According to a new market research report, growth in the pet population, the increasing purchase of pet insurance by consumers, pet humanization with consumers calling themselves pet parents within the growing global urban population, and an increased awareness of animal welfare needs because of social media are helping the veterinary industry to maintain growth at 6.2% a year, globally. Worth $13.5 billion in 2017, the United States is the world’s largest pet care veterinary services market in terms of value, which is well ahead of the United Kingdom’s $2.6 billion.
All research is United States focused in nature.
Veterinary Practice Trends
- According to Constance Hardesty, MSc, an award-winning veterinary journalist that specializes in trends, technology, and business management, “while telemedicine is being widely adopted in the human healthcare model, it’s been slower to catch on in the veterinary world because of difficulty of negotiating the veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR), which mandates that veterinarians can’t diagnose or prescribe via electronic means unless they’ve previously seen the patient in the flesh.”
- However, because of COVID-19, this has changed. In March 2020, at the outset of the pandemic, the FDA made a decision to ease restrictions temporarily on the use of telemedicine by veterinarians so they could more easily treat pets during the crisis. Specifically, the FDA announced that “In order to help veterinarians utilize telemedicine to address animal health needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA generally does not intend to enforce the animal examination and premises visit portion of the VCPR requirements relevant to the FDA regulations governing Extralabel Drug Use in Animals…This will allow veterinarians to prescribe drugs in an extralabel manner…without direct examination of or making visits to their patients, which will limit human-to-human interaction and potential spread of COVID-19 in the community.”
- “This pandemic has had impacts on many of our everyday lives and professions, and during this time, we need to provide veterinarians with the latitude to expand the use of telemedicine in the care of animals, not only pets but also the animals that produce our food,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said in the press release.
- The sudden need for veterinarians to provide care remotely has prompted a deluge of solicitations from telemedicine platform providers and spurred uncertainty among practitioners, many of whom have logistical and safety concerns regarding privacy, medical record keeping and invoicing.
- Jack Advent, the executive director of the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association stated that “The hard part is trying to figure out how to charge for it, and making sure the communication with clients is captured appropriately in medical records. Once we’re through all this, I can see people coming back and revisiting this, and trying to get something established. When we get that window, we’d better be thinking about how we’re going to deal with telemedicine [post crisis].”
- Virtual care is one of the greatest opportunities, and challenges, facing medicine in this digital age. “Using telemedicine in the delivery of veterinary medical services offers benefits for clients, patients, and the profession. However, those veterinary services must be provided with professionalism and adhere to a high standard of quality, whether delivered in person or through electronic means.”
2. Big Data and Wearables
- Wearables to monitor pet health is a major trend in the treatment center segment, according to MarketResearch.com. It can be used to synthesize data, diagnose, and then assess potential diseases by veterinary practices.
- Wearables can be used to track an animal’s body temperature, heart rate, respiration rate, and pH levels among other things. This data can then be relayed to both the owners of the pets and to the veterinarians caring for them.
- Veterinarians can diagnose and treat diseases more effectively, accurately and faster by tracking the vital health parameters by using this technology. An example of this is AniV8’s collar-mounted device. “AniV8, Inc. is collaborating with Elanco Animal Health to evaluate AniV8’s wearable technology in research settings. It is based on high quality science, using patented proprietary algorithms and cloud-based data analytics to measure the quality, rather than quantity, of movement. It is the first wearable health monitor to diagnose and monitor osteoarthritis pain in dogs and cats in this way.”
- As illustrated by the graphic below, devices like wearables can take unstructured data and produce actionable insights from veterinarians that encourage proactive choices from owners and better long-term health outcomes for the pet.
- According to Bob Vetere, president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association, “with this big data, vets will be able to better take care of them, address their needs, and enhance their lives and ours.”
Consumer Pet Care Trends
1. Sustainable Pet Care Products
- This trend is shaping many industries, and not only pet care. It is a result of consumers’ desire to reduce their impact on the environment, and that starts with the kinds of products they purchase.
- Seventy-three percent of consumers, according to this 2018 Nielsen report, would change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment. They also expect clear product packaging which precisely indicates sustainability elements, and pet care brands are no exception.
- There is a growing number of pet care companies attempting to tackle the issue of sustainability by bringing more sustainable products to market and forging partnerships with retailers and recycling firms to help with recycling schemes.
- “From a pet food packaging perspective, I expect one overarching trend in 2020, and that is the continued adoption of sustainable packaging materials for pet food products,” said William Kuecker, vice president of marketing, North America, for Mondi Consumer Flexibles. “The packaging industry has been aggressively developing a variety of sustainable options for pet food brands that will continue to deliver the freshness, convenience and outstanding appearance that recent Mondi/Dow consumer research demonstrates consumers are seeking. These options will also allow brands additional opportunities to reach their corporate sustainability goals and for consumers to feel that a brand is aligning with their ideals and aspirations.”
- Don King, the vice president of marketing for Champion Petfoods also affirms that this is an important trend by asserting that: “[T]he call for sustainable farming practices, standards around animal welfare and visibility to the product creation process will be important as pet lovers increasingly demand accountability and respect for the impacts food making has on the world around us. Pet lovers continue to connect the dots between the quality of the food and food ingredients they put in their [own] bodies and their quality of life. This same thinking will impact their pet food purchase decisions in the year ahead.”
- For the pet industry to be truly successful at meeting sustainability needs, according to experts, the science behind the efforts at all levels will have to be present and constantly evolving. “Functional and nutritional claims to improve pet well-being are important to create brand differentiation,” said Juan Gomez-Basauri, Ph.D., global director for Alltech’s companion animal business. “Brand owners will be relying on proper scientific information; that is, science which is relevant to pets’ nutritional needs. Pet research can become quite expensive, but it is necessary for the pet’s benefit. Sustainability will continue to be part of the conversation, from upcycling to recycling, from sustainable packaging to sustainable ingredients, but the science behind these sustainable efforts needs to be there.”
2. Natural and/or Organic Pet Food
- Often when consumers use the terms organic or all-natural, they are indicating that they want food with whole, natural, and non-GMO ingredients. The ingredients should also be human-grade. The term “whole foods” refers to foods that are as close to their natural form as possible.
- In a study done by Farm Journal, more than 82% of U.S. households in the lower 48 states buy organic food on a regular basis, accounting for 5% of total U.S. food sales in the country. Organic pet food sales closely follow this rise.
- The organic trend has gone hand-in-hand with all natural and holistic pet food sales. Ingredients rich in Omega 3 and 6 for skin and coat health, along with natural prebiotics for digestion are being predicted to soar. Pet food that is all natural is also in high demand, and the demand will only continue in the years to come. All natural pet food contains minimally processed ingredients and no artificial additives.
- “Pet food makers have absolutely seen an increased shopper expectation for pet food products on the shelf that mirrors human food options,” says Mary Emma Young, senior director of communications for the Pet Food Institute. “Our society’s relationship to pets has evolved over the decades, with dogs and cats now being beloved members of the family,” she continues. “Whether it’s clean label, sustainability claims, functional nutrition or free-from claims, pet lovers increasingly look for labels and packaging that reflect their personal food philosophy and needs.”
- Fruits, vegetables, and alternative proteins are three ingredient trends for natural and organic pet food.
- The graph below illustrates the United States sales of natural and organic pet food from 2009-2019.
3. Pet Subscription Services
- From 2011 to 2016, subscriptions services have grown 100% for each of those years, and pet owners want to get in on this phenomenon. Eleven percent of US shoppers who purchase dog or cat food are interested in seeing more freshly-made pet meals delivered to their home.
- The driver of this trend are Millennials. Their preference for subscription-based services (33% of Millennials report being members of at least one retail subscription service) extends to their pets as well. In the US, pet owners aged 18-34 are more likely (17%) than older pet owners to express interest in the home delivery of freshly made pet meals, compared to 12 percent of pet owners aged 35-54.
- Moms and Millennials are two demographic cohorts that appear to be the largest number of subscribers to pet food delivery services. The drivers of this, according to pet food professionals, are “convenience, customizability and health concerns.”
- Younger consumers, according to market researchers, tend to show less brand loyalty than baby boomers or even Generation X. However, according to the results of a GfK survey, there may be a way to appeal to Generation Z and Millenials and get their loyalty.
- This study revealed that young people would be more devoted to a brand or retailer that allowed them to give input or help shape a product. Fifty-eight percent of the Generation Z respondents said they would be more loyal to a customizable product, compared to 32 percent of baby boomers.
- As an example of the rise of pet subscription services, “PetPlate, a direct-to-consumer subscription service that delivers pet meals, has closed a US$4 million seed round led by Dane Creek Capital. Other notable investors include Amity Supply, SWAT Equity, The Yard Ventures, Castor Ventures and BrandProject, PetPlate’s first institutional investor. The company will use the funds to scale operations to meet demand.”
4. Grain-Friendly Foods
- As vegan and vegetarian lifestyles in the U.S. have trended up, so has gluten and grain-free food. There has been a 600% increase in Americans switching to a vegan lifestyle in the last three years. “Vegans are also likely to want to provide a vegan lifestyle to their dogs.”
- Clearly there is an uptick in people choosing to be vegans and vegetarians. But, in the last year, “concerns about grain-free pet food have been raised by the FDA. The FDA is investigating a link between canine dilated cardiomyopathy and certain grain-free foods. No definitive link has been found at this time.”
- Based on this FDA investigation there have been pet food brands that have either reintroduced or have started to emphasize the importance of grains in a pet diet. Some marketing for that on the brand labels are “with wholesome grains,” “grain-inclusive,” “intentional grains” or “grain-friendly.” There are also brands that are synergizing and offering both grain-free and grain-inclusive diets “within the same product line in order to give consumers the variety they demand.”
- Some examples of that include “Natural Balance adding three grain-inclusive formulas to its limited ingredient dog food line; Canidae adding several dog diets to its PURE line that include wholesome grains such as oatmeal, barley and brown rice; and “I and love and you” brand offering dog formulas with ancient grains such as millet and sorghum.”
- In conclusion, while the exact nature of the correlation between grain-free food and DCM is still unknown, most vets now suggest avoiding grain-free food when possible.
5. Solutions-Based Products
- Today, consumers are investing in solution focused functional products not only for themselves, but for their pets as well. These products can be described “a life-stage formula, a performance supplement or a diet designed to target a specific health issue.”
- One example of a solution focused function food is a new line of formulas being released by Blue Buffalo. These products feature solution-based benefits “such as L-carnitine and less fat to maintain or lose weight, prebiotic fiber for high digestibility, Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids for skin and coat health, and glucosamine and chondroitin for mobility support.“
- Not to be left out, Purina has created a veterinary formula to tamp down a major cat allergen originating in feline saliva. “Called Fel d1, the formula includes an egg-based ingredient that contains Fel d1 antibodies and claims to have a 47% success rate after three weeks of feeding.”
- “Petcurean added skin and coat formulas to its GO Solutions line and also added a new salmon small bites recipe to its GO Sensitivities line.”
- In general, “the use of hemp oil and cannabidiol (CBD) in pet supplements offers health benefits and could be considered solution-based as a supplement. However, the future of these products is uncertain as they remain federally unregulated.”
6. ‘Lickable’ Treats, Wet Options and Rotational Feeding
- The trend of wet pet foods and treats from 2019 has not abated and was seen again this year at the Global Pet Expo. In fact, it has expanded to include “mousse textured supplements, frozen treats, bone broths and novel canned foods.”
- An example of a brand manifesting this trend is Caru Pet Food. “They added lickable smoothies to its Daily Dish line, which are wet treats that can be fed straight from the tube, over kibble as a meal enhancer or poured into a dish. The Daily Dish line also includes bone broths and wet “stew” diets for cats and dogs.”
- The Dogswell brand has launched a performance supplement for dogs, which is also considered a crossover into the solution based functional trend described in the prior trend. “Tiki Pets has come up with new mousse treats that also boast functional claims, such as skin and coat health, digestion support and a “light trim and fit” option for weight control.”
- Another brand following the lickable trend is Cloud Star. “They have debuted Ice Treats, a dairy-free human-grade frozen coconut treat for dogs.”
- One of the rising trends in dog nutrition is the idea of “rotation feeding”, that is, switching out the main protein in your dog’s diet. For example, feeding your dog duck, then lamb, then chicken, and then back to duck.
- Four benefits of rotational feeding for a dog are keeps things interesting for the pet, builds healthy digestive & immune systems, helps with flexibility and affordability, and optimizes diet options.
- The driver behind rotational feeding appears to be pet parents who believe that just as humans don’t like to eat the same thing every day, their pets don’t care to either.
- “Rotation feeding was introduced for those who were either making their own food or using recipes that they weren’t sure were properly balanced, and wanted to use ‘rotation’ as a form of improving the chance of a balance from the variety,” explains Dr. Oscar E. Chavez BVetMed MRCVS MBA, Chief Medical Officer at Just Food For Dogs.
The COVID-19 Effect — Pet Owners and Veterinarians
- Research has shown that veterinary professionals are already at high risk of suicide due to occupational stress, depression and burnout. COVID-19 is adding to that stress.
- Back in mid-March among, American veterinarians, professional concern was much higher than personal concern, but by the end of March into the first week of April, that gap narrowed. By early April, vets were nearly as concerned for their own personal safety as they are for the safety of their practices. Some of the biggest increases were seen in the United States; in mid-March just over a third were quite or extremely concerned from a personal perspective; by early April that had increased to 7 in 10.
- Based on research done at the end of the third week of May, veterinarians in the United States foresee some improvement in the effect of coronavirus on their practice, but the overriding sentiment is the situation will remain unchanged for the immediate future.
- The majority of veterinarians in the United States continue to be implementing some client footfall limiting practices, Principally these measures continue to be phoning to assess urgency (45%) and asking clients to wait outside while staff assess pets inside the clinic (89%). More veterinarians are seeing non-emergency cases now.
- A sign of recovery is a steady increase in the reported number of client visits. The US has seen a particularly large increase since the previous wave (54%).
- While there is still a decline in revenue for a good proportion of veterinarians, some can see the light at the end of the tunnel with a reported increase in revenue. The US is showing an increase of 51% since the previous wave.
- A Packaged Facts April 28/May 5, 2020, survey of pet owners reveals that among adults overall, 8% report having adopted a pet specifically because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting stay-at-home period. By type of pet, among current pet owners, 9% of dog owners have adopted a pet specifically because of the pandemic compared with 10% of cat owners, and with 13% of those with other types of pets (including fish, birds, small mammals and reptiles).
- While 8% of adults overall have adopted a pet because of COVID-19, that rate climbs to 19% among those with children under-age six in the home and rises to 10–11% among those with children ages six–17 at home.
- Pet adoption has been heaviest for “other” types of pets, rather than dogs or cats as the most popular types of pets, because pet adoption also ties in to a multiple-pets in household trend. “Among recent pet adopters, 90% have a pet dog, compared with 75% of pet owners overall, and 70% have a cat, compared with 56% of pet owners overall.“
- Across the United States, from New York to Wisconsin and North Carolina to Colorado and New Mexico, animal shelters are reporting huge upticks in the numbers of animals they’ve been able to adopt out or place in foster homes.
- When you have been ordered to shelter at home, and even touching someone has become forbidden, many people have turned to animals for companionship. “Being socially isolated, you’re at risk for depression and loneliness, and, in older adults, we know loneliness is associated with early death, Alzheimers,” says Sandy Branson, who researches the impact of pets on well-being at the University of Texas’ Cizik School of Nursing. “They think it’s as serious as smoking cigarettes.” According to Branson’s research, while pets cannot completely fill the void left by isolation from other humans, they do provide emotional support, fulfill the human need for touch, and offer significant relief to their caretaker’s stress and anxiety levels. “Giving to another being is a reason to wake up in the morning,” Branson says.
- COVID-19 has also brought its share of challenges to the pet-adoption world. “One of the reasons fostering rates are so high is that adoption rates have been slower to skyrocket because of simple logistics. Big, open house-style, animal-human meet-and-greets that are ordinarily a shelter staple are simply not possible during a viral outbreak, so many shelters are hosting adoption visits only via appointment and are having people collect animals curbside, or making the whole process, from first meeting to home inspection, virtual.”
- Even though it is undisputed that there has been a marked increase in pet adoption, recent data suggests that overall adoption trends have leveled out over the past two months because there aren’t enough animals available to adopt.
- Based on the data from 24PetWatch, “fostering for cats has skyrocketed, while dogs in new foster homes have tapered off.”