Cat Nap Pet Products Case Study

It all started two years ago when Brandon Zavala, the chief executive of Apollo Peak, “spawned the idea of wine for cats out of nowhere,” he said. “A pet is more like a friend, a roommate or a family member,” he said. “Why are we just feeding them water?”

Mr. Zavala, 32, used to sell pet food products and has been learning more about the business through his start-up. Initially he called his product a “snack beverage.” If he had not changed it to cat wines, he said, “it wouldn’t have gone viral.”

He named his business for his cat, Apollo, and for the mountains of Denver. Organic beets from California provide the coloring. The catnip comes from the higher elevations of Colorado. His small wine bottles are sold online and in 200 stores, including T. J. Maxx and Marshalls. Mr. Zavala imbues his products with sayings like “Making Cats Great Again” and #whydrinkalone.

Cat wines are the latest manifestation of a growing trend of pet owners treating them like people.

Over the past 15 years, “the pet market has been transformed by humanization of pets,” said David Sprinkle, the research director at marketresearch.com. A survey his organization conducted last year found that 62 percent of cat owners (and 64 percent of dog owners) consider their pet to be a part of the family.

“The term ‘pet parent’ has increasingly replaced ‘pet owner,’” Mr. Sprinkle said. Cat products and supplies make up 30 percent of the $40 billion United States pet market, excluding services, he said.

David Grimm, a deputy news editor at the journal Science and the author of “Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs,” said the increasing closeness between humans and pets began in the early 1900s, when flea products allowed people to bring dogs indoors, and kitty litter did the same for cats. Soon, animals were on people’s beds and in their hearts.

Farm animals, which once roamed the land, began disappearing and multigenerational families gave way to smaller ones and more people living alone. “The final piece of the puzzle,” Mr. Grimm said, “coincides with the rise in technology and the severing of a lot of human relationships. We’re doing so much virtually that when we go home at night, our dogs and cats increasingly are beings in our lives that want to interact with us when other relationships are fraying.”

Even Mr. Zavala was surprised by his success. Early on, he blasted out tweets and emails hoping to be noticed. Then, he said, “I over-marketed.” A story in the Huffington Post led to 44,000 Facebook shares, as well as articles on People.com and NationalGeographic.com and shout-outs by Jimmy Fallon and Bill Maher.

Mr. Zavala was making the wines in his home kitchen and could not keep up. He hired employees and moved into a larger building. Last year, his company sold $500,000 worth of pet wines.

In July 2016, Taryn Nahm, 31, who previously sold advertising, and her boyfriend, Kai Pfretzschner, 37, a chemist, started a cat wine company which they now call Pet Winery. (Their tagline: “Original beverages for pets.”) Their wines, also in tiny bottles, are sold online and in 40 stores; they are made in Mr. Pfretzschner’s lab.

Mr. Zavala is not amused, but Ms. Nahm is unapologetic.

“Apollo Peak doesn’t get to own the market,” Ms. Nahm said. “We have our own viewpoints,” she said, and their own recipes. “We did salmon oil with catnip,” she said.

Mr. Zavala sees it a bit differently. “I don’t mind competition,” he said, “but they have cloned our products.”

Both companies have expanded into the dog wine market: Apollo Peak brews chamomile and peppermint in water. Pet Winery adds salmon oil and bacon extract.

Needing to know which brand finicky cats preferred, I asked Ann Dunn, the founder of Cat Town Café, to let me conduct a feline focus group involving six fully awake cats and a dozen who were more interested in naps than liquid refreshments.

There was a surprise: Only one cat, a black-and-white one named Dickie, seriously liked the beverage. He sipped, then groomed himself and got blissful. Other cats lounging in cubbyholes ignored the offerings, though one was briefly interested.

Nevertheless, the cat lovers — even after seeing that the animals did not like the wines — were smitten with the products.

When I told Mr. Zavala, he understood. “The best part of the idea is having wine with your pet — that’s what drives it,” he said. “It’s not how it tastes for the cat.”

If you really want to attract cats, Ms. Dunn of Cat Town Café said, open a can of sardines. But sardines lack the coolness factor of a bottle of cat wine (which in turn lacks a strong fishy stench).

“We want to believe we’re making their lives more luxurious, however silly that seems,” said one observer of the wine tasting, Nicole Gounalis, a Ph.D. student of Italian studies at Stanford University.

She watched the wine tasting flop, but said she would buy the beverage anyway for her two cats, Dez and Ember. “You’re imagining this alternative universe, in which cats live miniature versions of what you do,” she said.

Robert L. Vetere, the head of the American Pet Products Association, a trade group, said that Ms. Gounalis’s sentiment is an increasingly common one. “We no longer reward our pets in animal terms,” he said. “We feel the need to reward our pets in human terms.”

For instance, “Suddenly, a tennis ball for our dog is not enough,” Mr. Vetere said. Pet lovers are buying “high-cost collars, and premium bedding and other human-based rewards.”

Sarah Davidian, 34, a veterinary technician who was visiting the cat cafe, said she had read mixed reviews online for cat wines, but could not resist buying Pet Winery’s Purrgandy for a dinner party to celebrate her friend’s one-year anniversary with her cat, Jimmy. They planned a Mexican dinner for five, “not counting Jimmy,” Ms. Davidian said, noting that the meal was chosen because Jimmy likes tortillas and shredded chicken.

Two days after the wine tasting I staged, Ms. Davidian sent me a text saying that her friend had let Jimmy taste the Purrgandy. He became “very affectionate and took a long nap,” she reported, adding: “I’ll have to buy a case for him now.”

“I buy stuff that spoils my animals rotten,” said Stephanie Turner, who works as a volunteer at the Cat Town Café. Her dog has 17 squeaky toys. Otto and Floyd, her cats, have disco balls and an electric mouse.

“We don’t have kids, so the money that would go toward kids we spend on our pets,” she said. She watched the lackadaisical response of the cats to the wine, but said she too, would buy cat wine.

Not all cats are attracted to catnip or flavored drinks. “Cats in the wild don’t drink that much — 75 percent of their hydration comes from their food,” said Jackson Galaxy, the host and executive producer of the Animal Planet show “My Cat From Hell.”

Cat wines “are silly,” he said, but “if they bring people closer to cats, then they can’t be all bad.”

Continue reading the main story

We all love our pets. And most of us want to pamper them as much as possible. There are items from the pet store every dog or cat needs. But pet supplies get expensive. And many of the items on display are unnecessary — and often incredibly expensive. Even if you want to spoil your pet, you don’t need to spend your hard-earned money on these accessories and supplies.

Before we proceed, we have a caveat to share. Although you shouldn’t believe all the marketing you see at the pet store, the things you hear at the vet are different. Sure, many pet owners share stories about vets pushing pricey procedures that don’t result in a better outcome for the dog or cat. But a veterinarian has undertaken years of training. So you should put weight on what your vet has to say — a courtesy you don’t owe to the many manufacturers of unnecessary pet items and accessories.

Ready to check out the pet products that are just a big waste of money? Read on for some of the worst offenders.

1. Premium pet food

You don’t need to buy premium food for your cat or dog. | iStock.com/humonia

Quartz reports for the most part premium dog food will just be a waste of your money. The words used to describe pet food — such as “human-grade,” “natural,” or even “gluten-free” — don’t have official definitions. The FDA has standards for pet food labels. And most states have their own pet food labeling rules. But that doesn’t change the fact that catchy descriptors don’t mean much.

You also don’t need to avoid pet foods with byproducts and meals because there’s no nutritional reason not to feed these products to animals. Plus, smaller companies don’t necessarily have better quality control. And expensive pet foods have been recalled, too. So, for the most part, there’s no reason to buy premium food.

2. Natural or organic pet food

Natural pet food won’t offer better nutrition. | iStock.com/Antonio_Diaz

As Quartz explains, organic pet foods need to meet the same criteria as organic food for humans. The problem? Those criteria don’t mean much. An organic seal doesn’t make your pet food safer or more nutritious. It doesn’t guarantee a lower impact on the environment either.

You might find it tempting to pay extra for “natural” or “organic” food for your dog or cat. But in most cases, doing so won’t get you better quality or superior nutrition. “Natural” pet food costs, on average, 50% more than typical pet food. And because marketing often trumps science in the pet food aisle, you shouldn’t let it guilt you into spending more.

3. Breed-specific pet food

Breed-specific pet food is all about marketing. | iStock.com/Proxima13

PetMD reports breed-specific pet foods “are little more than a marketing gimmick and do not have sound nutritional science backing them.” As the site explains, “We do not yet have the research that pinpoints the difference in nutritional requirements between different specific breeds of dogs.” Breed-specific foods won’t do your pet any harm. But they’re rendered unnecessary if you and your veterinarian are already choosing a food that’s well-suited to your pet’s dietary requirements. 

4. Untested dental chews

Many dental chews go untested. | iStock.com/Chalabala

It’s important to pay attention to your pet’s oral health. But you shouldn’t trust just any treat off the shelf at the pet store to do the job for you. Billings Animal Family Hospital in Montana reports dental chews can help keep your pet’s teeth clean — but only if you choose a product that will actually do what it claims.

Some have the potential to minimize plaque and tartar buildup. But they don’t make a good substitute for regular dental cleaning and care. Check out the recommendations of the Veterinary Oral Health Council to find products that have proven effective. 

5. Vitamins

Most animals don’t need you to supplement their diets. | iStock.com/Valery Kudryavtsev

When you head to the pet store, you’ll probably notice plenty of vitamins on the shelves. You might take some vitamins and supplements yourself, so it seems like a no-brainer to pick some up for your dog or cat. But a healthy pet won’t need them. The companies that manufacture pet food have done their research and formulated nutritionally complete food for your animal.

Unless your vet tells you otherwise (and recommends something specific), you don’t need to supplement your cat or dog’s diet with vitamins. Similarly, you might want to consult your veterinarian before adding prebiotics or probiotics to your pet’s diet. 

6. Over-the-counter medications

Instead of buying over-the-counter medication, go to the veterinarian. | iStock.com/damedeeso

If you think your dog has even a medical issue, even a simple one, it’s worth consulting your vet. One veterinarian writes for The Washington Post that you should resist “the temptation to make your own veterinary diagnosis.” Whether you think your cat has worms or assume your dog has fleas, go to the veterinarian.

Over-the-counter medications can be a waste of money because they can either fail to solve the problem or bring on dangerous, even fatal, consequences. Whether it’s worming medication or flea spray, get your vet’s opinion instead of wasting your money (and risking a medication that could do more harm than good).

7. Pet insurance

Pet insurance doesn’t always save money. | iStock.com/humonia

Consumer Reports notes pet insurance policies get complicated — and you shouldn’t automatically assume they’ll be worth the money. The cost of coverage will depend on your pet’s breed and age, along with the options you choose.

“Almost all policies exclude pre-existing conditions and may exclude breed-specific conditions (or charge you more to cover them),” Consumer Reports explains. Of course, “There’s no way to predict whether your pet will become sick or injured. But if you’d like help with unexpected, large vet bills, a plan may be worth considering.” An alternative is to start an emergency savings fund for pet care. 

8. Luxury pet bed

Animals don’t need luxury pet beds. | iStock.com/Gumpanat

We all like having a cozy place to sleep. And your cat or dog is no exception. But you don’t have to feel guilty if you don’t let your pet sleep on the couch or curl up in your bed. There’s no reason to shell out for a super-expensive, luxury pet bed. You’re better off finding something simple and cozy — and perhaps machine-washable — for your pet to nap in. Even a dog who takes forever to choose a place to lie down, or a cat who’s particularly picky about napping spots, won’t know the difference between an economical pet bed and its luxury alternatives. 

9. Expensive clothing

Most pets don’t need clothing. | iStock.com/Juncero

Depending on the dog breed, and the harshness of the winter weather where you live, your vet might recommend a sweater or coat. But for the most part, expensive pet clothing is a waste of your money. Many animals don’t like wearing clothing. If that’s the case for your dog or cat, don’t stress out your pet just for the sake of capturing a few cute photos.

Plus, you need to make sure the clothing won’t cause your pet to overheat. The Telegraph reports clothing impedes a dog’s ability to control his own temperature. 

10. Pricey treats

You don’t have to splurge on treats. | iStock.com/pakornkrit

Most animals won’t know the difference between a budget-friendly treat and one that costs twice as much. The important thing to your cat or dog is the treats taste different from their regular food. And if you need some guidance on which treats to buy, remember expensive isn’t always better. Ask your vet for a recommendation if you get stuck.

11. Superfluous grooming

Your animal likely doesn’t need expensive grooming. | iStock.com/Zinkevych

Some breeds of cats and dogs need professional grooming. But most don’t. If you take the time to brush your animal’s fur and regularly clip his nails, you probably don’t need to spend money on professional grooming. Many short-haired dog breeds, for instance, just need you to brush them every week or so. So taking the time to learn what your pet needs should save you money.

12. Stroller

A pet stroller is completely unnecessary. | iStock.com/thisislover

We’ve all seen dog owners who push their pets around the farmers market or mall in a specially made stroller. But in most cases (excluding special-needs pets), those strollers are just a waste of money. Even a small dog needs exercise — exercise he could be getting if you’d let him walk instead of pushing him around in a stroller. And if your dog is small enough to fit in one of these strollers, he’s probably small enough that you can just pick him up and carry him in a pinch.

13. Booster seat

Booster seats often aren’t the best way to keep your dog safe in the car. | iStock.com/bobhackettphotos

Many owners of small dogs consider buying a booster seat for taking their pup with them on car rides and road trips. Any vet will tell you it’s important to keep your pets restrained while in the car. But you don’t actually have to spend your money on a dedicated booster seat if you’re smart about the carrier you purchase.

Many pet carriers have a base you can secure to the car seat with a seat belt. You can also use these carriers as a crate at home or on vacation — which makes them a much more versatile purchase than the one-purpose booster seat. If you really want to choose a product that’s designed to be safe, even in a car crash, check out these carrier and crate studies from the Center for Pet Safety.

14. Pet-specific first-aid kit

You don’t need to splurge on a pet-specific first-aid kit. | iStock.com/pyotr021

When you’re at the pet store stocking up on necessities, you might encounter first-aid kits designed specifically for pets. But The Wirecutter learned these kits — though they offer a good starting point — are typically a poor value. It’ll be easier on your wallet if you assemble your own kit. You should include basics, such as tweezers, gauze, and a strip of fabric you can gently tie around your dog’s muzzle if she lashes out when hurt and frightened.

The Humane Society of the United States also recommends adding a self-cling bandage, a nylon leash, and paperwork for your pet. Plus, you can download the American Red Cross Pet First Aid app for Android or iOS. 

15. Pet camera

A pet camera is completely unnecessary, even though it might be entertaining. | iStock.com/Annetics

Having the ability to look in on your pet — and see the adorable things your dog or cat does while you’re away — sounds great. But you really don’t need a pet camera. Most are exorbitantly expensive. And like many of the other internet-connected smart home devices you can buy for your house or apartment, many have poor security. For most people, being able to check in on a sleeping pet isn’t worth the potential worry over security vulnerabilities or weak passwords.

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