However wonderful and personally rewarding pet ownership is, it is also an incredibly expensive endeavor.
According to the American Pet Products Association’s (APPA) most recent figures, Americans spent nearly $100 billion on caring for pets in 2019, a number sure to skyrocket in 2021 alongside the surge in pet adoptions the pandemic period inspired.
Nearly a third of that spending, according to APPA data, goes to veterinary care and products for pets, with pet owners spending $29.3 billion in 2019. Caring for pets properly is expensive business, a lesson that Fuzzy – The Pet Parent Company Founder and CEO Zubin Bhettay found out the hard way when an emergency found him seeking help for his dog in a vet clinic. He did get to see a vet, he said, after suffering through five hours sitting in the waiting room with a sick dog, but it came at a very high price of $2,500.
“It really hit me that I was fortunate enough to be able to afford a $2,500 vet bill to care for my dog, but there’s a huge population of people out there that are not in that position,” Bhettay said. “So, we started the business with a mission of making exceptional, veterinarian-backed care more accessible for everyone.”
Fuzzy is that business. It was created as a telehealth platform to connect pet parents and their animals with licensed veterinary practitioners digitally. As is the case with human medical care, there are things that can be diagnosed remotely via video teleconferencing, Bhettay said. A telehealth visit and some direct advice from a vet, Fuzzy has found, can supplant the need for a vet visit about 60 percent of the time. It’s not a replacement for direct in-person care from a vet in every case.
For example, if an animal is injured, having difficulty moving or needs extensive lab diagnostics done, he said, it’s not the right tool. But in a myriad of other cases with proper guidance from a professional, pet parents can successfully triage and manage the situation without ever having to go to the waiting room.
“Pet parents are forced to choose between some really flawed options when it comes to caring for their pet,” he said. “If there is something wrong with your pet and you call a veteran clinic up today, nine times out of 10, that clinic is going to tell you to come in and have your pet seen. Most times that isn’t helpful, sometimes it isn’t affordable, and many times it is not accessible.”
The Post-Pandemic Landscape
And that has become even truer amid the pandemic, Bhettay said, as veterinary clinics closed their doors for long periods and gaining access to appointments became more difficult, with people often having to wait weeks to be seen in person by their vet.
Telehealth was growing before the pandemic started, and Fuzzy’s founding bet was that as consumers became more comfortable using it in their own lives, they would consider trying it out for their pets as well, he said. Its pivot to offering pet telehealth services as a subscription plan for $16.99 a month or $99 a year toward the end of 2019 was built on its faith that telehealth across the board was going to be a growth area.
It was a bet that the year 2020 paid off, although in ways the firm never could have predicted when it began shifting its business model, he said.
“We call it a bit of lucky guilt,” Bhettay said. “Through COVID we were suddenly a business [in] position to benefit after the pivot. It was very shaky and very challenging when we decided to make the pivot and whether that was the right direction for us as a company. What we found out is we were right. When people had found that they were able to use telehealth for themselves, get feedback and get expert advice that comforted them and actually treated the concerns that they had, they then felt comfortable seeking out that level of care for their pets.”
The question now, and that will guide the firm — and the field more broadly — for the rest of 2021 will be around how to do more, he said. Consumers’ interest in caring for and spending on their pets has grown remarkably over the last several decades, but their options in doing so haven’t changed much over the last 50 years. Pet care as a segment is ripe for innovation.
That means Fuzzy has a lot of building still to do, he said. With recent funding, the firm plans to build its team, as well as build and refine its products.
“We have product expansion through new product releases, and we also see great opportunities to be able to drive consolidation in the market moving forward,” Bhettay said.
The market has been growing quickly and is likely to continue to do so, he said. That will allow more people to be pet owners, and really good pet owners at that.
“I think we are entering a world that will be tremendously beneficial to pet owners,” Bhettay said. “I believe that those companies that are going to be addressing the market with new direct-to-consumer models that are democratizing access to better quality care at better price points while making it easier and more convenient to pet parents — those are the services that are going to win out.”