Amazon is considering expanding into veterinary telehealth in its latest bid to compete Walmartwhich began offering the service to Walmart+ subscribers earlier this year, people familiar with the matter told CNBC.
The e-commerce giant, which has already expanded into human health with the acquisition of One Medical, is a dominant player in pet food and supplies. However, it has so far not invested significantly in pet health, which is expected to drive growth in the $137 billion market.
The people who discussed Amazon’s consideration of the vet service declined to be identified because the discussions are private.
Veterinary telehealth allows pet parents to have virtual appointments with vets and veterinarians. The service is similar to human telemedicine.
Earlier this year, Walmart signed an agreement with veterinary telehealth provider Pawp to offer Walmart+ subscribers free access to the startup’s membership for a year. The offer is set to end on November 19, less than a week before Black Friday and just in time for the start of pet shopping season.
Amazon could turn to Pawp to power a potential pet telehealth offering in time for the holiday season because Pawp has already proven it can scale with a major retailer. Amazon could also partner with one of the dozens of other pet telehealth startups on the market or create its own practice. Rubbery did when it started offering the service during the Covid pandemic.
As Amazon’s efforts to expand its health care business have met with mixed results, the company has signaled that the pet market is a priority. Earlier this year, he spent a lot on one emotional Super Bowl ad which featured a rescue dog and how his family turned to Amazon when they needed supplies.
Amazon declined to comment.
Pet health to fuel market boom
Amazon’s potential foray into veterinary telehealth comes as the pet market becomes more competitive and retailers struggle to expand their offerings.
As more and more mass retailers offer pet essentials like food and toys, companies like Chewy, Walmart and Petco are expanding into pet health to stay competitive and increase market share.
The U.S. pet market is expected to grow to $200 billion by the end of the decade, and pet health care is driving that boom, according to Bloomberg Intelligence research published earlier this year.
Chewy has focused on creating pet prescriptions, insurance and telehealth. Petco has built on its footprint to grow clinics and grooming centers, making it one of the leading veterinary providers in the country.
Beyond its partnership with Pawp, Walmart recently announced plans to open a dedicated pet service center in Dallas, Georgia, as a pilot for what could become a larger program, the company previously told CNBC. The center, which will be staffed by employees of pet care and pet products company PetIQ, will offer a range of vet and grooming services, including wellness exams, dental cleanings and grooming.
If Amazon moves forward with a telehealth program for pets, it could take a similar approach to Walmart and offer it through its Amazon Prime subscription service.
The heart of the value propositions for both Amazon Prime and Walmart+ is unlimited free deliveries, but the paid subscription services also offer a number of competitive perks designed to incentivize signups and reduce churn.
Perks that come with subscription services – like Amazon Prime’s GrubHub+ offering and Walmart+’s addition of Pawp – are also designed to differentiate the two offerings and keep subscription services competitive.
Lobby for change
Veterinary telehealth emerged during the pandemic out of necessity, and the industry grew as a convenient alternative to in-person visits. But some vets say the practice may be dangerous to pets.
Dr. Lori Teller, past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association and professor of telehealth at Texas A&M University, said pet telehealth can be beneficial, but she has concerns about companies that could use it to boost product sales.
“Then we can get into trouble with either delayed treatment or misdiagnosis, particularly when the emphasis is more on the product than the best thing for the animal,” Teller told CNBC in a recent interview. “Those who provide general advice and triage services are a boon to the profession, they certainly help for after-hours matters or if you have a really busy day.”
A maze of state and federal laws governing pet telehealth and what veterinarians are allowed to do if they’ve never met an animal in person has been a barrier to the expansion of pet telehealth. It has sparked a growing lobbying movement to change regulations.
Corporate giants such as Chewy and Mars Veterinary Health, a subsidiary of pet food and candy conglomerate Mars, have helped fund these efforts. Amazon may also be throwing its hat in the ring.
So far this year, Amazon and its affiliates have spent about $430,000 on lobbying efforts targeting “digital health oversight,” “telemedicine” and the Food and Drug Administration, among other issues, according to Senate disclosure reports .
It is unclear whether the efforts were aimed at pet or human health, or both.