Global Trends in Pet Health

What you need to know

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Pets are living longer than ever

LLife expectancy has risen by as much as 230% for pets in some nations.

Life expectancy is rising

due to greater levels of vaccination, veterinary care, and improved awareness of the needs of pets.

Pet owners are investing more

in care but cost can still be a barrier. Tools such as insurance could help.

Developing markets face unique challenges

for pet care as free-roaming or ‘community’ animals may lack a formal ‘owner’.

Lifespan of pets

Pets are living significantly longer, healthier lives compared to just decade or two ago. However, this means ‘senior care’ and illnesses related to age are a greater priority to owners and veterinary practices.

How is the life expectancy of pets changing?

Average life expectancy of U.S. dogs increased from 10.5 years to 11.8 years between 2002 and 2016.1

In Japan, dogs live 50% longer today than they did in the 1980s, while cats’ average life expectancy grew by 230% in the same period.2

One estimate found that overall, ‘Dog life expectancy has doubled in the past 4 decades, and housecats now live twice as long as their feral counterpart’.3

Why are pets living longer?

Each pet is different; however, researchers have identified key factors that are driving the overall increase in life expectancy such as:

“What has increased is the preventative care – we have gone from treating individual conditions when they occur to preventing them in the first place.”

Dr. Wolfgang Dohne, Veterinarian and Senior Vice President, Federation of European Companion Animal Veterinary Associations

Burden of Disease

Illness and parasites remain the primary threat to the health and well-being of pets. Control relies upon early detection, proper medicine use and regular veterinary care.

Are pets receiving regular vaccinations?

Data is scarce in many markets for vaccination levels. However, a survey in the U.S. and Canada found that over 9 out of 10 veterinarians (91.5%) said they have clients who expressed concerns or refused core vaccines.7 Furthermore, the UK PAWS charity has maintained a multi-year survey of pet owner attitudes and actions towards vaccination in the country. Their results have shown:

Nearly 1 in 4 dogs (23%) are not vaccinated with regular boosters.8

39% of cats are not receiving regular booster vaccines.9

Owners stated one of the top reasons not vaccinating was “it’s not necessary.”10

What is the risk of zoonoses transfer from pets?

The risk of disease from companion animals is never zero, and demographic shifts are creating new health challenges in many markets.

Rabies remains responsible for around 55,000 human deaths every year, with 40 percent of these children under the age of five. Dogs continue to account for about 99 percent of all rabies transmissions to humans, with the overall annual cost of rabies estimated at about $8.6 billion each year. India is the most affected country, accounting for about 20,000 rabies death each year.11

Despite this, the incidence of infectious zoonotic diseases from pets remains very low in most developed markets. Data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that very few zoonotic outbreaks originate in dogs and cats.12

“Six out of 10 infectious diseases are zoonotic but fortunately, of all the zoonotic diseases, very few come from dogs and cats.”

Dr Siraya Chunekamrai, President, World Small Animal Veterinary Association

What is the risk of parasites to pets?

Fleas, ticks and worms remain a common and continual issue for many pets:

Heartworm prevalence can be as high as 28% in dog populations, while testing in cats found 19% with evidence of an active or previous infection.13

85% of dog parks visited in U.S. metropolitan cities had at least one dog test positive for intestinal parasites. Overall, 20% of tested dogs in the parks were positive.14

A UK study found 28.1% of randomly selected cats and 14.4% of dogs had fleas.15

Some of these parasites (e.g giardia) are zoonotic and can be unintentionally transferred to the owner, which is why control of parasites improves ‘household health’. Parasite prevention typically requires a regular parasiticide and consistent diagnostic testing (e.g. annually) to ensure any potential issues are detected early and minimize risk to the pet.

How does a longer lifespan affect the overall health of a pet?

An ageing population of pets is also bringing about new, unique health needs. Much like in people, the risk of health problems such as cancer, liver disease, diabetes, senility and joint disease grow later in life. To counter these risks, veterinarians typically recommend:16

  • Increased veterinary care.
  • Focus on prevention and early intervention.
  • Specialized diet and nutrition.
  • Continued vaccination and parasite control.
  • Maintaining mobility.
  • Mental stimulation.

How is disease prevention evolving?

Monitoring tools and diagnostics are helping identify new risk factors for disease that allow veterinarians to take earlier preventative action. For instance, ‘Big Data’ tools can use aggregated diagnostic records across millions of animals to help identify subtle health changes that suggest onset of chronic illnesses. Small animal veterinarians use these insights with patients to anticipate health issues, which is helping extend a pet’s lifespan.

“We have done vaccination for many decades, but now have pet health plans, which a lot of clinics offer.”

Dr. Wolfgang Dohne, Veterinarian and Senior Vice President, Federation of European Companion Animal Veterinary Associations

Investment in Care

Consumer spending on healthcare and treatments for companion animals has increased, in recent decades particularly as the “humanisation” of pets grows.

How much are consumers spending on their pets?

The pet industry is a major global sector. In the United States alone, consumers spent an estimated $118 billion in 2020 on pets and pet-related products. Analysts at a major U.S. bank, Morgan Stanley, estimate this may rise to $275 billion by 2037.

Spending on pet health is growing alongside the wider sector as well. In the UK, the annual expenditure on veterinary and other pet services rose from £2.8 million in 2016 to £3.7 million in 2019, although this fell to £3.4 million in 2020 likely due to the pandemic.17

In the United States, a survey of pet owners revealed that approximately 40% dog and cat owners visited the veterinarian once a year.18 Veterinary associations recommend all animals see a veterinarian regularly (annually or more), therefore there is an opportunity for greater investments in veterinary care in many areas.

Estimated US expenditure on pets
and pet-related products

How big is the pet health market?

The global market for pet health products stood at $18.67 billion in 2020, with a projected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.2% from 2021 to 2028.

The North American and European animal healthcare market was worth $40 billion in 2018 and is projected to reach $50 billion by 2024.20

However, many pets – sometimes more than 50% – still do not see a veterinarian annually as indicated in owner surveys.21 Recent from the ‘Human-Animal Bond Research Institute’ (HABRI) shows that there may be an opportunity to address this issue by better communicating with owners on the value of their pet. For instance, HABRI has found that when owners understand the human-animal-bond better, they are more likely to take better care of their pet, bring them to the veterinarian regularly, etc.22

“Money is the biggest challenge that vets face the world over. If your choice is between feeding your family and taking the dog to the vet, there’s no discussion.”

Dr Lawson Cairns, Veterinarian, South Africa

How many pet owners take out insurance?

While a few countries have achieved notable growth, uptake of pet insurance remains generally low in both developed and emerging markets.

  • In the US, roughly 3.1 million pets were insured at the end of 2020, out of a total of around 160 million dogs and cats. In Canada, only 2.2% of pets were insured.
  • Leaders in insurance include Sweden where experts estimate as many as 90% of dogs are covered23 and the UK where insurance companies process £2.2M in claims per day.24
  • Researchers at Cornell University found that when owners are presented information on cost and risk of disease, they are more likely to purchase insurance.25

The American Veterinary Medical Association has noted that “having pet health insurance makes it more likely that owners will follow their veterinarian’s recommendations.26

Pet Health in Developing and Emerging Markets

Pet health in developing and emerging markets faces unique challenges from different ownership patterns when compared to typical developed contexts.

What health threats do pets face in developing countries?

Free-roaming and community-owned dogs are common in some developing regions, with anecdotal evidence that only an estimated five percent of dogs have “owners” in developing nations, compared to the vast majority in developed nations.27–by-the-millions.pdf

This creates key preventable disease challenges in developing countries include rabies, leptospirosis and leishmaniasis. Lack of formal ownership can also lead to indiscriminate breeding and additional health challenges.

Income can be a key barrier to veterinary care and treatment in developing regions. Less disposable income leads to less ability to access and afford veterinary care, which in turn may stunt the growth of the veterinary sector. This means even pet owners that seek out care may struggle to find an available small animal veterinarian in their area.

“In a lot of developing and lower income countries, they have had more focus on livestock and production animal veterinary medicine, less for companion animals.”

Dr Shane Ryan, Veterinarian and Past President, World Small Animal Veterinary Association

Regulatory and trade barriers for new health products and commodities like pet foods are also common, preventing some products from entering markets where they are most needed.

Complex and differing regulatory processes in different countries, for instance, coupled with markets where regulations are currently underdeveloped, can often disincentivise companies from registering new products that would help improve pet health. A lack of expertise is another prevailing barrier, with insufficient numbers of veterinary professionals in developing markets.

“Another issue is access to veterinary pharmaceuticals. Often these markets are small – it’s not a regulatory easy thing to do to get these medicines licensed in some countries.”

Dr Shane Ryan, Veterinarian and Past President, World Small Animal Veterinary Association

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