The future of pet ownership
With time, robots are increasingly becoming part of human lives. The Pet industry learning from these trends is investing on innovations targeted towards technological services and products for pets. Owners are now better equipped to understand the needs of their pets resulting in a healthier relationship between them and their ‘beloved family members’.
The Humanization trend
The US and UK markets have been leaders in the pet spending for years hitting the $62.75 billion in 2016 in the US. Nevertheless, countries like China, Brazil, and Ukraine are not far behind. India has the fastest growing dog population and Saudia Arabia has the higher proportion of big dogs per capita in the world. In China, the pet industry is blooming due to dog licensing cut from $285 a year to $42 and the lifestyle choices. As the birth rates go down, the pet ownership is growing substituting the expenditure for childcare. Moreover, growing middle class is boosting the pet economy as well. How does this trend evolve and turn into humanization of the pets?
There are many theories on why humans love their pets. One of them, backed up by James Serpell, professor of Animal Ethics & Welfare at the University of Pennsylvania, claims that there are evolutionary benefits to pet keeping. In other words, the social support given by pets crucially evolve humans to be less ‘vulnerable to disease and infection’. For others, pets reflect the polarization in a society where people fail to develop constructive relationships with other humans and instead rely on their pets for emotional support.
With time, the dynamics of pet ownership have evolved into a more intimate relationship. Now, some proudly term themselves as parents to their pets. According to a Fortune-Morning Consult Poll, 76% owners saw their pets as ‘beloved family members’. The humanizing of pets is becoming widespread. In some households, they are treated as siblings or even alternatives to having children. Such pets are treated just like humans, with products and services attached to this new persona. This, in turn, leads to services and laws dedicated to treating animals in a ‘humanized’ way. For example, there are law firms that dedicate services to pets in case of the death of the owners. Similarly, there are insurance companies that cash in on this belief and expect their customers to take pets-related insurance as they do for their own personal safety. These trends also translate into policies. For example, in Sweden where the government disallows keeping a dog alone for 8 hours in close doors. With such developments and policies, new jobs pertaining to such demands will prosper in the coming future.
The ‘humanizing’ of pets has also penetrated the social media industry, where owners have dedicated social media accounts of their pets. Such owners are more inclined to be aware of their pet’s lives with a special interest in their health and their activities. All of this, in return, has led to an increase in Pet Care leading to a demand for technological innovations focused on improving the lives of pets. Such is the demand for pet care products that according to ‘the balance’, the Pet Care market was valued at over $81 billion in 2010 while the rest of the financial world was dealing with the depression. Analysts predict a 5.27% CAGR during 2016-2020. These trends indicate that the Pet industry will stay dominant in the future and the increasing trends towards advanced products and services will continue.
Wearable pet technology
With time, the use of robots and AI has become an integral part of human life. With wearable technologies, users are more aware of their lifestyles, plans, and health. Seeing these advantages, the Pet Industry too has become part of this trend. Wearable technology for pets helps the owners monitor health and activity stats and use them to make an informed decision about their pets. As with human fitness devices, pet devices such as Fitbark and voyce, record the activity of their wearers and offer the statistics on them to the owner’s phones. Similarly, researchers at North Carolina State University are developing a chest harness for dogs which has sensors that can monitor heart rate, respiration, and microchips that ‘can identify and interpret patterns in biometric measures’. The stats would collect and can be used later. Other researchers are attempting to make a ‘dictionary of barks’ which can be used to better understand the dog’s activities and behavior. Data from such technologies gets collected and forms a matrix which can then be shared with the vets. With this big data, according to Bob Vetere, president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association, the vets will be able to ‘better take care of them, address their needs, and enhance their lives and ours’. A report by technavio, states that global pet wearable market is expected to grow over 16% by 2020.
in pet nurturing
Pets are increasingly becoming an extension of the personalities of their owners. Hence, it is no surprise when they too end up developing the same consumer habits as their owners. As the current generation is worried about sustainability in their purchases and habits, the same is also observed in the procurement of pet products. This has led to an increased demand in pet-products that are sustainable for the environment. According to a research by Mintel, owners are concerned about both the process of packaging and content of pet-products and prefer eco-friendly ‘green’ products. This has led to an increased demand for grain-free pet foods to ease the reliance on global grain stock. Similarly, some dog-feed producers have started using game meat to ease the reliance on the conventional protein market which tends to have a larger carbon footprint. Dr. Joseph Wakshlag, an associate professor at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, suggests moving to rendering grains and ‘unconventional animals’ for pet foods to meet the protein demands of pets. Others are seeking a rather drastic change in the concept of pet-ownership by suggesting to share pets rather than own them, dividing and decreasing the economic and environmental impacts of pet ownership. A more radical point of views such as that of Eric Assadourian insists that pet keeping is not sustainable at all and must be discourages. Quoting a study, he claims that ‘two German Shepherds use more resources just for their annual food needs than the average Bangladeshi uses each year in total’. The solution is to reduce a number of pets. However, due to advancements in technology, the alternative could the reduction lie in the evolution of ‘robopets’.
the future of pets?
Following the trend for wearables, robots continue to intrude in the personal lives of humans. As we continue to become digital, pets too are becoming part of this trend; albeit in a more drastic way. This change comes in the form of robopets: robot animals that are designed to replace pets by providing the same ‘social support’ that the animals offered. These robots are usually shaped like animals and are being upgraded to become more emotionally responsive and nurturing towards their owners. With these traits, the robopets can develop the same type of companionship as their animal counterparts.
Societies such as Japan have already experimented with robot dogs. According to a study of online postings by owners of AIBO, a robotic dog, 80% children felt they appreciated the companionship of the robotic dog when they were sad. Moreover, when the Sony stopped repairs of AIBO units, the Japanese owners are reported to have held ‘funerals’ when the robot’s circuits broke. Similarly, Paro, a robotic seal made in Japan and used in hospitals and old homes in the US, is reported to have managed to be therapeutic towards patients. The seal is designed to respond to caressing and has moveable eyes, mouth and neck muscles to showcase attention and emotions towards the caregiver. The patients who have grown attached to Paro ‘know (that) it is not real but still love it’ and are often found talking to it. With such interactions with robots, it is safe to say that robotic pets succeed to incite emotions in their owners and caregivers.
As the future generations lean towards a faster, buzzier lifestyle and prefers the limited space that comes with urbanization, robotic pets could be the answer for the future. With decreased emotional, mental, physical needs, the robotic pets could very well be more efficient pets. These robopets will become the friends and companions that need little care or attention in a rapidly busy lifestyle. If inventors succeed to create emotional attachments, this could result in a brand new market with accessories or upgrades to the robot pets making them a better company, friends, assistants and even healing companions.
The future of the pet industry will reflect the consumer needs and trends of the future generations. The humanizing of pets is a trend that will continue in the future. Similarly, as the global populace insists on sustainability, this too will change the way pets are treated, nurtured and pampered. Finally, with the increased needs of a fast-paced efficient lifestyle and limited options due to urbanization, robots might become the only option available as pets for the future generation.
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