Amanda Howe: Pet Tech is Not Just for the Barking Mad

Our furry, scaly, and feathered friends stand at the feet of a rapidly expanding market

Fitbit, Fuelband, Jawbone – you name them and the body conscious are wearing them in parks and on the pavement. Running at the heels of many of the health conscious are the fittest of furry friends who are also sporting the latest round of animal tech. And with £6.2 billion being spent a year in the UK alone, it’s no wonder that tech startups are wondering if they are barking up the right tree to solve a few issues relating to pet ownership.

Although not quite yet monitoring calorific intake and yet definitely recording and analyzing miles covered, these canines are at the cutting-edge of a rapidly expanding market.

“The global market for [pet products] is $96 billion. It’s huge,” says Dr. Simon Milner, Chief Technology Officer at Petzila. “The space is ripe for technology disruption.” And Milner should know because he is behind the multi-million dollar Silicon Valley business that’s on a mission to bring pets and their owners closer together through “today’s hottest trends and technologies.”

But to be clear, the pet owners who are ahead of the curve and already buying devices aren’t just geeks getting their kicks from raw paw data. They are using the information to understand their dogs better, to be sure they are getting enough exercise and, in many cases, to build a more accurate picture to provide to their vet. They are probably also aware that it’s surely only a matter of time before insurance companies will be offering discounts to “responsible owners” who a) can keep track of exactly where Rover is and b) whether he is getting the right exercise for his breed.

The tracking element is reason alone to invest in pet tech. One survey commissioned by one of the UK’s largest pet insurers identified ‘loss of a pet’ being 47 percent of owners’ biggest concern. And bearing in mind that one in every four households own one, that’s a lot of worried people. Hence, in part, the legislation to make micro-chipping compulsory from 2016. But as anyone who has ever lost a dog knows, microchips are by no means the complete answer. They are superb for reuniting pets with owners if the animal is discovered and taken to a vet within opening hours for it to be scanned and matched to the correct database. That’s also assuming that the pet had been registered properly in the first place and any subsequent change of address, personal details submitted. A whole string of variables can easily prevent a dewy-eyed, tail-wagging reunion.

Kippy pet tech pc_cane

The latest generation of pet tech like Kippy, Loc8tor and Tractive have understood the failings of the microchip and have sought to bring peace of mind to owners by putting GPS and mobile LBS (location based services) at the core of their applications, allowing owners to track their pet’s position at all times. It goes without saying that their activity can be viewed via websites and in combination with mobile apps.

Although Tractive is leading the pack, none of the options are perfect yet. These sorts of devices are all dependent on good mobile signal which is reliable in densely populated areas but not so great for the far-more-than-one-man-and-his-dog walking in the unconnected countryside. What’s more, the tech itself is not particularly discreet although it does easily attach to collars and harnesses and has acceptable battery life but it still feels like we are a few iterations away from the tracking solution of the paranoid pet owner’s dreams.

The other area that’s looking promising for pets and tech is centered around their fitness levels.

Mirroring the explosion in human health apps, it’s far from surprising that man’s best friend needs to look and feel the part too. So although we are not talking kale canine smoothies yet, there’s tech that aids close scrutiny of fitness levels, healthy diet monitoring and even sleep patterns.

Whistle, for example, provides pet owners with a great data visualization of diet and medication information via a smartphone app. It’s been a big hit in the US and is building a following in the UK because the data it offers is straightforward – simply, activity and rest periods. Getting to know the patterns a pet builds up over time is useful – it becomes easier to spot when something’s not quite right.

Needless to say, Whistle-like tech isn’t just interesting consumers on both sides of the pond–insurers are also taking note. According to the PFMA, obesity related insurance claims for all pets have risen by 60 percent over the past 5 years, and insurers will be only too happy to cover our fitter, rather than our fatter, four-legged friends. So they are no doubt busy looking at ways of securing more customers who care about the health and well-being of their pets in more ways than those who think a happy pet is a poodle-parloured, pampered one.

So, although there is not one clear Best of Show in the pet tech arena, it sure is one with a lot of players to watch. And we’d be barking mad not to keep a close eye on all that’s happening.


Lead image: U.S. Army // Creative Commons // Image cropped

Republished with kind permission. Amanda Howe is an “all round word bird who’s truly obsessed  with how brands speak on line – including how they answer back.” Read more from Amanda Howe here.