Pet owners go to unimaginable lengths to ensure that their animals are given the best in terms of attention and care that money can buy. And sometimes, especially so in a place like India, even the best fails to meet the international standards of pet care. At least this happens to be the general perception, the prevailing view in cities like Delhi and Mumbai.

The ground reality, on the other hand, is completely different. Some of the most exciting, oblique and innovative entrepreneurial projects today are carried out within this small but growing commercial space that marks the beginnings of a full-fledged pet-care industry in India. And this is one reason why Delhi and the NCR might be on their way to becoming the most pet-friendly of places in the country.
With growing affluence and better incomes in these parts, especially Delhi and Gurgaon, people are looking to spend more on their pets. So basic care – health, hygiene and proper training, for instance – becomes only one of points on the average pet-owner’s bucket list. And luxury takes precedence over everything else.

Going out for a party and worried about leaving your beloved mutt locked up alone at home? Then why not take it along, and since the occasion demands it, deck it up in designer wear and trendy accessories made especially for pets? Yes, you read it right. Designer wear for pets. And that’s not all. Today, there are a number of fully operational dogs-only restaurants in and around the national capital, as well as a bakery specialising in delicacies meant only for pets. Add to this, the variety of high-end services – like spas, therapists and day-care centres – available just for pets.

There’s so much on offer that today’s pet owners are spoilt for choice. “The market is booming. Honestly, there has never been such a huge jump in pet-related businesses — grooming, meals, pet camps, bakeries, etc. — as is happening now.  Anything that will pamper the pets is available on demand,” says Yadika Sharma, owner of The Spoilt Brat, a store specialising in natural, wholesome and oven-baked biscuits, treats and cakes for dogs.

This particular ‘barkery’, as Sharma likes to call it, is located at Nariman Point in Mumbai and has been offering a variety of gourmet biscuits and treats such as brownies, “muttkins” (doggy muffins), “lollipups” (biscuits with a rawhide chewy stick), “pawkins” and “pupcakes” (doggy cupcakes) to pet owners since its launch in 2010.

It’s not that difficult to fathom the growing acceptance and demand for such facilities among pet lovers, as is testified to by the launch of newer avenues for pet-care companies all across the major Indian cities.

According to a study by the Research and Consultancy Enterprise at the Institute of Management Technology, Ghaziabad, there are about 2.2 million dogs in Indian households, with the population increasing by 26% every year. And this rise is being complemented by a steady growth in pet-care businesses in the metros.  

“People have finally started learning the importance of dogs not only as ‘guards’, but as great companions too. Nowadays, people are adopting various kinds of pets, ranging from beautiful and smart local dogs and cats to older, even ailing canines. The mindset of families is also changing slowly for the better,” explains Dr Man Mohan Sharma, of the Delhi-based Max Vets, a full-fledged wellness clinic and spa for pets. Sharma’s facility gets some 10-12 pet-owners a day, coming in to get their pets treatments or spa sessions. “I believe,” he adds, “that this change is also happening because we now treat our pets like they would a member of their family. Pets get treated the same way we treat, for example, our kids. Gone are the days when pets would be tied outside the house and fed by the staff. Owners are now taking a keen interest in the well-being of their pets.”

Bangalore-based Somdatta Sengupta runs an online portal called Tails Love Gifts Too, which sells exclusive, bespoke gift hampers for pets across India. She says that she got the idea of starting this online store when she was on a holiday in the Scottish Islands. “We stayed with a family that owned an adorable English Shepherd. On the day we were leaving, we saw the pooch digging into a cute-looking gift hamper brimming with toys and treats that was delivered especially for him that morning. A gift hamper for a dog? I was stumped and sold on the idea,” says the Sengupta, a former PR executive.

Some of the products trending on pet products websites such as Sengupta’s include “designer premium winter sweaters for pets”, camouflage hats, crystal embedded collars and fancy dogs-only bathrobes among countless other things.

Among product-based pet businesses, personalised and premium products are also flourishing. Bespoke costumes, gift hampers and accessories are becoming hugely popular. Just as, on the other hand, personalised services for pets is gaining popularity. “Other than product-based businesses, there are multiple pet services that are receiving growing popularity. Pet obedience and agility training is gaining traction, as double-income families do not have enough time to train their pets themselves. Similarly, pet grooming and pet day care or boarding are services that seem to be capturing the market,” adds Sengupta.

“People have finally started learning the importance of dogs not only as ‘guards’, but as great companions too. Nowadays, people are adopting various kinds of pets, ranging from beautiful and smart local dogs and cats to older, even ailing canines. The mindset of families is also changing slowly for the better. We now treat our pets like we would a member of our own family.”

Food for pets, as a business sector, is another area with vast potential for experimentation and growth. Ansh Sharma runs a “dabba delivery” service in Jaipur that provides healthy, home-cooked and customised meals for pets. “You are what you eat and it’s the same with dogs,” he says. “For this reason, it is important to put emphasis on what your dog is eating. Read the labels, understand ingredients and then make an informed decision. I find that people are very keen on the customisation aspect and want to speak with me before ordering, so that I can tailor the meals specifically to their requirements.”

Sharma had always been passionate about animals. After completing his master’s, he returned to Jaipur and found out that his Labrador was not as healthy as he had left it. It had put on a lot of weight and had lost its fur. This prompted him to take a keen interest in its diet and he ended up studying dog and cat nutrition. Armed with the right knowledge, he began whipping up customised meals for dogs, with dramatic results.

Now, he caters to a large number of dogs with a focus on their health requirements in order to help them to avoid ailments like obesity, skin conditions, arthritis, liver, and kidney issues etc. Some of the delectable treats that Sharma offers are natural chicken jerky, chicken liver fudge and mango ice-cream amongst several others.

In spite of the huge opportunities, the fledgling pet-care industry has its own set of challenges. “The growing competition forces retailers to offer deep price discounts and seasonal offers, sometimes even at a loss to attract and retain customers. Retailers, who are involved in importing or delivering goods to customers, also face a huge logistical delay at times due to poor road conditions and a weak transportation infrastructure,” says Somdatta Sengupta of Tails Love Gifts Too.

But the fact that more services and products for pets – including in the premium range – are today on offer in cities like Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai is certainly good news for the growing number of pet owners in these cities.

Shashaank Bhansali, a pet owner who lives in Delhi’s Greater Kailash-II, says: “The restaurants, hotels and spas catering to pets here prove that those who love their pets have a new way of expressing themselves, but the hefty price tags turn away a lot of clients. I personally can’t think of buying an expensive cake for my dog, leave alone accessories. But I would love it if these very things become more affordable.”

But does the presence of such services contribute towards making cities like Delhi a little more pet-friendly? “When talking about how friendly a city is towards animals, I would say India is way ahead of other nations. Think about it, we have the largest number of stray dogs, cat, pigs and cows. And we the inhabitants of these cities do feed them from time to time. But yes stricter and better guidelines toward pets would help streamline and systematize things when it comes to pets.”

Get your pets registered

Having an unregistered dog can spell a lot of hassle for the owners. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi under its section 418 asks for the registration of all pet animals within the city. The civic agency, a few years ago, carried out a crackdown, where all owners of unregistered pets were fined Rs 100.
As per the Delhi Municipal Act, 1957, it is mandatory for every pet owner to get their pets officially registered. The civic agency claims that it is important to register a dog as it is only at this stage that the veterinary department of the MCD is able to check whether the dog has been given anti-rabies vaccination or not.
“More than 90% pet dogs in the city are not registered, though legally they should be. It is matter of grave concern for the authorities,” a senior MCD official told Guardian 20.
The basic reason the municipal agency has made these registrations mandatory has to do with checking whether or not the animals have been properly vaccinated.
In order to get one’s dog registered, the owner is required to go to the zonal office of the civic agency where, after checking the relevant documents, certifying that the pet has been given anti-rabies vaccination, the civic agency will register it.  
“To make their pets eligible for registration, the owners are required to have their pets vaccinated against rabies by a registered veterinary practitioner,” added the official.

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