Any animal lover will tell you that the special bond between people and pets is a breed of its own. They’ll say four-legged friends are so much more than pets; they are family members, confidants, best friends and lifelong companions.
Approximately 70 percent of U.S. households today own a pet, and many consider their relationship with their furry pals as one of the most significant in their lives. In fact, a recent survey by Chewy found that 71 percent of pet parents regularly put their pet’s needs before their own. This growing humanization of pets extends to healthcare, as Chewy’s survey also found that almost half (46 percent) of pet parents have spent more on their pet’s medical care than their own.
While it’s clear that pet parents want their pets to live happy, healthy and lengthy lives, increasing veterinary prices caused by inflation and economic uncertainty can lead to difficult decisions in the event of unexpected accidents and illnesses.
“At Chewy, our mission is to be the most trusted and convenient destination for pet parents and partners everywhere,” said Mita Malhotra, president of Chewy Health. “And, as it relates to pet health, that means we need to focus on making healthcare more accessible for every pet parent.”
Enter CarePlus, an exclusive suite of insurance and wellness offerings that is Chewy’s answer to the evolving pet health landscape.
“People are faced with the decision of: ‘How am I going to be able to afford my own care after I pay for my pets? Will I be able to afford to pay my rent or my car payment? Because I’m always going to make the decision that will save my best friend,’” said Dr. Katy Nelson, associate director of veterinary services for Chewy Health. “CarePlus empowers veterinarians to make those recommendations without fear of financial burden and empowers pet parents to pursue a gold standard of care.”
WHAT CHEWY DOES
Chewy’s mission is to be the most trusted and convenient destination for pet parents. Embracing pets as family and putting pet parents first are the cornerstones to its efforts. CarePlus, Chewy Pet Pharmacy and Connect With a Vet were developed under Chewy Health
Closing the Pet Insurance Gap
While less than 5 percent of pets are insured in the United States today, one in three pets require emergency veterinary care every year. CarePlus was developed to give pet parents the power to, as Dr. Nelson says, “Always say ‘yes’ to life-saving care.”
For millennials and Gen Z — the largest class of pet parents to date — pets are members of the family who are often treated something akin to children. “Pets are part of their family much more than any other generation prior to them — full stop,” said Malhotra.
According to Malhotra, there are three primary elements of CarePlus that are tailored to the needs of this emerging generation.
“The biggest one is that they gravitate towards brands that understand the bond of pet parents and pets — and no one celebrates that bond as well as Chewy does,” she said.
Second, they seek a seamless user experience.
“Customers want to be able to go to the vet and have the insurance magically work,” Malhotra said. “CarePlus, through our partnership with Trupanion, allows customers to walk in, have their pet seen and the payment goes directly to the vet.”
Finally, CarePlus is designed to serve a cohort of digital natives who crave convenience and fast access to resources, care and customer service, Malhotra said. To meet this need, CarePlus customers can connect with licensed insurance agents or self-serve solutions.
CarePlus is an exclusive suite of insurance and wellness plans developed with care by the Chewy Health team. “We custom designed these plans to pair the best coverage with industry-leading wellness benefits that are unique to us,” Malhotra told Built In. Plans range from accident-only coverage to comprehensive care. “CarePlus fits squarely in our mission to make healthcare accessible for all pet parents,” she added.
CarePlus users also have unlimited access to Chewy’s Connect With a Vet, an industry-leading tele-triage service that allows pet parents to chat with a licensed veterinary professional on demand.
“This type of access is key: Millennials and Gen Z are used to searching for answers online, but Chewy connects them with a veterinary expert who can provide substantive advice and guidance that is tailored uniquely for their individual pet,” Malhotra said.
“It provides peace of mind,” Dr. Nelson chimed in. “We hear so often from our customers, ‘It gives me peace of mind to know I’m doing the right thing for my pet.’”
What Makes Careplus Unique?
- Can be used at any veterinary practice in the United States
- 24/7 access to Chewy’s award-winning customer care team for those seeking education on insurance
- Customers can choose from insurance plans (covering accidents and illness) or wellness options (preventative care) for a variety of offerings that fit the needs and budget of any pet parent
- Pet parents looking for complete protection can bundle insurance and wellness plans together
- No lifetime payout limits (some benefits vary by plan)
- 100% of costs covered for eligible prescription medications, supplements, parasiticides and veterinary diet food purchases on Chewy.com (after deductibles are met)
- The ability to connect with licensed veterinary professionals from anywhere in the country through Connect With a Vet.
- Reduced out-of-pocket expenses with options for direct payments (powered by Trupanion) at participating veterinary clinics
Modernizing the Pet-Care Continuum
To realize its mission of making healthcare accessible and affordable for all pet parents, Chewy Health must consider another vital customer: veterinarians.
When Chewy Health launched nearly five years ago, the team realized there was a dire need to modernize the continuum of veterinary care via technology. The team focused on connecting care, commerce and convenience, Malhotra said, noting that insurance stood out as a clear space with room for innovation.
“We have a robust product and tech infrastructure,” she explained. “We were already down the path of building out our healthcare ecosystem with Chewy Pharmacy — which is now America’s number one pet pharmacy — along with our in-house Compounding Pharmacy, Connect With a Vet, our content engine, PetMD and our veterinary-facing platform, Practice Hub. Pet insurance was a natural next choice to make care more efficient for pet parents and veterinarians.”
MITA MALHOTRA’S JOURNEY TO CHEWY
Malhotra started out her career in engineering at various companies, but longed for something different. “I quickly realized that the business side was always tugging at me,” she said.
To enable this transition, she first switched her career to operations management and then into marketing and P&L management. She subsequently carved out a career in general management at various tech companies.
Malhotra was working at Amazon when Chewy reached out to her about building their pharmacy business. “There was so much room for innovation within the space and the opportunity was massive,” she said. “Five years later, I’m super proud of what we’ve built and delivered.”
This need was accelerated by the pandemic, when the demand for pet-health services exploded nearly overnight. More households acquired pets, but the pet-health industry faced a shortage of licensed veterinarians. Chewy answered the need with the launch of innovative new services such as Connect With a Vet and, now, CarePlus.
“We can’t manufacture more veterinarians, but we can make them more efficient,” Malhotra said, noting that a veterinary-facing software is also available in the form of Practice Hub, Chewy’s business-to-business offering where veterinarians can prescribe and fulfill medications directly on Chewy.com, earning revenue throughout the process.
“We always had these health-focused platforms like Connect With a Vet and CarePlus in mind as something down the road,” Dr. Nelson added. “The pandemic just kickstarted the need to better support pet healthcare with technology.”
Spreading the Word
Both Dr. Nelson and Malhotra noted that educating customers about the importance of pet insurance lies at the heart of CarePlus.
While pet insurance is commonplace in European countries, it has yet to gain a foothold in the United States, where only 3 percent of pet owners use it. Malhotra sees this as the result of complex offerings, excessive inclusions and lack of awareness in the current pet insurance market.
“Even if people are aware, they often question: ‘Do I really need this? What will it cover?” she said. “It’s a monthly plan you’ll likely keep for the rest of your pet’s life — it’s a highly considered purchase.”
Chewy strives to educate in a way that opens pet parents’ eyes to the realities of veterinary emergencies and their costs without instilling panic. Via written resources on Pet MD and brief videos and infographics in products, Chewy is crafting an intentional narrative on the impact of pet insurance.
“There are very cute use cases in our infographics,” Malhotra said, going on to describe a dog tugging at a sock educating on the costs of a swallowed sock or toy and a puppy outlining the routine costs of first-year dog ownership.
“Just as human beings get sick, pets get sick, too,” she said. “Content like these infographics drive education in a fun, clever way versus scare tactics.”
The Furry ‘Why’ Behind CarePlus
In its survey on the humanization of pets among modern pet parents, Chewy unearthed a compelling statistic that validates every choice the company has made in its entrance to the pet health market.
“Eighty percent of those surveyed said that coming home to their pet was the best part of their entire day,” said Dr. Nelson, beaming.
“It makes me think of my Jack Russell terrier and old yellow cat I had before I had kids — I don’t think anyone has ever been more excited to see me than that Jack Russell terrier — maybe this guy curled up on the couch behind me,” she said as she motioned to a fluffy mass of a dog napping behind her. “Pets are a source of joy for so many people, and for some people, their only source of joy in a day.”
DR. NELSON’S JOURNEY TO CHEWY
Dr. Nelson shares a commonality with Malhotra: a nontraditional career path. After starting her veterinary career, she found herself similarly pulled to pursuits beyond the exam room. She then worked as a technical services veterinarian for Iam’s burgeoning MRI business before being trained as a media representative and serving as a media spokesperson and international wellness council member. She then moved back into emergency medicine before launching a marketing consulting business for pet companies and making a foray into TV and radio. Dr. Nelson joined Chewy in 2020. “I’ve been running our telehealth platform for the last three years, and I’ve loved every second of it,” she said.
It’s not hard for Dr. Nelson to understand why pet parents naturally put their best friends’ needs over their own. The same Chewy survey indicated that pets are influencing life decisions from where to live, how to travel and how money is spent. Dr. Nelson reflected on choosing to live in a small home with a fenced-in yard over a condo in the swanky part of town during her twenties for the sake of her Jack Russell buddy.
“It was not great for my social life, but it was great for my dog, and I would do it all over again,” she said. “It’s not hard to imagine why this population of pet parents is making decisions for their pets, too.”
From the development of CarePlus to the countless ways that Chewy authentically connects with customers throughout each step of the pet parent journey, every decision is made with the intention of improving the lives of pets everywhere.
“At Chewy, we stand for companionship, and CarePlus delivers on that,” Malhotra said.