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The Catspad smart pet assistant with the ability to remotely schedule and control food portions is displayed during CES Unveiled at the 2018 CES in Las Vegas
Image: The Catspad smart pet assistant with the ability to remotely schedule and control food portions is displayed during CES Unveiled at the 2018 CES in Las Vegas. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

The Billion-Pound UK Pet Tech Market

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Image: The Catspad smart pet assistant with the ability to remotely schedule and control food portions is displayed during CES Unveiled at the 2018 CES in Las Vegas. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

As a nation, the United Kingdom loves to treat their pets. From stylish dog beds to gourmet treats, grooming products to feline fitness trackers, the market for pet products is huge and — unlike many industries in the current climate — booming.

In the UK, pet owners spend £18m a year on dogs and cats.  That figure doesn’t take into consideration the pricey parrot cages, deluxe bunny hutches, terrariums, aquariums, and vivariums that more exotic species need. According to research by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, which conducts an annual pet ownership survey, the number of UK households with a pet has risen for 2018. The latest figures indicate that at 45%, almost half of British households, have an animal, with 51 million pets in total.

Pet Gadgets on the Rise

Not only do 51 million pets eat a large amount of food, they also enjoy a lot of treats and, increasingly, human-level lifestyle perks. Mintel data for 2015 indicates that dogs receive £200 worth of clothing every year, and a survey by Petplan showed that almost a third of owners treat their pets more often than their partners.

As with people, the technology market for pets is growing apace. In 2016, the global pet wearables market was estimated to be worth US$1.09bn, and is expected to reach US$2.36bn by 2022. Some analysts have even suggested it won’t be long before pet parents are spending more on tech for their pets than they do on their food. The following are some of the pet gadgets raking in sales and investments right now.

Pet Wearables and Fitness Trackers

For the dedicated UK pet owner with disposable cash, there is no limit to the number of products and services on offer. Savvy tech entrepreneurs are constantly coming up with new ways to help owners indulge their impulses or soothe their separation anxiety — for a price.

As with humans, pet obesity has become a problem, and the solutions for it are startlingly similar to those designed for people. Specialised canine treadmills like those offered by Surrey-based FitFurLife can run into the thousands, while the range of wearable fitness trackers for animals has exploded to rival the choice on offer to people.

A smartphone app monitors the activity levels of a pet in Hong Kong
Images: A smartphone app monitors the activity levels of a pet in Hong Kong. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Cambridge company PitPatPet, which makes a collar-mounted ‘Fitbit for dogs’, recently received investment from insurance behemoth RSA, proving there is backing from corporate giants for the right products.

Even the phone networks are getting in on the action, with Vodafone picking up the Kippy Vita dog fitness device, bundling it with one of their data SIMs and rebranding the package ‘Vodafone V-Pet‘.

That data SIM is a key part of the picture. Ongoing service and support is a lucrative area for pet tech companies, with GPS trackers and some fitness devices requiring a subscription that can be charged indefinitely, opening up a business model that’s worked well in other areas of tech.

Remote Pet Home Monitoring

For the more house-based animal, the smart home trend has expanded into pet products that allow remote monitoring, with some petcams including microphones allowing owners to talk with their pets from work, holiday, or just down the road should they so desire.

Tech giant Acer is one of the many companies innovating in this space, having acquired petcam company Pawbo in 2016. At the announcement of the acquisition at the IFA tech trade show in Berlin, Acer CEO Jason Chen noted that “The global pet population is growing so rapidly, in the US the pet numbers are 2X the baby numbers,” illustrating why this was a smart new avenue for the company to pursue.

Pawbo now sells a whole range of pet tech products, with the main one being its Pawbo+ connected camera that allows owners to check in on pets remotely. This is something any smart home monitor could offer, so Pawbo focused on pet-specific details, including a built-in laser pointer game, a treat dispenser, sound effects to attract pets to the camera, a microphone so owners can talk to them directly, and even a pair of lights shaped like cat ears to ensure the fun doesn’t end after dark. Starting at just under £150, when many generic connected cameras cost less than half that, it’s not hard to see why Acer is chasing this market.

Pawbo co-founder Eason Deng told Alvexo that the camera, and the company behind it, came from a marriage of the founders’ interest in the internet of things (IoT) and co-founder Dave Zhang’s affection for his own five cats:

“Pawbo’s goal became to empower people to be able to see, hear, talk to and play with their pets even when they couldn’t physically be with them, enhancing how owners could care for their beloved pets.

The pet technology industry has seen huge developments in the last few years, with pet lovers wanting to know how their furry friends are getting on when they’re at home or out and about. Through a smartphone, the Pawbo Life app and a range of Pawbo products, they are able to watch a livestream and talk to their pets, feed them treats and encourage them to exercise all in just a few clicks.”

The exercise component of the equation is important, with many companies offering tech-enhanced toys that don’t require the owner to spend time and energy entertaining their pets — just money. For instance, Pawbo offers an automated cat teaser at £39, while iFetch’s automatic ball launchers for dogs run into the hundreds. With some affluent owners even buying pricey drones and smartphone-driven toys designed for humans as fun distractions for their furry friends, it’s not hard to see how the totals mount up.

The Future of Pet Tech

As with any growing market, there is always a chance the bubble will burst. However, it doesn’t look that way for pet tech products. An investment tracker of animal-related companies called the Pet Passion Index has been outperforming the market, returning a gain of 19% in the year to 2017 compared with 8.5% on the stalwart S&P 500 over the same period.

So what’s next for this growth industry? Pawbo’s Deng thinks prices are likely to come down, opening up the market to more consumers:

“The future of the pet technology market is hard to predict, but it is becoming more mainstream and accessible to all pet owners. Every pet owner wonders what their cat or dog gets up to and how they’re feeling during the day and, with more affordable trackers and cameras, they will soon be able to see this for themselves. Smartphone technology is so advanced these days that it can only be expected that owners will be able to log into an app and watch their pets from anywhere in the world at any time.”

The Catspad smart pet assistant with the ability to remotely schedule and control food portions is displayed during CES Unveiled at the 2018 CES in Las Vegas
Image: The Catspad smart pet assistant with the ability to remotely schedule and control food portions is displayed during CES Unveiled at the 2018 CES in Las Vegas. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

Falling prices aren’t the only factor that could increase the pool, either. Pet ownership in the UK is limited by strict rules in the rental market, which is currently strong in the face of inflated home prices. This might explain why pet ownership is higher in the US at around 65% (to the UK’s aforementioned 45%), where landlords are generally more permissive of pets. If the housing market slows considerably post-Brexit, as theorised by many, and home ownership comes into reach for more people, it stands to reason that many of those people will add a pet to their new household.

That said, this is the age of tech. Sony recently resurrected its legendary Aibo robot dog, and new robot companions are unveiled every tech show — so perhaps the long-term product of this industry won’t be pet gadgets, but gadget pets.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Alvexo on the matter.