Top Dogs in Online Pet Care

Top Dogs in Online Pet Care

Pet care is one of the largest industries within CPG. According to the American Pet Products Association, total expenditure in the US on pet care is estimated to top out around $75 billion in 2019. That’s a lot of kitty litter and puppy chow!

As a result, the online pet care market has grown immensely. The rise of subscription boxes, organic direct-to-consumer pet food and online pet pharmacies have contributed to a +14% YoY increase in visits to pet care sites.

To help brands and retailers better relate to their customers and compete with emerging companies online, here are some of Hitwise’s digital insights on the pet care industry online.

1. Direct-To-Consumer is on the Rise

From a retailer perspective, Chewy is the top dog with over 50% of all visits to the top 15 pet retailers online. Despite this advantage, Chewy’s +29% YoY growth in visits is being outpaced by several direct-to-consumer brand sites.

Two of the largest pet care brands, Purina and Hill’s, have grown their website traffic +324% and +234% YoY, respectively. This massive growth indicates a broader shift within the industry to buying direct. The benefit of a Chewy or Petsmart is that you can buy from multiple brands in the same trip, so growth to DTC sites shows greater loyalty to one brand.

Purina, The Farmer's Dog and Hill's are the top rising online pet retailers
Source: Hitwise, US. YoY growth in website visits to pet retailers, 13 weeks ending 9/28/19. 

There is a further interest from the pet community in personalized food options. New brands like The Farmer’s Dog and Ollie have made successful businesses off tailoring, pre-made, pre-portioned meals for pets based on profiles their owners fill out online. The Farmer’s Dog has grown online visits by +282% in the past year.

Subscription is another popular area of pet care. BarkBox, the leader in this space, continues to grow visits by +60% YoY, however, others are entering the market to compete. Kong, a popular dog-toy brand, is launching a personalized subscription toy box for dogs, leveraging two growing trends within the industry.

2. Pet Intenders are a growing base

When we think of pet care, we think of targeting people with pets, but what about the group of would-be pet parents?

Focusing on pet intenders, people who do not currently own a pet but are searching for one, can grow an online pet customer base and establish loyalty early. Searches for “pet adoption” peak in April/May, which is +59% greater than searches during December.

Pet adoption searches peak in April, up +59% from December
Source: Hitwise, US. Trend of “pet adoption” searches from October 2018 – September 2019. 

Knowing when pet adoption searches spike, what else do marketers need to know about the pet intender audience?

From a demographic perspective, pet intenders are 31% more likely to be widowed, 29% more likely to be retired and 33% more likely to be above the age of 65, while current pet owners tend to be younger. 

While it’s important to target pet intenders, pet brands and retailers still need to engage with current pet owners. Understanding the differences in how each audience searches within the pet industry can help brands and retailers better service each segment.

Over-Indexed Searches to Pet Care Industry
13 weeks ending 9/28/19

Pet Owner Search TermsLikelihood
cbd oil for dogs1608x
benadryl for dogs1093x
pretty litter608x
can I give my dog benadryl499x
cbd for dogs437x
dog vomiting360x
dog ear infection279x
best dog food brands272x
hot spots on dogs257x
veterinarian near me249x
Pet Intender Search TermsLikelihood
puppies for sale near me978x
adopt a kitten781x
dog breeds673x
dog adoption413x
adopt a dog360x
dog shelters near me347x
hypoallergenic dogs344x
hypoallergenic cats299x
dogs for sale274x
dog adoption near me226x

Source: Hitwise, US. Top over-indexed searches for pet owner and pet intender audiences, 13 weeks ending 9/28/19. 

Pet owners most likely to search for information on ailments their pet has and the treatments that can help them. Pet owners are 1608x more likely to search for “cbd oil for dogs” than the average online pet shopper, which are people who visit the pet industry but do not own/are not seeking a pet.

They also are interested in learning about veterinarians near them, and the best food for their pets. Creating content related to ”best pet product” rankings and establishing strong veterinary network ties can assist in further engaging with the pet owner community online.

Pet intenders are searching for ways to adopt or buy a pet, but adoption seems to be the preferred option since 5 of the top 10 over-indexed searches are related to adoption. Aside from interest in obtaining a pet, pet intenders want to learn more about different “breeds” and are especially interested in “hypoallergenic” pets.

3. Chewy garners the most brand interest

Chewy is the top retailer in the space in terms of website traffic, but it also generates the highest share of branded searches. 62% of Chewy’s internal searches are branded terms.

Chewy receives the most branded internal pet searches, followed by Petco and Amazon
Source: Hitwise, US. Top 100 internal searches by retailer categorized. 90 days ending 9/28/19.  

Among the top are major food brands, such as Purina and Blue Buffalo, as well as popular pet medications, such as Nexgard and Heartgard. Competitors, such as Petco and Amazon, have much lower shares of branded internal searches. 24% of Petco’s internal searches are branded, while just 16% of searches in the pet category on Amazon are branded.

Chewy’s top generic terms are skewed towards “food” and “treats” while Amazon and Petco receive more searches for pet equipment. “Aquarium” is the top searched item on Petco, but crates are also popular searches. On Amazon, “cat trees” and “dog beds” are most searched within their pet category.

Pet care brands can leverage these internal searches to customize offerings by retailer – Chewy may be a better partner for pet food, while Petco could benefit pet equipment. Pet retailers can also utilize the branded terms to engage with brand partners. Just as BarkBox began offering their subscription box on Amazon, Kong may want to engage in a similar partnership.


Online pet care will only continue to grow.

Focusing on attracting soon-to-be pet owners can expand your customer base, and targeting elderly, widowed and retired people that are after hypoallergenic pets could be the ticket.

Direct-to-consumer has become a more popular option, especially as personalization and subscription models get integrated into the business. Competing brands and retailers can offer their own subscription options and may want to bid on “personalization” related pet searches.

Major retailers like Chewy, Petco and Amazon will continue to be large destinations for pet care consumers. Brands can leverage the internal searches to optimize assortment, while retailers can use it as a tool to strengthen brand partnerships. 

Interested in growing your market share? Learn more about Hitwise’s consumer insights platform and search optimization platform.

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