get the immune system on ‘code red,’ so it’s able to react more quickly to any type of foreign invader or infection that comes into play in the animal,” says Chris Gudaitis, general manager at Sensient Biopharma & Savory Flavors (Indianapolis), a food and flavors company partnering with Biothera. “We’re looking at incorporating this product into various delivery systems, whether it be in one of our pet palatants, or a product that a processor would incorporate into their mixes or meals.”

Tasty Treat-or Supplement?

According to Packaged Facts, the boundary between pet foods and supplements is blurring. Palatability is always an issue in pet supplements and this has led to an explosion in the functional treat category. NoviPet, an Israeli-based company now expanding into the United States, has developed a unique soft chew delivery system, which is soon to be patented. Guy Setton, head of international business development, says NoviPet’s parent company originally developed the soft chews for use in children. “They realized that children have a serious problem taking pills and tablets,” said Setton. “They came up with a very tasty soft chew that included the active ingredients inside.” The product was successful and it was hard to ignore the similarities between pilling pets and kids, so the company developed a soft chew supplement line for dogs and cats. NoviPet’s soft chews are individually blister-packed to ensure that each chew contains the intended dose, and that freshness is preserved, Setton says. NoviPet initially began offering standard supplements in 2011, such as joint health and omega-3 products, but this year the company has added an herbal calming aid, a digestive health soft chew for dogs, and a hairball soft chew for cats. In the coming year, NoviPet hopes to add a colostrum-based chew for puppies and a joint health product for cats.

In addition to NoviPet’s emergence in the U.S. market, Cloud Star, a manufacturer of all-natural pet products, announced its Dynamo Dog Functional Treats line, with offerings in joint health, skin and coat, and digestive health.

Fat Cats and Chubby Chihuahuas

To date, most approaches to maintaining healthy weight in pets have relied on reducing calories and increasing fiber. Although L-carnitine has received some bad press in the news lately for possibly contributing to heart disease in people, it may have some health benefits as a promotor of healthy weight in dogs and cats. Alley-Zarkades says that some large pet food companies are adding L-carnitine to their canine and feline formulas. “Clinical work done with animals used for production, like pigs, finds that it helps lay down lean muscle mass instead of fat mass,” she explains. Medium chain triglycerides, which have been shown to promote fat oxidation, are another ingredient that helps L-carnitine function at a cellular level. “You will start to see that combination in pet foods and it certainly could be offered in supplements, as well,” she says.