The Pets Need Dental Care, Too! Campaign Story

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The “Pets Need Dental Care, Too!” campaign was first launched in 1995 during National Pet Dental Health Month to educate the public about the need for oral care for pets. The campaign was supported by research which showed that 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats exhibited some signs of oral disease by the age of three. Preventative care (similar to humans) was the answer but veterinary dentistry was a specialty in its infancy.  The American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS) had proclaimed National Pet Dental Health Month to educate the veterinary profession, but did not have the resources to fund a campaign.

Enter Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc. A campaign was created by Lea-Ann Germinder, APR, Fellow PRSA and her agency team at the time by partnering, on behalf of Hill’s Pet Nutrition, the underwriting sponsor, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS) and later the American Veterinary Dental College and Academy of Veterinary Dentistry (AVD) to bring this important message to general veterinary practices and the pet-owning public through promotional materials and the media.

Robert Wiggs, DVM, DAVDC, then president of the AVDS, was the first national campaign spokesperson and served as the unifying representative for all of the dental groups. Karen Gavzer, MBA, then Director of Marketing at the American Veterinary Medical Association and served as the AVMA’s extraordinary astute and adaptive representative. Dan Richardson, DVM, DACVS, then Director of Advanced Research at Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc. introduced Germinder to the dental experts. Guy Pidgeon, DVM, DACVIM, then Associate Director of Veterinary Affairs at Hill’s, guided the overall campaign content.

Dr. Dan Richardson was interviewed in May, 2018 by Germinder as part of his being named a Germinder 20th Anniversary #PowerofPinkHonoree. Following is an excerpt from that interview about the dental campaign:

We met when you were Director of Advanced Research at Hill’s Pet Nutrition and launching Prescription Diet t/d. Then we launched “Pets Need Dental Care, Too! which Hill’s sponsored with the AVMA, the AVDS, and later the AVDC and AVDA for many years. You developed the dental seal. What was it about that project that was so unique?  

“As you know, we put a lot of people and resources into developing Hill’s dental technology. There was great commitment and enthusiasm internally but it needed your expertise, foresight, and negotiating skills in public relations to create “Pets Need Dental Care, Too!” or we wouldn’t have been successful launching the technology.

For the public relations campaign, you connected us in the right way. It wasn’t just a commercial launch. It was a professional launch. I think that has to be emphasized, because Hill’s did not do it blindly commercial. They did it for the veterinary profession and our pets. And, it has been credited with building the oral care category for pets. I think they’ve been underrated and underappreciated for it.

As far as the research, I keep having to remind myself, it wasn’t that many years ago that we didn’t really understand all the things that are talked about today about nutrition and inflammation and joint disease and dental disease.

Dentistry was becoming a mainstream focus in veterinary medicine and the link between good oral health and systemic health was getting stronger and stronger. I was asked to lead the dental research because of my background in orthopedics. You’re looking at maintaining healthy teeth, bone and gums to maintain a healthy mouth and healthy body.

The question we were asking ourselves was, how could we make nutrition and the mechanical act of eating help keep the mouth clean and healthy? That was the birth of the dental research, which became a multimillion-dollar research effort at Hill’s, with strong support from Colgate, Hill’s parent company.

We finally focused in on working with the mechanical cleansing of the teeth through a patented technique for making the dental kibble. And that’s what, as you’re very well versed in, gave birth to the first product, Prescription Diet t/d. You know all the things we did to demonstrate how when they bite into the kibble it squeegees the teeth and cleans them. From there our dental research combined with nutrition to extend the technology into other products.

We simultaneously worked with the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), the American Veterinary Dental Academy (AVDA), and the emerging American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC). Then with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) to establish some method by which products could be tested and assure the customer that they were efficacious. That’s where the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC®) seal came from.

We helped develop the dental seal to emulate the American Dental Association’s (ADA) seal of approval. That testing was based on the use of a dog-testing panel where you clean the teeth and then you measure how much plaque, stain, and tarter builds back up. Subsequently even gingivitis could be measured. That was the basis for the seal. It was an historic undertaking that was a great commitment from Hill’s.” – Dan Richardson, DVM, DACVS.

At launch in early 1995, the partnership achieved over 500 million media impressions within a 45 day period and rapid engagement from the veterinary profession to educate pet owners and care for pet’s teeth. Elements of the campaign included:

A Veterinary Trade Announcement Press Conference and Press Kit

In-Clinic Promotional Materials and Suggested Press Materials including:  A Consumer “Healthy Smile” Pet Contest and a “Practice Builder” Contest

A National Media Tour Featuring Dr. Robert Wiggs

Free Local Market Dental Checks with Veterinary Medical Associations

Veterinary School and Veterinary Conference Dental Presentations

PetDental.com – one of the first veterinary websites

A Post-Pet Dental Health Month Survey of Veterinary Clinic Participation & Feedback

Over a several year period, the campaign has won multiple awards including the American Animal Hospital Association Gold Key Award of Excellence, the Public Relations Society of American Silver Anvil Award of Excellence and multiple local awards.

The campaign was recognized in the Colgate (Hill’s parent company) annual report with building the oral care category for pets.

As a result of the Hill’s representatives, the veterinary groups and diplomates initiatives and the campaign, the then provisional American Veterinary Dental College achieved permanent status.

Dental care is still celebrated during National Pet Dental Health Month. It is now a well established protocol of almost every veterinary practice and dental products are a mainstay of the pet products industry – and the sector continues to grow. Keeping their pet’s teeth healthy and having a healthy smile is now an accepted practice for pet owners.

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