Petcare businesses

Delayed marriage, falling birth rates, ageing population — the conditions are ripe for a surge in pet ownership. Humans are increasingly turning to animals for companionship and the trend has sparked ever more sophisticated petcare. Last year, American company Mars — a titan in sweet treats and pet products and services — established a pet diagnostic division that will study dogs and cats over the next 10 years. Data collected will help analyse pet diseases and their prevention.

On a smaller scale in Singapore, medical data scientist Emmanuel Harel last year launched Treats, a scientific testing service for pets. The company analyses animals’ gut bacteria to diagnose diseases and allergies and prescribe a remedial diet. According to Harel, the long-term objective is to build a health database for pets, which doesn’t currently exist.

“These days, there is no product for humans that doesn’t exist for pets,” says Eli Atias (photo, right), a veteran dog trainer turned pet service entrepreneur. “Pets have become part of the family and as guardians tend to pamper them, there is a demand for quality goods and services. There are those who send their pets to acupuncturists and go as far as buying insurance for them.”

Related: Why CEO of Pet Cubes Desmond Ng left his family office to run a start-up

Eli Atias, veteran dog trainer turned pet service entrepreneur
Eli Atias, veteran dog trainer turned pet service entrepreneur.

According to Euromonitor data, ownership of dogs and cats in Singapore grew 19 percent over five years to 196,000 in 2019. During the pandemic when Singaporeans had to work from home, pet ownership ballooned, though this has tapered off after the economy resumed. The pet goods and services market has responded in tandem. To help owners make sense of this burgeoning market as well as understand their own pets, Atias last December launched independent pet magazine, The Pet Times. Recently, he started, a TripAdvisor-like platform that showcases over 300 retailers and service providers.

Having trained dogs for over 20 years, Atias notes that there is a downside to owners’ increased emotional and financial investment in their pets. They expect more return from the animal, and will eventually be disappointed, he says. “Pets are animals and their response to pampering is not the same as a human being. Throwing them a fancy birthday party makes the guardian happy, but the dog? It just wants to run outside and play.”

Related: Next on the menu: cultured meat for pets

Bespoke pet furniture maker Mihai Szabo on designing for cats and dogs

Mihai Szabo of Little People Woodworks
Mihai Szabo of Little People Woodworks.

With several years of experience in crafting bespoke pet furniture in Singapore, Mihai Szabo was excited to launch his own practice last year. He hired a local architect to design a cat gym that would be Little People Woodworks’ signature product. It flopped. “It was beautiful, like a dollhouse, but it was just not functional for cats,” Szabo laments.

A Romanian who has woodworking in his blood and studied Italian carpentry under modern furniture maker Roma Arredamenti, Szabo is a rare breed of niche furniture craftsman in Singapore. He scrapped his marketing idea and went back to tapping his own knowledge of animal behaviour and experience built during his stint at local cat furniture maker, The Cat People.

“Well-designed furniture that addresses cats’ needs for perching and stalking relieve their boredom and enrich their lives in confined indoor spaces. For example, a cat box installed high up satisfies the cat’s need to perch and spy,” Szabo notes.

“As for doghouses, integrating ramps or stairs gives dogs a chance to exercise while serving as safe retreats when they are done socialising with their humans.”

Szabo’s European crafting background influences his approach to the projects. Where possible, he would add solid wood accents, often taking inspiration from European building designs. He added African mahogany strips to one doghouse to hide the joints and a skirting to prevent the dog from slipping and falling. In another project, Szabo, inspired by Irish pub houses, used African mahogany to create small window frames and mock roof beams.

“Making something beautiful for animals doesn’t really make much of a difference to their comfort — cats have fun with cardboard boxes too,” says Szabo.

“But having good design helps the furniture fit in with the owners’ aesthetics and makes great talking points.”

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