More pet parents are starting to see that technology is a good way to keep their fourfooted friends healthy and at the right weight – and to keep track of their movements.
Scientific innovations used for human purposes are now being applied to promote pets’ well-being. And the pet humanization trend of recent years is reflected in technology, with a great increase in demand for different kinds of devices from pet parents around the world. Today, it’s not unusual to see dogs or cats with something attached to their collar to monitor their activity or track their location.
“People don’t know the answer to questions about how much exercise or the amount of food their dog needs, and that’s where activity monitoring comes in,” says CEO and co-founder of PitPat, Andy Nowell.
Between 2020 and 2021, this UK developer of a pet tracking device for dogs shipped 39% more of its products. At the same time, the UK pet population increased by 10% to more than 9 million and a new type of pet owner appeared on the scene, the so-called millennial or Gen Y generation. They account for the majority of customers that purchase a wearable tech device, mainly wanting to know how far their pet has gone and what the dog is doing while they’re out. Others use wearable devices to measure agility, or do crosscountry running with dogs, a sport called Canicross.
According to PitPat, around 100,000 dogs in the UK have now been fitted with activity monitoring devices.
Data clarifies pet needs
Dirk van der Liden, Senior Lecturer at Northumbria University, and author of a set of studies analyzing the role of such devices on pets, believes that tools like these can really help pet parents improve their pet care. “There is a potential for objective sensor data, with appropriate validated algorithms and interpretation, which can be translated into clear instructions about what our pets need,” he said in an interview with GlobalPETS.
According to Van der Liden, these devices can help to avoid unnecessary weight gain. “Pet obesity is such a massive issue in many countries, and obviously most pet owners don’t intend to let their dogs get too heavy, but simply don’t realize they’re doing things wrong, or are on the wrong path.”
Although pet parents are the main targeted purchasers, wearable devices have also proved useful to veterinarians – especially as part of a telemedicine service since the pandemic – as well as to universities and pharma companies. They are even used for military purposes.
The state of play
The wearable tech segment is chiefly made up of small start-up companies that compete with other pet industry players such as food producers, insurers or large retailers. But this may change in the near future. “All the big players are extremely interested. They are all into it, and they will jump into the field in one way or another,” said Asaf Dagan, co-founder of the US smart dog and cat collar manufacturer PetPace.
One of the most significant investments so far has been the acquisition of the Whistle pet monitor and GPS tracker by multinational Mars Petcare. Data companies are predicting that the segment will be worth between $2.4 billion (€2.1B) and $3.5 billion (€3.1B) in the coming years, with an annual increase ranging between 13.5% and 25% by 2025.
The general consensus among industry players is that the segment is consolidating in top markets such as the US and some European countries, while countries in Asia have been seeing many new launches in the market in recent times.
Developments in Asia
One of the Asian markets to watch is South Korea, where it is believed that 19% of the pets are fitted with wearable tech. Seoul-based PurrSong, the developer of an innovative self-cleaning cat litter box, has recently launched a new smart fitness tracker for cats. “The number of people visiting veterinary clinics has decreased in the recent pandemic years. This has increased pet owners’ interest in pet well-beingrelated devices that can supplement regular checkups at clinics,” said the company’s International Sales Manager Seunghee Hong.
Forecasts for the Japanese market are also optimistic. Langualess Technology already sells a harness device for dogs that measures health parameters such as heart rate, and it is expecting to launch a new collar-type device in the local market this year. The company believes that ‘many pet owners in Japan want to take even better care of their pets’. Its products use a Heart Rate Variability (HRV) measurement to analyze the pet’s mood, happiness, concentration and stress.
Awareness and added value
Despite the segment’s potential, there are still some challenges that companies will soon have to face. Awareness is one of them.
“All our market surveys show very clearly that once people understand what you’re telling them, and they see the value of wearable tech, there is a strong will to buy it,” commented Dagan from PetPace.
“It is a matter of putting the message across. The value is there and the need is there. It’s about getting the word out and creating awareness.”
According to Andy Nowell from PitPat, the concept of the GPS tracker is better known among pet parents, but there is still work to do in convincing them of the added value of activity monitors. “Data shows that rough search volumes for GPS trackers are 5 times higher than for activity monitors.”
Companies are also looking to improve the hardware for these pet devices. This technology has to be developed from scratch, as it’s not possible to adapt existing products developed for humans. “There is a barrier to market access in terms of the cost of building the device,” PitPat CEO Andy Nowell reminded us.
Other concerns are about the privacy of these devices and how companies use the data. “Humans and dogs are closely linked in their behavior, so dog data does indirectly reveal a lot about the humans with them,” admits Dirk van der Liden from Northumbria University. In one of his studies, he found that many pet wearables do not yet clearly state how they treat and store the data they collect from pets. “This is definitely a concern that needs to be addressed, as the pet data from these devices is valuable in its own right and sought after by other companies in the pet sector.”
The use and interpretation of pet data is also something that companies are looking at closely. “What does it mean if I tell you that your dog’s pulse is 68 and yesterday it was 65?” asks Asaf Dagan, whose company has over a billion data points, with thousands of animals providing data daily. “No one has had this type of data before. It is a brand-new world.”
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