Goodie has room on the inside for medicine

By Bruce C. Smith bruce.smith@indystar.com

Sooner or later, almost all dog or cat owners learn the real meaning of frustration when their pet is sick. A veterinarian prescribes pills, but the pet will have nothing to do with them.

The owner may resort to trickery, trying to hide a pill in a lump of cheese, chunk of bologna or other food the pet devours. But minutes later, the pet owner is likely to find the soggy remnants on the floor.

Rob Puma thinks he can help owners medicate their pets without resorting to stressful experiences such as prying open their jaws to jam a pill down the critter’s throat.

He’s developed and applied for a patent on a doggie treat he calls Medi-Crunch — a specially designed treat with a crunchy shell around a smooth peanut buttery interior that can hide a pill.

The Northside Indianapolis man invented the product as part of a project for a master’s level business class at Butler University a few years ago. His two classmates didn’t care to follow up years later to market the idea.

It percolated for a while and Puma, 30, perfected the design in his home kitchen, then formed Innovative Concepts Group last year to make and market the product.

“We just figured it out at home and tested it and found that it really worked well. Most dogs will take their medicine” that has been hidden inside a Medi-Crunch treat, he said. Derek Bogard, of Fishers, who is president of Immediate Payment Solutions, recently joined as a partner to provide financing and other help to get Puma’s idea off the ground.

They’ve started by placing it for sale in the offices of at least 40 veterinarians and the small animal hospital at Purdue University. Dr. Lori Corriveau at Purdue in West Lafayette said, “We’ve been using it quite a bit here, and we find at least 90 percent of the dogs will take (medicines) this way.”

That percentage could be higher when the dogs are home and taking the pill-laced treat from their owners in familiar surroundings, she said. “It is kind of crunchy with a soft center, where you can slide in a pill without getting all messy, and he (Puma) seems to use good ingredients,” she said.

While he’s still making fairly small numbers of treats, they are handmade. The shells are baked in an Indianapolis bakery. Then smooth peanut butterlike filling is stuffed by hand by workers at Sycamore Services, a nonprofit agency in Danville that helps find jobs for disabled people. Packages of 20 Medi-Crunch treats — about the right number for two pills a day for 10 days — are sealed in a reusable plastic bag that sells for about $6.

“We’ve had some similar products, but most are no longer available, and this one works,” said Castleton-area vet Dr. Jim Dechand. “The dogs really like the texture. Most accept it, and it is affordable.

“There is much less mess, and a lot less stress for the pets and the people. The dog takes the medicine and gets better,” Dechand said. “That seems simple, but there isn’t much else like it on the market.”

Other local vets mentioned competing products but most were soft pellets of meat-flavored treats with a hole or pocket in the middle. Puma said his is different because the crunchy shell exterior gets a dog into a chewing action to get the pill down.

He also points to the nutritional value of his products compared to other ways pet owners try to help their pets pop a pill. A Medi-Crunch has just 6 calories and 2 grams of fat, compared to 175 calories and 16.5 grams for fat in a one-eighth pound of hamburger, or 90 calories and 8 fat grams in a hot dog, or 80 calories and 10 fat grams in a piece of cheese. “This way is healthier for the pets than cheese or other things,” Dechand said.

Puma sees unlimited market potential if he can get Medi-Crunch into wide distribution. There are about 52 million dog owners in the country. About 70 percent face the struggle of giving medicine. The next challenge is to add variations, such as three sizes of treats to fit small, medium and large breed dogs. And then he’s onto the really picky eaters, cats, who might be enticed with a different smooth center, such as a fishy flavor.

“I’ve heard that cat owners spent more for pet food last year in this country then parents spent for baby food,” he said.

This article originally appeared in the Indianapolis Star and was written by Bruce C. Smith bruce.smith@indystar.com.