This month, we were inspired by our own office dog, Heidi, and have been investigating ways that technology is disrupting the veterinary and pet industries.
The EU is home to 66 million pet dogs, while the US is home to another 70 million. The pet industry is growing 20 per cent a year in China, where there are now an estimated 180 million pet dogs.
Beyond the bond of loyal companion, dogs and humans share several traits that make them an interesting topic of investigation for healthcare and wellness experts.
For example, cancer and other diseases in dogs are quite like diseases in humans. Cancer in dogs tends to occur spontaneously and is a better model for cancer in humans than other models such as cancer in rats or mice. This is partly because laboratory rats or mice typically have cancer induced through genetic engineering to mimic the disease progression in humans.
Because of the natural similarity to humans, dogs are frequently used in preclinical trials to test drug safety for treatment of humans. Some companies are now considering ways that we can help dogs to benefit from this research as well.
One such company, the One Health company, received backing from Andreesen Horowitz earlier this year. One Health focuses on cancer, which is the number one killer of pet dogs.
Pet parents spend an average of £400 a year on medical care for their pets, but these costs can exceed £6000 for those treating a cancer diagnosis. One Health argues that many of the human precision medicine approaches that we are testing on dogs could be used to treat dogs as well.
One Health offers genetic testing and personalized treatment plans for sick dogs. They are building a two-way platform that will use the data and insights from these dog therapies to feedback and inform human treatment. With fewer restrictions than human medicine, One Health also expects to deliver aggressive cutting edge and experimental treatments to pets at larger scale. The longitudinal data from these therapies can help inform advancements in human medicine while providing better care to pets
One Health is not alone in this trend. An interesting group of companies in the UK have begun doing similar work, applying research in human therapeutics to treatments for pets. This allows them to benefit from lower costs and regulations, and meet a growing demand.
We expect to see even more innovation in the pet industry, as researchers consider ways that AI can combine with animal behaviour to deliver new insights. Some researchers expect that AI could help enable communication between animals and humans, which could support better animal training. Others see potential for animal behaviour patterns to predict climate patterns or events such as earthquakes.
In the pet food industry, we see trends toward sustainable protein alternatives with companies such as Wild Earth bringing plant-based products to the pet food market and Shameless Pets up-cycling human food for pets. With several exciting avenues to consider, we will continue to monitor the ideas of the best and brightest.