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By: Damian Shore

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a small, but rapidly expanding, pet care market, although rising tensions between locals and dog-loving expatriates are threatening to put a brake on growth. However, this also represents an opportunity to boost sales of pet services and products.

Annual pet care sales approaching US$100 million

The UAE pet care market was worth US$94 million in 2013, having exhibited a real CAGR of 7% on 2008. The proportion of households with a cat rose from 7% to 8% over this period, while the proportion with a dog increased from 5% to 6%. As in many other Muslim countries, dogs are regarded as ‘haram’ (unclean) in the UAE. However, expatriates (many of whom are non-Muslims and from societies where pets in general, and dogs in particular, are increasingly indulged) significantly outnumber locals; according to one estimate, last year, they accounted for almost 90% of the local population.

“There are simply no places to take your dogs.”

But, with political power firmly in the hands of Emiratis, tensions regarding pet ownership are rising. As a result, pet owners are struggling to cope with what they claim is a lack of facilities for their pets. For example, dogs are banned from public beaches and parks. “I don’t walk my dog except behind my villa,” expatriate resident Darryl Soares told website Gulfnews in August 2014. The website noted that: “Many locals are uncomfortable around dogs.”

“I was waiting outside a shop with my dog … a woman nearly fainted when she saw my dog and was nervously asking me to move,” another expatriate, Archana Sen, recalled. She added: “We take our dog for her regular walks near the Abu Dhabi Municipality offices in Al Danah area, and often we take her to Saadiyat Island, but that is not a proper beach. These areas aren’t very suitable, but we have no other option.” Dog owner Islam Farrag commented: “I have been forced to walk my dogs after 10 in the evening!” “There are simply no places to take your dogs – they are prisoners in my house,” another owner, Layal Watfeh, claimed.

Meanwhile, during July 2014, signs appeared in Marina Promenade, a cluster of six residential towers in Dubai Marina, which read: “Thank you for not bringing your pet along in the promenade,” website 7daysindubai reports, angering local dog owners. “If I can’t take my dog downstairs, what am I supposed to do?” one dog-owning expatriate despaired.

Crisis creates opportunity?

For the pet care industry, the key issue is whether such restrictions and negative attitudes will act as a disincentive to dog ownership and reduce sales of dog food and other products. However, with public space increasingly closed off to dogs, there is also a significant opportunity to market services such as pet boarding, spas and doggy day care to affluent expatriate owners. Offering doggy day care from 08.00hrs to 18.00hrs at a rate of AED80 (US$22) per day, Dubai’s Urban Tails Pet Resort is a good example of this (albeit at the top end of the market). Pet toys that can help to relieve the boredom of house- or apartment-bound dogs are also likely to increase in popularity.

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