There isn’t a single industry that hasn’t been touched by the digital revolution, but the rate at which development has occurred amongst them has varied wildly. The pet care sector is one of these industries that has been particularly lagging behind, with very little development pre-2010’s.
Pet-tech, the umbrella term to cover anything pertaining to technology around pet welfare, generally conjures up images of automatic food dispensers and robotic litter boxes, but is there more to it? Simply, yes, and we expect to see huge growth over this decade.
This space has indeed been dominated by clunky pieces of hardware, which took a very rudimentary approach to innovation; “hey, let’s find a solution for the things people don’t like about being a pet owner and build it”. This paved the way for mechanical solutions to all the things involved in pet ownership such as the simple automatically timed feeders, and litter-boxes mentioned above, to more high-tech solutions such as wifi-enabled smart feeders and cameras that include laser pointers and treat dispensers, all connected via an app.
The problem with the current offering of products, however, is the focus on improving the human’s life, as opposed to the pet’s. Earlier this year, reports about hundreds of pets going hungry went viral, when PetNet, a smart feeder connected to wifi, suffered a week-long system failure. While this device touted the benefits of punctual feeding times and properly weighed out portions, ultimately, the product was created to make up for the owner’s shortcomings, and ended up doing exactly what it’s meant to help fix. Arguably, part of being a pet-owner is taking responsibility for these simple tasks oneself.
By putting the animal’s welfare and quality of life at the forefront is where we’re truly starting to see exciting developments. Pet health has been growing in popularity, particularly in the areas of customised solutions around food. Swathes of companies have entered this space, using algorithms (and some even claiming to use AI) on their websites and apps to create the perfect blends of food based on factors such as their age, health, breed and activity levels. While these certainly can benefit your pet, they merely scratch the surface of what the future could hold.
Access to important services has increased considerably over the past 5 years, but we expect this to grow even more. There are already a handful of big players, either within the aggregation of specific pet-related merchants, or in the provision of on-demand services; which has made it easier than ever to find and secure appointments.
At Rhino Ventures Asia we are currently building a company that aims to take things a step further. The aptly named MyPetGo, will not only offer a full service online ecosystem for all your pet service needs, but importantly will offer a wearable device to track all of your pet’s vital signs and activity levels. With these readings, real AI technology will then provide custom-made solutions to treat any identified issues, including the addition or removal of specific ingredients in their diets, or even suggesting trips to the vet for more serious indications. At the moment, the tracker is also capable of identifying the pets’ movement and sleep patterns, as well as changes in body scratching levels, which could be important indicators of an increase in stress or anxiety levels. While this is already a huge leap forward, we think it’s possible to push it even further; with the advancements in facial recognition and AI, we could be looking at a future where we can read our pets’ mood based purely on their posture or their tail’s shake.
Further developments over the following decade that we’ll be exploring alongside veterinary research institutes, will include the ability to provide at-home testing kits allowing pet owners to take swabs and urine or blood samples to identify any internal irregularities. Again, these results could be fed into the MyPetGo dashboard for each pet, and provide recommendations on further steps. These kits have proved particularly popular with humans for all kinds of testing, including DNA, and it won’t be long before this shifts over to the pet market.
Insurance for pets has existed for decades, and has been favoured by the North American and European markets. Interestingly, in Asia this service never took off. In December 2020 we conducted a small study at Rhino Ventures Asia on pet ownership in Singapore, and we discovered that the lack of popularity was not due to a lack of interest, but simply due to a lack of awareness and/or reliable information on services. With this knowledge of a clear gap in the market, MyPetGo will also be offering insurance packages, but not in the archaic fashion of long-winded claim forms and unexpected excesses. By harnessing data from the MyPetGo wearable tracker and collar, paired with intelligent process automation, we will be able to offer simplicity, fairness and total peace of mind to pet owners when it comes to insuring for any unexpected issues.
We believe that part of being a responsible pet owner is considering the impact of one’s activities on the planet. We’ve been delighted to see more and more existing big name brands offering organic or sustainably sourced food options, alongside smaller players entering the game with ethical products. While cats are obligate carnivores, dogs aren’t, so there has been a lot of exciting growth in creating nutritionally complete, yet meat free options for dogs. Similarly, the majority of dog waste bags that are being sold in major pet retailers across Singapore have switched to compostable materials. As we continue making strides within low carbon emission meat-free human foods, we have no doubt that this will also be the case with pet foods.
Being a key player within this market in Asia, we understand and respect the responsibility that we possess. Our main priority is to keep the pet at the centre of what we do, while considering our impact on the planet. In early 2021 we’ll be launching our online ecosystem for all your pet’s service needs, and toward the end of the first quarter we’ll be releasing the first wave of prototype tracker collars. With these products together we’ll be the closest we have ever been to being able to communicate with our pets. Exciting times ahead!