Dogs suffering from arthritis and other joint-problems show significant improvement after taking elk velvet antler (EVA).
This was the major finding of a sixteen-month-long research project to determine the best strategies for the marketing and promotion of dog health products to North American consumers. The study was done by Qeva Corp., a Calgary-based EVA marketing company, Steppingstones Partnership, Inc. (operator of Deerfarmer.com and Arthritis-in-dogs.com websites)and the Canadian Cervid Council, who provided financial support for the initiative.
Free samples of Qeva Joint Mobility for Dogs, an elk velvet antler- based product, were made available to dog owners through the arthritis-in-dogs.com website. In return for their free sample, dog owners provided data about their dogs, the results of using EVA and their buying preferences.
The project ran from the beginning of September 2001 to the end of December 2002. During that period of time, we received over 3,700 requests for free samples from dog owners in more than a dozen countries. Most of the requests came from the United States (92%) and Canada (5%). In the United States, dog owners from Florida, California, Texas and Pennsylvania were at the top of the list. Some 1,272 free samples were sent out. Two follow-up studies (post- treatment) on the effectiveness of the product were carried out – a pilot with 112 respondents and a second major evaluation with 159 respondents.
The number of requests for free samples from the United States was correlated with the US 2000 census data for each state. This analysis found very high correlations (~.90) between requests (interpreted as interest in dog health products) and number of households, number of families, number of single-dwelling homes, number of employed and state population. There was NO relationship between “interest” and median household or family income. The number of households and families in a region are the best predictors of interest in dog health products.
We used the US 2000 census data for each state to identify the areas of greatest geographical interest in dog health products. The analysis showed that 20% of the requests came from the Southeast, even though the region has 17% of the households. The Mid-Atlantic states had 20% of the requests but 17.5% of the households. In contrast, the Northeast states and the Western states were under-represented in the number of requests for free samples relative to their households and families. The Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states appear to represent the best markets for EVA pet products.
Friends or relatives were the leading source of information about the Qeva free offer initiative. Various components of the Internet – websites, search engines and e-mail -were also mentioned as a major source. Demand for free samples really skyrocketed when a couple of “freebie” websites such as ArcaMax (2 million subscribers) and Freaky Freddies (200,000 readers) made their members aware of our offer. A small group of dog owners were informed about the free offers by their veterinarians.
Data from dog owners requesting free samples provided a profile of arthritic dogs in need of treatment. The largest proportion of the dogs were mixed breed, although Labradors, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Greyhounds, Golden Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, Chihuahuas and Dachshunds were common. We believe this represents the distribution of dog ownership rather than identifying the breeds more prone to joint mobility problems.
The dogs in need of treatment for arthritis were most likely to be over 9 years of age. The largest weight category was 61 to 80 lbs, although there were dogs from 2 lbs to over 200 lbs. Some 59% of the 3,585 dogs in the pre-treatment survey had been diagnosed as having arthritis by a veterinarian.
Twelve measures (rating scales) were used to obtain data about the dog’s arthritis and joint mobility problems. These were: levels of pain, energy and endurance; ability to get up after a long rest; ability to sit down; ability to climb into a car or over objects; ability to go up and down stairs; problems with walking for 15 minutes; gait after walking for 15 minutes; ability to run for ten minutes; and gait after running for ten minutes. These measures were taken before and after treatment with Qeva EVA.
The first pilot evaluation of 112 dogs that had tried EVA found that there was some observed improvements in 46% of the cases and no change in 42% of the dogs. Most changes were noticed within 10 days (68%). Over 38% of the dogs in the pilot were on other medications, mostly glucosamine.
The pre/post treatment rating scores were analyzed for the dogs that were on EVA only versus those on other medications as well. We found statistically significant improvements in the dogs ONLY on EVA, but NO differences in the group of dogs on other medications. There were no statistical differences between the pre scores of these groups of dogs. This suggests that EVA does not work when used with other medications such as glucosamine (and vice versa).
Of the dog owners who tried Qeva in the pilot evaluation, 22% said they would continue using the product, 35% were not sure and 37% said no. The reasons given for NOT continuing to use Qeva were that it did not work, it was too expensive and other treatments work as well.
Using the findings from the pilot evaluation, the post-treatment questionnaire was improved and expanded. A reminder notice was sent out and another 159 dog owners completed the post-treatment survey.
In this study, there was an observed improvement after taking EVA in 70% of the dogs and no change in 21% of the cases. Using pre-post treatment score changes, the greatest improvements were seen in energy, endurance and reduction of pain. Even in the dogs where the owners did not notice any changes, pre-post scores were statistically higher in energy and endurance levels.
In 72% of the cases, improvements were noticed within ten days. In this group of dogs, only 22% were on other medications with only four dogs on glucosamine. Based on the findings in the pilot, a lower use of other medications probably explains the higher success rate experienced in this study.
In the main evaluation study, some 29% of the dog owners said they will continue to use Qeva, while 35% were unsure and 32% said no. The main reasons for NOT continuing to use were that Qeva was too expensive, it did not work and other reasons. When asked about mode of administration, most respondents did not have an opinion. Of those who did, they said the present form of capsules is fine.
When asked where they like to buy their dog health products, 37% said mass retailers, 29% said local pet stores, 21% said the Internet and 4% said at their vet’s office.
Dog owners said their main source of information about dog health products was their vet (68%), the Internet (60%) and other dog owners (30%). Sources low on the list included dog magazines (17%), sales people at the pet store (11%), sales people at retail stores (4%) and dog clubs (2%). These findings have significant implications for marketing and promotion of pet health products.
An analysis of the on-line sales of Qeva during the project period was done. These findings show that sales are slowly increasing, but are not yet very significant. Some 94% of sales were made to the United States mostly to Florida, California, Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Most orders to date are for two bottles (usually one-month’s supply). Only 25% of the customers have made more than one purchase. The sales data generally confirm the conclusions and predictions made as a result of the research study.
A number of recommendations were made based on the findings from this project. These include disseminating the results of this research as broadly as possible – to dog owners, to vets and to retailers. The Internet is a significant source of information about dog health products. Therefore, Qeva and Arthritis-in-dogs.com should continue their efforts to use the Internet to increase awareness and factual information about these natural products for arthritis.
It is important to get information about EVA products to the veterinarians. Many have shown interest and support for natural products. They are the key “information gatekeepers” when it comes to dog health products.
Further research needs to be undertaken immediately to find out more about the possible interference between elk velvet antler and other medications such as glucosamine. In the meantime, vets and consumers should be made aware of these possible conflicts.
Non-Internet marketing and promotion activities should focus on the United States, especially on Florida, California, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Dog owners in these states have shown interest, and placed orders. Forget about Canada – 6% of sales is not worth the effort!
Getting mass retailers such as Wal-Mart and the pet stores to carry EVA products is critical to growing sales of velvet antler products. Only 20% of our respondents said they prefer buying on-line.