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If we could have looked into a crystal ball two years ago, who would have dreamed we’d be strapped to this wild Coronacoaster? And who would have known this would be the golden age for our beloved cats and dogs?
Well, here we are, hanging on by the seat of our pants. Our pets, on the other hand, have gamely inherited the future—staking out significant claims in the marketplace to boot.
In fact, the US pet market is now estimated to be over 100 billion dollars. Globally, that number is estimated to be 220 billion—and it’s growing, according to multiple sources, such as the American Pet Products Association, and pet authorities like Mark Cushing, author of Pet Nation: The Inside Story of How Companion Animals Are Transforming Our Homes, Culture, and Economy.
What’s driving the growth? One reason is that there are more households with pets than ever before—today, that’s 85 million households in the U.S. with at least one pet, according to the Human Animal Bond Research Institute. And spending has kept apace: these households spend an average of $1,400 on pets per year, a number that has doubled in the last 10 years.
It’s impossible to predict the future, but we dug into the data and tapped the expertise of our Dog People Panel to identify the following five pet-specific trends we expect to rise in the new year.
Rover’s 2022 Pet Industry Predictions
Prediction #1: Pet anxiety solutions soar
Demand for training, especially separation anxiety training services, has been “10 times more” than pre-pandemic levels, says Nicole Ellis, Rover’s dog training expert and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA).
“There are way more reactive dogs who fear unknown situations, lack confidence, and are barking and lunging out,” she says.
With more pets in more homes, and a closer bond with pets than ever before, Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, Veterinary Medical Advisor for Rover and Chief Veterinarian at Kleinburg Veterinary Hospital, tells us her clients are increasingly seeking a range of training services, too.
“This conversation has been important,” Greenstein says, who says training is fundamental to “building a pet’s confidence” in our rapidly-changing times.
“Puppies and kittens aren’t born knowing how to interact in our world,” she says.
10 times more demand for separation anxiety training classes than pre-pandemic levels.
According to Google search trends, queries for “calming treats for dogs” increased more than 230% from September 2020 to September 2021. At the Rover Store, calming pet products such as self-soothing lick mats and anti-anxiety plush toys increased in sales by 146% in 2021.
As the pandemic wears on, we expect these trends to continue. For more tips and coping strategies in the meantime, see our article, Pet Socialization and Wellness During a Pandemic.
Prediction #2: Pet parents go green
As pet parents learn more about the carbon “pawprint” of their companion animals, 2022 will see more sustainably-made and eco-friendly pet products come to market.
“A lot of people are looking into more sustainable pet care,” says Dr. Mikel Delgado, Rover’s resident cat behavior expert. “It’s a big part of what motivates ‘alternative’ cat litters.”
For product categories, cat litter—problematic for the strip mining that produces clay litter to the “mummification” of pet waste that can occur in landfills once it’s disposed of—has entered a sort of eco-renaissance, with products that are purportedly flushable and eco-friendly, to those that claim to be produced from biobased materials such as coconut, wood, walnuts, and wheat.
What’s the source of the protein [in the pet food]? Is it upcycled? Will it last me for years, or will have to throw it away in a few months?
Delgado says consumers are asking themselves questions like, “What’s the source of the protein [in the pet food]? Is it upcycled? Will it last me for years, or will have to throw it away in a few months?”
“Mindfulness, and a ‘how-can-I-reduce’ mentality, I think that is growing,” Delgado says.
Along with better-made products, we expect to see more conversations and questions about responsible product packaging: Is it packed in impossible-to-recycle styrofoam or a way-too-big-box?
Companies from pet food delivery company The Farmer’s Dog to Amazon—which, according to this article, doubled its pet food business in 2020—are rising to meet the demand.
Finally, the environmental impact of the pet food diet will continue to drive innovation in the pet food industry, which we explore more in our 3rd prediction below.
Prediction #3: Pet nutrition goes next-level
We’re getting smarter, more curious, and more interested about what we feed our pets.
According to this article in Forbes, “dogs and cats are responsible for a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by animal agriculture.”
In an increasingly climate-conscious culture, Dr. Gary Richter, pet nutrition expert and veterinary health expert with Rover, expects this to fuel more growth in the pet food industry.
“Alternative protein sources, insect protein, cultured meat sources, and lab-grown meat, at least in theory, have all the nutritional benefits of meat with a fraction of the environmental impact,” says Richter.
An increasingly climate-conscious culture will fuel more growth in the pet food industry.
Novel proteins (such as cricket) and “clean” protein such as yeast (like that found in pet food brand Wild Earth) require less resources to produce and are already available as pet food. Lab-cultured meat for use in pet food is in the late stages of well-funded development.
As wellness trends from human culture continue to cross over to our pets, we’re seeing more products for digestive and immunity support, pets with allergies, and even “human-grade” pet food. 8 of the 11 brands featured in our article about “fresh dog food”—a search query that according to Google was up 275% from September 2020 to September 2021—claim to be “human-grade.” (Yes, that’s dog food even people can eat.)
Prediction #4: The pet tech boom goes BOOM
Remember all that eco-friendly kitty litter? Well, the boxes to put it in keep getting “smarter”—examples here, here, and here—with features that monitor your cat’s weight, bathroom habits, and changes in health, and control odor and self-clean, too, sometimes through a convenient app. (There are even self-cleaning potty stations for dogs.)
Web searches for Pretty Litter, a product that might be the world’s first tech-enabled kitty litter (it turns different colors based on your cat’s urinary condition) have spiked 48% from 2020 to 2021, according to Google search trends.
A dog email service, a virtual weight loss clinic for pets, and dog-activated video calls.
More smart web cams, smart feeders, smart collars that track not only your pet’s location but their vital statistics, microchip-enabled devices, and even online services—like a dog email service, a virtual weight loss clinic for pets, and dog-activated video calls—may make more permanent debuts in the pet space.
While these innovations may promise convenience, less mess, or more insight into a pet’s health for humans, Delgado urges common sense when adopting the latest product or gadget.
“There are pros and cons of this increased technology,” she says. “Some products are clearly designed for humans, and may be uncomfortable for or go unused by pets.”
Prediction #5: The humanization of pets continues
And now for our favorite prediction: a growing recognition that pets are people, too.
If that sounds hyperbolic, consider all the trends in human culture—from organic bedding to Grubhub for pets (aka meal delivery services) to designer apparel, couture, and accessories, pet strollers, telehealth and e-medicine, pet insurance providers, even court-appointed lawyers—that continue to cross over to our pets. There are more pet-friendly hotels (and pet hotel critics), pet-friendly restaurants, stores, and workplaces. And every once-exclusively-for-humans lifestyle brand, it seems—from Joybird to Kiehls to Nordstrom—wants a cut of the action.
Our experts point to other trends, such as crash-tested pet carrier brand Sleepypod, which is tested to the safety barrier for children. “I used to feel like the only one who used Sleepypod,” Nicole Ellis says. “This year alone I’ve seen three people get out of their cars with their pet in a Sleepypod.”
Crash-tested products to keep pets safe in collisions, regenerative medicine to extend pet lifespans, court-appointed lawyers to serve a pet’s best interest.
The best-selling 2021 book, The Forever Dog, explores the science that can help us better understand how to help dogs live longer, which is where Richter sees strides.
“There’s a lot of money and effort being put into the science of slow or reverse aging for pets, longevity research, and regenerative medicine for pets. We just need to figure out how to use it,” he says.
The way things are going, surely it’s only a matter of time before we crack the code on our pet’s lifespans—it’s only fair, after all, as our pets in turn help us to live longer, happier, and healthier lives.
Perhaps someday it will be our pets who lead us out of this pandemic mess altogether. It’s impossible to predict the future, but that’s our best guess in 2022.