Growing numbers of pets world-wide, and an increasing willingness among their owners to spend large sums of money on them, present significant opportunities. However, there are also growing concerns about health risks to humans and the need to monitor pets more effectively. Pet owners may be willing to help.

What is changing?

The number of pets in the world is rising, although the precise number is difficult to establish. Estimates put the total for cats and dogs at about 704 million – 432 million dogs and 272 million cats – then there are several million others such as rabbits, fish, birds to name but a few. Emerging nations are showing strong growth especially China and India, but also Brazil and Vietnam as disposable income increases.

The market has also remained resilient despite the downturn – although there were significant increases in the numbers of abandoned pets for a while. The growth in numbers has been accompanied by significant market growth for pet care products of all types, the total market for which was valued at $80 billion in 2010. By 2015 that could rise to $97 billion which will reflect slower annual growth of about 3%. With companionship remaining the main reason for purchasing a pet, closely followed by guarding, demographic changes are likely to continue to spur that growth, as populations age and the number of single person households continues to increase. Owners also increasingly regard their pets as a member of the family, encouraging them to spend more on their pets.

Market growth has also brought a growing array of new goods and services and innovation is regarded as essential to success.

As a result, that market growth has also brought a growing array of new goods and services and innovation is regarded as essential to success. Luxury hotels for dogs are growing in number and provide individual beds or baskets, settees, walks, and special diets etc., so that the pet can have a holiday too and owners are reassured. In Japan, owners are buying pets lavish clothes – dog kimonos and fake fur coats. Shops such as Ikea, have been experimenting with small kennels or special mats and bowls so that dogs can be left in comfort and safety while their owners shop. And pets now also have their own social networking site – courtesy of their owners! Petsnearby provides not only the opportunity for owners to chat, but also a detailed database of pet services and pet friendly places from parks to cafes.

But, there is also growing concern about health issues and pets. There have been new calls by scientists that there should be far more extensive and more consistent monitoring of pets for potential zoonosis threats (diseases which can pass from animals to humans). Pet food can also pose a threat and there are growing numbers of health related problems such as salmonella picked up from feeding pets in kitchens.

Why is this important?

Products and services for pets may be not only a direct opportunity, but pet friendly services may also be a competitive advantage for other businesses such as cafes and shops.

Pet friendly services may also be a competitive advantage for other businesses such as cafes and shops.

New technologies are enabling new approaches. Tagging and GPS are already being used to let owners know where their dogs are when they go for walks with dog walkers; likewise, they could assist and support registration – although permanent monitoring may raise privacy issues.

Pet  / pet owner social networking sites provide a potential source of research, monitoring and citizen science, an informal way of tracking problems and concerns, spotting emerging issues, recruiting people to participate in and actively engage with research projects – in the interests of their pets – and themselves. This could spill over into research into human health as well.

Pets have also been found to share many of the same diseases as humans – they are exposed to the same pollutants and conditions as their owners. Some animal and human health research projects are beginning to explore the way in which data can be shared or joint projects developed. Where self-interest, as well as pet interest, is engaged, pet owners may prove to be a fertile group for recruiting citizen scientists to help with research and monitoring.

By Sheila Moorcroft

About the author

Sheila has over 20 years experience helping clients capitalise on change – identifying changes in their business environment, assessing the implications and responding effectively to them. As Research Director at Shaping Tomorrow she has completed many futures projects on topics as diverse as health care, telecommunications, innovation management, and premium products for clients in the public and private sectors. Sheila also writes a weekly Trend Alert to highlight changes that might affect a wide range of organisations.