Location:
Ventura, California
Founded:
2015

Co-founder Russ Kamalski takes a preventative health approach to treating pets through the use of nutritional supplements.

When Kamalski’s dog Sienna began suffering from arthritis, he
didn’t recognize the early signs. “And that made me feel really bad,” he says, “because
I felt like I am an educated guy. I’ve been in the health and wellness arena
for a big part of my career.”

Kamalski has helped to run a health and fitness company,
which sells the nutritional supplements it has developed. “I have connections
with biomolecular scientists and formulation scientists,” he says. So, with
their help, he set about creating a supplement for his aging pet. Soon, friends
and relatives began asking for samples, which led to the eventual decision to
start his own company with digital marketing expert and co-founder Chris Mattock.

Today, Pet Wellness Direct offers two different products for
dogs experiencing joint and arthritis issues. One is for early-stage
cases, incorporating ingredients like glucosamine, MSM, and vitamins C and E.
The advanced
formula
goes even further via the addition of green-lipped mussels
from New Zealand, which Kamalski notes within a product video are “350 times more powerful at reducing
inflammation than salmon oil or fish oil,” as well as sea cucumber, which is “an
incredible source of natural chondroitin
that’s going to help reduce pain and inflammation.”

Kamalski has also noted how cancer rates in cats and dogs are
on the rise. “It’s frightening,” he says. It was a veterinarian treating his
own dog for cancer who first told Kamalski about the immune-boosting properties
of turkey tail
mushrooms. Now, Kamalski incorporates turkey tail — as well as shiitake, maitake,
and reishi
mushrooms — into his Critical
Immune Defense
product for cats and dogs. Kamalski also points to
the anti-inflammatory properties of the white turmeric the company adds, which
is “odorless, colorless, and it’s more bioavailable, which means it absorbs
into the pet’s body more readily.”

If some of those ingredients sound familiar to consumers of
human healthcare products, that’s because they are. Kamalski says, “We like to
look at the human space and look at innovation in the human sector and say, ‘How
does it apply to the world of pets?'”

Pet Wellness Direct’s VetSmart formulas are manufactured
within GMP facilities on both the East and West Coast, without the use of “artificial
flavors, colors, [or] fillers.” A board of advisors, which includes
veterinarians, offers input about products and ingredients. “They help us,” Kamalski says. “They advise us. And they are proactive, pro-preventative health
care. They believe in wellness, not just treating an issue when it happens.”

Despite not being sold in retail stores, Kamalski says, “We’ve been growing exponentially each year.” In addition to being offered
through the company’s website, VetSmart products are sold online through Chewy,
Amazon, Walmart, and — starting next quarter — Petco.

The company’s range of products also includes an oral spray,
incorporating aloe vera, to prevent tooth decay and oral disease in cats and
dogs. “They’ll get less tartar and plaque, which means they have less chance of
getting oral disease and having a tooth pulled,” Kamalski says.

Photos courtesy Pet Wellness Direct

There’s also a probiotic
formulation for dogs. And his latest two offerings for dogs arrived just in
time for outdoor flea season: a shampoo
to “kill fleas without harsh chemicals or toxins,” according to the company’s
website, and an in-home spray. “It has enough cedarwood oil that it gets the job done — which in this case is
to kill fleas,” Kamalski says of the two products that also incorporate
rosemary and lemongrass oils.

And there’s more to come. Kamalski plans on releasing up to
three new products per year over the next five years. “We’re building the
business,” he says. “We’re excited to be able to help pets.”

Challenges: “I think the biggest challenge is cutting through
the noise in the marketplace and helping consumers to make better purchase
decisions,” says Kamalski. “So, being able to get through to the consumer in an
effective manner and tell the story and educate them is really a challenge.”

The company utilizes Facebook and YouTube
videos
to draw in consumers. On the company’s website, there are
side-by-side comparisons of the amounts of the ingredients within Pet Wellness
Direct’s products versus other brands on the market. “They’re stronger; they’re
more powerful; they deliver better and longer lasting results,” he says of what
he terms his “veterinarian strength” formulations. “We don’t use cheap
ingredients,” he adds.

Opportunities: Kamalski says it’s more consumers valuing “preventative measures for their pet — as opposed to waiting until there’s a
problem like I did initially, you know, where my dog’s limping or my dog sits
down in the middle of a walk. It’s too late.”

Needs: Kamalski says, “Consumers with an open mind that are
willing to listen to the message and willing to spend money to prevent issues
down the line — which are far more costly, by the way. They’re actually doing
themselves a great service in terms of their pet and their [pet’s] health and
their longevity — but, also, in terms of their wallet.”

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