It’s no secret pet ownership soared during the pandemic, as people turned to four-legged friends to cope with lockdowns and loneliness. In the UK alone, 3.2 million households welcomed a new pet. But with the boom, came the realization that pet care needs modernization and to follow in the footsteps of our own rapidly-evolving health care.

Pet care ultimately mirrors the human health and wellness market – it reflects the ways in which we compartmentalize and utilize services for ourselves. We wouldn’t expect our food, health, beauty, and fitness services in one place – so, why should our pets’? Rather than vets being responsible for all things animal, the pet marketplace is seeing an “unbundling” of services, where new providers focus on specific needs. 

Yet, much like new pets, loyalty doesn’t come naturally to newcomers. Companies in the marketplace need to stay atop of emerging trends or risk going walkies quickly. These are the areas pet startups need to master in 2022.

Offer premium services to meet pets’ (and owners’) niche needs

Pet owners are more conscious than ever of their pets’ – and their own – preferences. This awareness brings about a greater willingness to pay for these preferences. In fact, 51% of pet owners say they’d spend more on ethical, sustainable products.

Startups need to seize the chance to break away from classic consumer, packaged goods companies that handle a portfolio of products. Whereas traditional pet sector giants, like Pets at Home, focus on appealing to everyone, new players can link their products to pet owners’ self-image. A vegan may prefer vegan food for their pet, or a fashionista may shop for matching outfits. Pets are an extension of their owners’ personalities and values. Thus, the market will launch more customized products, for pets and people alike, to showcase their shared identity.

The online pet marketplace allows new brands to reach niche audiences easily and directly. Customers used to go through e-commerce sites for specialized products, now they can find specialty pet care companies. Subscription models can also generate higher customer lifetime value, enabling companies to invest more in marketing and customer service, which further strengthens the consumer-business relationship. 

Use big data & AI to make vet care accessible & affordable

Pet health has been based on the veterinary system, where owners booked in-person appointments and dealt with limited locations and business hours. However, this model hasn’t changed for 50 years and veterinary clinics don’t have the resources or technological expertise to serve pet owners in the digital shift.

However, trends from human health have crossed over into pet care. Just as telehealth, tracking, AI, and remote diagnostics have transformed how we access medical services, that tech is now catering to pets too. Services like Fuzzy Pet Health and AskVet give pet owners access to 24/7 online care, eliminating the dependency on centralized vet support. Plus, the care is personalized and often more affordable, offered on a subscription basis rather than hefty one-off fees. The subscription model has already proven to be popular in human health because of its flexibility and cost-effectiveness. 

The idea isn’t to replace vets but to use data and technology to make pet care more convenient. Pets are easier to track and are more compliant than humans: making it easier to monitor, and control, their diets and amount of physical activity, and routines can be modified and detect stronger correlations in data results. Also, the pet industry doesn’t have the same data restrictions (e.g. no GDPR) so parties can easily exchange insights.

“Modularize” to make small lifestyle changes, with a big impact

Nearly 70% of owners plan to change how they care for their pets after the quarantine last year. And while pet owners know that they’re responsible for their animals, they don’t always have the know-how to assess the risks their pets face. To ensure that owners have the tools for preventative pet care (not just diagnostic care) the whole value chain is being “modularized” to give people more granular, in-depth pet support. Just look at pet medication delivery companies like PetFriendly and Mixlab, pet DNA testing like Embark and Wisdom Panel, or pet health insurance like Trupanion and Wagmo.

These modules fragment the comprehensive vet sphere for the better. Startups don’t just focus on a niche area of pet care, they create an entirely new veterinary experience. For example, startups that have designed high-touch clinics with a strong digital companion app and financial coverage, or have combined remote support with home visits.

Companies that modularize equally provide actionable steps for pet owners. An activity tracker may show the number of calories burned by a dog, but the numbers alone aren’t sufficient. A modular solution would offer alerts if calorie trends change, provide health tips based on the data, and create a virtual competition board with other pets.

The growing number of pets worldwide is driving demand for higher quality care and pet lifestyle options. Pet startups have the advantage of having witnessed how the human wellness market has drastically pivoted and can mirror their value proposition on these changes. Armed with the trends and tech from human health, pets are set to be treated the same as any family member.

This piece was authored by Álvaro Gutiérrez, co-founder and co-CEO of Barkibu, a Spanish startup on a mission to make pet care better, more affordable, and more personalized