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Article: Companion animal industry's digital revolution is being sped up by coronavirus

02 June 2020

This is article is taken from our animal health platform dated 27/05/20.

While the trend of digitally focused business in animal health started to grow before COVID-19, the companion animal sector is now witnessing an even greater uptake of technology.

We can expect to see a revolutionary shift towards a digitised approach led by what the millennial generation wants from animal health.

Early indications suggest up to 40% of primary consultations will be undertaken remotely or electronically in the future. This will be hastened by the role of COVID-19, where pet owners have had to get used to not going to the vet and instead consulting 'Dr Google' or engaging with the plethora of new telehealth platforms.

In fact, we can quite quickly expect to see the development of all the different tele-advice, tele-triage, tele-consulting and telemedicine-type platforms.

I'm currently reviewing over 30 leading telehealth providers in the animal space in Europe and the US. They offer a bewildering array of services now, from multi-person video conferencing through to integration with pet wearables. No two are the same and, when you look at what they offer combined in their entirety, you could wonder why you'd ever need to take your pet to a bricks and mortar vet clinic.

Obviously, pet owners will still need to make a visit to a professional as there are some conditions that require direct contact with a vet, including the administration of vaccines and surgery. But there are a host of other areas that lend themselves to some form of telemedicine. Certainly, first opinion consultations, tele-triage and some specialisms such as dermatology, for example, could easily utilise remote medicine techniques.

We are also going to see a dramatic change in all other services that accompany telemedicine. For example, there are apps that can identify lameness in dogs much better than the human eye.

There are also 'smart' litter trays that, every time the cat goes in, monitor how much it urinates and defecates, differentiating between the two. Using a digital camera, it can also observe the facial expressions of a cat to determine whether it is in pain. This is important when you understand cats are only likely to display these behaviours when they're in a secluded place like a covered litter tray. The information can then be transferred to your phone and straight to the vet's clinic.

The hardware is developing quickly, with future models anticipated to include a thermal imaging or doppler - allowing the remote assessment of vital signs, such as body temperature and heart rate.

There are lots of opportunities for change to remote medicine when looking at digital approaches to monitoring and treating companion animals. So, who is going to drive these changes? Is this coming from the animal health companies, many of which have now dipped their toes into this sector?

Zoetis, Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, MSD Animal Health, Ceva Santé Animale and Vetoquinol all have a digital platform or means of digitally interacting with customers and animal owners. Zoetis has just launched a new pet insurance agency and pet care company called Pumpkin with what it calls a "best-in-class technology platform" to help pet owners ensure their cats and dogs get timely treatments.

There are also the animal health distributors who won't want to be cut out of this growth sector. We know a digitisation can shorten supply chains - we've seen the dominance of Amazon and similar platforms in this sector.

So, what are they going to do to defend their market?

They have strong relationships with veterinary clinics and the drive to innovate, helping their customers to maintain a close relationship with the pet and pet owner. We know from the livestock sector that technology, especially where professional advice benefits the interpretation, increases the stickiness of owners to the vet channel.

We shouldn't ignore giants like Microsoft, Google and Amazon either. They are all looking at the sector in some way. They've probably determined it's too small a sector to deploy a huge amount of resources but anything they can easily grab a market share of, they probably will.

With technology an even more constant companion than our pets, it makes sense to use it effectively to look after our companion animals. Many great solutions are already available and you can be sure there's more to come.

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