Tech is Going to the Dogs

January 26, 2021

There are few things more personal than the relationship between humans and their pets. While people have lived and worked with domesticated animals for over 10,000 years, the symbiotic relationship was often task-related. However, that has changed significantly over the past 100 years. Petfoodindustry.com shared that according to Harris Poll, in the US, 95% of pet owners consider their furry companions to be part of the family— this is up 7 points from 2007. So how is our society integrating our fuzzy family members more fully into the fold? By bringing our ubiquitous tech into the lives of our beloved pets, of course.

Millennial Sized Growth

A Forbes Council post outlines one of the reasons that the pet retail market and pet tech, or PeTech, in particular, has seen such growth over the past decade. Millennials are now the largest consumer group globally, and many are getting married and having children much later in life. So, while their parents and grandparents had human children by age 30, many born after 1990 are choosing instead to adopt pets. The article notes that “millennials and Gen Z’ers now account for 62% of all pet owners, with only 32% of pets owned by older generations. And with younger generations treating their pets like a ‘firstborn child,’ they’re causing a huge shift in pet industry consumer preferences.”

An Ameritrade survey outlined the below particulars regarding millennials and their pets:

  • Seven in ten millennials own a pet
  • The majority of millennial pet owners see their pet as a ‘fur baby’
  • 68% of millennial pet owners would take leave to care for a new pet if their employer offered it
  • Millennials are prepared to spend up to almost $2,000, on average, if their pet gets becomes ill

As post-millennials join the workforce, it is very likely that they too will expect innovative and flexible technology solutions to address the manual tasks of feeding, cleaning, and caring for their pets, further adding to the growth of the market. Global Market Insights shared that while the PeTech market size was valued at over USD 4.5 billion in 2018, it is expected to grow at a CAGR of 24% over the next five years, exceeding $20 billion by 2025.

PeTech Categories

Just as we can program our coffee makers, thermostats, lights, music, and home security systems, it’s not surprising that we expect the same level of innovation and convenience in our interaction with our pets. The PeTech industry top five categories include:

  • Health & Wellness - As humans utilize technology to monitor their health more frequently, they are doing the same with their pets. Dog Walk helps you track daily walks with your beloved pal! It records routes, distance, and duration of each walk and logs all the exercise your puppy gets each day. PupTox.com is a handy crowd-sourced list of over 250 items that may be toxic dogs and cats. Should you need to connect to your vet, PetDesk enables owners to directly contact the veterinarians’ office, ask questions, make appointments, and manage all vital pet health information in one easy-to-find location.
  • Behavior - There are numerous apps and devices that help pet parents address pet training and behavior issues. Furbo's connection capabilities and real-time barking alerts can help break barking habits and alleviate separation anxiety. Puppr is a mobile app that includes step-by-step photo instructions and a built-in clicker to help you train your dog. GoodPup offers a hybrid training model that provides the benefit of personal dog training, but with more flexibility.
  • Safety - The global wearable tech market is projected to grow to approximately $106 billion by 2027, compared to $32 billion today, and part of that growth is driven by the pet sector. GPS trackers like Tagg and Whistle will notify you if your pet leaves a prescribed zone, tracks their movement, and helps pinpoint their location if lost.
  • Convenience - Our pets bring joy into our lives, but unfortunately, they also bring with them a downside, their waste. To the rescue have come automatic pet poop scooping solutions like the Litter-Robot. Its self-cleaning litter box scoops the litter and everything else away for you. Stressed over dealing with dog doo? No worries, Beetl is the Roomba for your yard that locates dog poop, rolls over to it, and picks it up.
  • Fun - Keeping your pet active and engaged can be a difficult task even if you are home more often. Does your dog love to fetch but always seem to want to play while you are on a video conference? iFetch can help. The creators made an interactive automatic ball launcher that will be your pet’s new best friend. Want to have a better connection with your cat? Well, like in all relationships, communication is key. 2020 has seen a leap forward in pet communication technology with the adoption of soundboards or sound buttons that help pets learn to communicate simple concepts with their human family members. FluentPet offers a system of recordable sound buttons designed to help pets to communicate.

COVID, Pets, And Tech

2020 has certainly been a disruptive year, but a WIRED article shared that one upside to the COVID 19 pandemic is that animal shelters are almost empty. According to Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, the rates of fostering and adoption have increased by 90 percent in some cities. Some New York City shelters are seeing adoption application numbers at ten times the normal rate. One Pennsylvania shelter saw its foster application numbers rise from three-to-five per week to 40 per day. With more pets at home, pet retailers and product suppliers are experiencing a boom. Chewy CEO Sumit Singh shared with CNBC that the firm reported a 45% growth in revenue in the quarter ended Nov. 1, the third consecutive three-month period of a nearly 50% increase in business in 2020. Singh said the company serves about 18 million customers and expects to see even more growth in the market in 2021.

State Of PeTech Funding

As the global pet market is predicted to continue to grow, Technologymagazine.com shared that venture capital is flooding into this industry, with funding for pet startups surging by 334% to $291.8 million in 2017, compared to $67.2 million in 2012, and more than $500 million being poured into the industry in 2018. PitchBook tracks various verticals and outlined 13 VC’s investing in pet technology.

  1. Digitalis Ventures has invested in Scratchpay, which matches pets and their owners to affordable veterinary care through technology that aggregates and analyzes different care providers.
  2. Felicis Ventures has invested in Wild Earth, a sustainable pet food brand that contains cultured protein and no animal by-products, giving pets all their nutritional needs.
  3. Boost Heroes invested in Kippy, a developer of a pet tracking device and mobile application designed to monitor the activities of pets.
  4. Bascom Ventures invested in DogSpot, a company that offers dog houses outside of storefronts, enabling owners to keep their dogs in a safe place while they shop or run errands.
  5. Founder Collectives, a seed-stage venture capital firm, invested in Embark, a company that offers DNA testing kits for dogs. The test kit looks at more than 200,000 genetic markers to provide insights to owners about their dogs’ disease risk, inheritable traits, breed ancestry, and more.
  6. Collaborative Fund invested in The Farmer’s Dog, a subscription-based pet health brand that delivers balanced, ready-to-serve personalized meal plans based on the dog's individual profile, including age, breed, size, and activity level.
  7. Structure Capital invested in Wag Labs, a dog walking mobile application intended to offer experienced and certified dog walkers instantly on the phone.
  8. SOSV, a multi-stage venture capital investor based in Princeton, New Jersey, invested in Petcube, the developer of a wireless pet camera that can be used to monitor pets and talk and play interactive laser games with them from anywhere using a smartphone. Other pet tech startups SOSV has invested in include Petronics, Bramble, Findster, GoBone, and Spare Leash.
  9. 500 Startups funded subscription-based treat startup BarkBox and online pet boarding marketplace Holidog.com.
  10. Slow Ventures invested in several pet tech companies, including animal DNA testing kit Embark and on-collar activity tracker Whistle.
  11. RRE Ventures invested in Fi, the developer of a smart dog collar that uses GPS and LTE-M to measure the steps a dog takes—for health purposes—and track its location anywhere in the US.
  12. Techstars provided funding in June 2020 to Petabolix—an intelligent nutrition program that provides advanced nutritional assessments and personalized diet recommendations for pets.
  13. Lerer Hippeau has invested in Ollie, the producer of ready-to-serve meals for dogs made with ingredients sourced from family-run farms and customized based on each dog’s nutritional needs.

The Future Of PeTech

As humans embark further upon the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the boundaries between our physical and digital worlds blur, the same will inevitably happen with the animals with whom we choose to share our homes. The Internet of Things (IoT) will continue to redefine how we interact with our families, environments, and of course, our pets. What does this mean for the tech startup landscape? While the PeTech market is vast and growing, most of the devices are disparate, standalone tools. There will be a move to convert all devices to smart technology. The real opportunity will lie in what to do with all the collected 'everyday data' once all our pets’ devices go online. Predictive algorithms will be able to track such things as water consumption, feeding patterns, and even track behavior changes that might reflect health issues warranting a trip to the veterinarian.

The pandemic has shifted where and how we work and learn. As we move towards 2021, a CNN.com article outlines how it is likely that many employers will continue WFH and a variety of hybrid work situations, allowing employees to choose what works best for them. With less time away from home, a greater need for companionship, and the much-touted mental health benefits that our furry friends offer, millennials and older Gen Z’s now entering the workforce will likely be more inclined to leap pet “parentship.” This will undoubtedly increase the demand for more PeTech options and will offer growth opportunities for startups ready to bring Rex and Fluffy into the digital age.