A study of more than 100 domestic and stray cats in China’s Wuhan city – the epicentre of the global coronavirus pandemic – revealed that only 14.7 percent of the animals were affected by the virus. Now, whether or not the felines or even other domestic animals could act as a source of transmission is not clear at the moment, but the fear of infection has nevertheless made an impact on the pet care industry.
Coupled with a bunch of other factors like travel restrictions that prohibited pet parents from moving back to their hometowns, unavailability of pet essentials, and misinformation, panic has been brewing about the well-being of pets. And one of the direct impacts of this situation is the dishearteningly high rate of pet abandonment.
“One way we are already seeing this crisis impact the pet care ecosystem is through a high abandonment of pets due to fear, rumours or false information,” Anushka Iyer, Founder and CEO of Wiggles, tells MAKERS India. The Pune-based startup, which offers vet-on-call and grooming services, along with a monthly preventive healthcare subscription box for your furry family, is one of the many startups to have suffered a setback in the light of the COVID-19 crisis.
In these difficult times, which has spelt out unforeseen changes for the world at large, Anushka says that Wiggles aims to be an altruistic company pet parents can rely on. “Come what may, we are here to take responsibility.”
And this includes delivery of pet essentials, re-routing veterinary services to online consultations, and innovating and pivoting the business to cater to the novel needs of pet parents that have emerged during this period. With the lockdown putting a strain on the market – pet care being no exception – a quick turnaround have turned out to be the key to survival for most businesses. More so for pet care startups, who fall on the thin line between “essentials” and “non-essentials”.
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“Even though the pet care market is not prone to recession, it’s still not immune to it,” says Kamakshi Kumar. Along with her husband and Co-founder Dhruv Kumar, the Gurugram-based entrepreneur runs Petveda.Launched in 2019, this startup combines Ayurveda with modern sciences to offer a range of organic products related to pet care and grooming.
She adds, “The outbreak has impacted the pet care industry in a big way, especially the pet grooming sector. Large scale events have been cancelled all over the world, which allowed grooming brands like ours to showcase products to buyers across the world. All our export shipments have been cancelled as nothing is being allowed to ship out of the country; no country is accepting shipments either.”
Pet care, which is globally touted to be worth over $200 billion by 2025, has overall taken a hit. While “essential” services continue to operate, other sectors that involve services like boarding facilities, pet events, daycare services, pet spas, kennels, dog trainers and walkers etc, have come to a standstill and are struggling to make their ends meet.
“Due to most industries being shut, the buying power of people has also gone down,” continues Kamakshi. “People are focusing on day-to-day essential items. We being a brand in a premium category will have to focus on our marketing strategies differently and educate people that a good quality shampoo for their pet is not a luxury but a necessity, as it contributes to their overall well-being.”
As visits to the vets and pet facilities make way for virtual consultations, telemedicine services become mainstream, and online retail takes over offline sales, startups have to especially be vigilant towards reaching out to frayed customers in need of products, services and veterinary care for their pets.
“We have successfully launched Wiggles SmartVet in 72 hours which enables pet parents to connect with our team of in-house vets through a video call. We also have a temporary clinic at our Headquarters in Pune, so no pet goes untreated,” says Anushka Iyer.
Her startup has also preponed the launch of Wiggles Wet Food. “We are receiving a surge in demand along with a high volume of orders and 100 percent retention rates, proving that the demand is indeed more than the supply of these products and services in India,” she adds.
How to ensure the well-being of pets
While the many businesses and startups catering to pet care community, are working round the clock to ensure uninterrupted supply of essentials and emergency services for pets, there is a lot that pet parents can do at home to take care of their four-legged family. And it starts with spending quality time with pets, a practice that is not only healthy for the animals but also for urban dwellers stuck at homes amid the lockdown.
Kamakshi says, “We have heard of many instances where people have abandoned their pets fearing that they might pass on the virus, we must educate people around us that our pets are immune to the virus and need to be well looked after, not abandoned. This is the time for social distancing from humans, not our pets.”
The Petveda Co-founder also highlights the responsibility that falls on every individual to be mindful of the needs and care of animals on the street. “Since the outbreak, people from the markets or restaurants who used to feed them are not able to do so anymore, and they have no way of feeding themselves,” Kamakshi says, adding that, on humanitarian grounds, people need to take care of these animals as well.
As Rosie Paul, the entrepreneur behind Bengaluru-based Woofwoofnow says, people need to go the extra mile in these times. “All pet parents,” she adds, “must take care of the animals around their society, and that's what the Woofwoofnow team has been doing now, ensuring that street animals near our place are fed.”
A little kindness, after all, will go a long way in ensuring a seamless transition for us and our pets.