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Walmart wants to fetch more pet business with in-store vet clinics and an online pet pharmacy

Walmart is making a play for pet owners with an online pet pharmacy, in-store vet clinics and a broader array of wholesome pet foods. (Walmart)
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As Americans spend more than ever on their furry friends, Walmart is getting pet-smart with products and services, including an expanded fleet of in-store veterinary clinics and an online pet pharmacy.

Starting Tuesday, customers will be able to fill pet prescriptions — not only for dogs and cats, but also horses and livestock — at and have them delivered to their doorstep. Walmart is also expanding its roster of vet clinics, which are operated in partnership with Essentials PetCare, from 21 to 100 nationwide by year’s end. These clinics will offer standard exams, vaccinations and care for minor illnesses such like ear infections and common skin conditions.

“Pets play an important role in many people’s lives, and making sure families have easy access to high-quality, affordable veterinary care is in-line with helping our customers save money and live better, including their four-legged family members,” said Marilee McInnis, Walmart’s director of corporate affairs, in a statement.

The world’s biggest retailer is cashing in on the rising wave of pet spending, which doubled from 2005 to 2018, reaching a record high of $72.5 billion, according to a study from the American Pet Products Association. This year, spending is projected to reach $75.3 billion, and research suggests millennials are fueling the increase.

Millennials own more pets than any other demographic: 70 percent, according to a 2018 study from TD Ameritrade. Millennials also are shifting the culture around pet ownership; they’re more likely to consider pets “fur babies” and more likely to drop money on higher-end products and discretionary items such as pet clothes. On average, millennial dog owners spend nearly $1,300 a year on their canine companions, the study found.

“We know this generation is willing to pay more for quality products and services to improve the health and well-being of their pets,” Bob Vetere, chief executive of the American Pet Products Association, said in a statement accompanying the study. “Today more than ever, pet owners view their pets as irreplaceable members of their families and lives.”

The biggest source of pet spending is food, with owners dropping more than $30 billion on chow last year. In particular, sales of fresh and organic pet food have skyrocketed, growing more than 70 percent in the past three years, according to data from Nielsen. Premium pet foods are now more popular than generics.

"We anticipate steady growth in the pet food category thanks to opportunities that reside in specialized diets, targeting the aging pet population and pets with unique dietary needs,” Vetere said in a statement. “The availability of fresh food options and subscription delivery programs is also expected to increase spending in this category.”

Walmart has tried to capitalize on the trend by expanding its selection of wholesome pet foods, adding more than 100 new brands online in the past year. The Bentonville, Ark.-based company has also developed health-conscious pet foods for its private-label brands, including Pure Balance and Golden Rewards.

Veterinary costs are the second-biggest source of pet spending, totaling more than $18 billion last year, according to the APPA study. More owners are investing in pet insurance, and they’re taking their pets to the vet more frequently thanks to falling visit costs. Walmart has seen the growth in pet-care spending firsthand — in the past year, its online sales of dog- and cat-related health-care products ballooned 60 percent, according to a company spokeswoman.

Orders through the online pharmacy totaling $35 or more will be eligible for free two-day shipping. By the end of the month, Walmart will also bring the 30 most popular pet medications to its 4,500 in-store pharmacies, making them available for same-day pickup.