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Old Dogs Can Inspire New Business Models

Illustration of pandemic pet pampering. [Dom Guzman]

People with puppies are tired. People with senior dogs are broke.

That, in oversimplified terms, is a pretty consistent anecdotal finding among pet owners. As furry friends age, their people face the prospect of costly vet bills, chronic health conditions to manage, and constant worry about their companions’ well-being.

Given how much spending on pets occurs in their senior years, it’s not surprising to see startups conceived around the needs of older animals. Dogs — the world’s most popular housepets — have so far been the primary focus.

Earlier this month, one of the largest rounds to date around this theme went to Loyal, a developer of longevity drugs for dogs that raised $45 million in a Series B round led by Bain Capital Ventures. Founded in 2019, San Francisco-based Loyal says its therapeutics are aimed at helping dogs live longer, healthier lives.

The startup’s product pipeline includes three drugs in development. Of those, two are tailored for large and giant-sized dogs, which have shorter average life spans than smaller breeds. The company is also working on a daily pill, suitable for all but the smallest dog breeds, that could contribute to extending life span by improving metabolic fitness.

Other offerings for aging pets

Loyal is one of several startups that have raised funding in roughly the past couple years with offerings for older pets, and canines in particular. Others are looking at diet, diagnostics and insurance coverage.

On the diet side, Mammaly, a German startup, has raised $18 million to date to make meals, snacks and supplements for dogs, with a particular emphasis on alleviating some of the ailments that come with aging. Its product lineup includes supplements to aid digestion, strengthen bones and joints, and help senior dogs stay energetic.

New York-based Spot & Tango, meanwhile, offers personalized meal plans for dogs that take into account age, breed and health conditions. While it isn’t exclusively focused on older dogs, the company says its focus on fresh meals and quality ingredients that can contribute to longer life spans. To that, the company has raised $57 million in known funding to date, most coming in 2022.

Similarly, A Pup Above, based in Austin, Texas, scooped up $5.9 million in angel funding last year to make frozen and dry pet food with human-grade ingredients, formulated for adult and senior dogs

Drugs, vets and diagnostics

Other startups are focused on medical care, with an eye to extending dogs’ lifespans and improving quality of life as they age.

One in the latter camp is Invetx, developer of a long-acting therapeutic to treat pain associated with chronic osteoarthritis in pets, which has raised $86 million to date. The Boston-based company is targeting a large market, citing internal research showing U.S. veterinarians estimate more than 40% of their canine patients have signs of osteoarthritis.

Startups are also working on ways to help identify pet ailments and health risks at an earlier stage, when conditions may be easier to prevent or treat. Embark, which has raised $94 million to date, offers DNA tests to assess dogs’ health risks, breed mix and age. The Boston-based company markets itself to both pet owners and veterinary practices.

La Jolla, California-based PetDx, meanwhile, is focused on early detection of canine cancer, which it says is the most common cause of death for adult dogs. The startup has raised $72 million to date, with its last known financing in late 2021. Its main focus is a liquid biopsy test for dogs that can detect 30 different types of cancer from a standard blood draw.

Pet wellness is another focus area, based on the idea that much like humans, dogs can extend their healthy lifespans through preventative care. One startup formed along these lines is Kansas-based Companion Protect, which has raised $27 million to date to roll out customizable pet insurance and wellness plans that can be bundled with home and auto policies.

People are spending more on their pets

The rise of startups focusing on extending dog lifespans comes amid a period of sharp growth in household spending on pet care.

We’re talking big numbers too. Between 2013 and the end of 2021, for instance, Americans’ annual pet expenditures went from $58 billion to $103 billion, per the Department of Labor statistics. That’s an increase of 78% in just eight years. Global pet-related spending has been trending upward too.

For startups, convincing people to spend on their pup’s wellness and longevity probably isn’t the hardest sell. After all, if you talk to most former dog owners, their biggest regret is that they didn’t have enough years to spend together.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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