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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 June 2006, 13:31 GMT 14:31 UK
Pampering pets for profit
By Nishi Bolakee
BBC Money Programme

Dog is served dinner on a festive decorated table
Gourmet meals are a big part of the pampered pet's lifestyle

Our passion for pets is fuelling a multi-billion pound business - and we are now spending more than ever before on our furry friends.

Latest figures show that the market has increased by a staggering 30% over the last 6 years.

It is now worth an estimated 3.8bn, and if this growth continues it is predicted to reach 4.26bn in 2010.

Young couples and empty nesters

Even though pet ownership is in decline we are still spending more on our animals.

Catriona Marshall, trade and marketing director of the UK's biggest pet chain Pets at Home, explains that the market is driven by the fact that young couples are taking longer to settle down and have families.

"They are putting off having children," she says, "and in the meantime having pets and treating them like surrogate children."

But it's not only the young and trendy who are cashing in on the act.

Older people, known as "empty nesters", are also pampering their pets and strengthening the market.

"People who have retired are spending their money on their pets and really finding a new lease of life with animals," Catriona Marshall says.

Pet food

So what are we splashing our cash on?

The pet food industry alone is worth a whopping 1.9bn.

Gone are the days when pets got the leftover scraps from the table and tins of cheap food.

Nowadays, dog and cat food is a very sophisticated market.

People might sell their car, forego family holidays, purely and simply so they can fund the treatment of their animals
Michael Herrtage, Cambridge University Veterinary School

Walk into any store and you'll find rows and rows of specially prepared products that are being advertised using mouth-watering language - "succulent meat", or "slow cooked in gravy" - designed to appeal to the owner rather than the pet.

The ranges of food are bewildering and you can choose anything from scientifically-formulated life stage products for your puppy and kitten, to specialist food products which claim to boost the health of your pet.

"People want to feel they are they're feeding absolutely the right type of thing for their pet," says Ms Marshall.

Companies are finding new and innovative ways to tempt your pet's taste buds, and with the introduction of organic and human-grade products for your dog, you can be sure that the pet food market is very big business indeed.


Just as pet food has become ever more sophisticated, advances in animal healthcare have also developed tremendously.

Animals are a great way of surrounding a brand with associations
Open University

Specialist referral centres are able to treat a variety of conditions.

Nowadays animal healthcare isn't far behind human healthcare and, pets can be treated for cancer, given hip replacements and even fitted with heart pacemakers. These treatments can cost thousand of pounds.

Michael Herrtage, Dean of Cambridge University's Veterinary Hospital, has noticed how some owners are prepared to make big sacrifices to kept their pets alive.

"Some people will go to inordinate lengths to fund the treatment of their pets," he says.

"They might sell their car, forego family holidays, purely and simply so they can fund the treatment of their animals."

Five years ago, Geraldine Alexander's 12-year-old dog Jasper was diagnosed with chronic arthritis. Jasper was unable to move properly and was in a lot of pain.

Since then, though, regular hydrotherapy sessions have helped him to regain the movement he once lost and he can now run around pain-free.

"He's a complete dog now," Geraldine says.

"He's very active for his age, and we want to prolong his life because he gives us a lot of pleasure."

I think as Brits we're not embarrassed anymore to be seen spending money on animals that we love
Sally Brazill-Drewett, Pets and the City

Dog behaviourist and trainer Carolyn Menteith says that nowadays, people are prepared to fork out more money on treatments and healthcare.

"People recognise that there isn't an upper limit," she says.

"There isn't a point where they will say, 'My dog is worth 2,000 - any more than that and I'm not paying it!'

"People don't think like that because the pet is seen as a family member."

The high cost of treatments for a pet has made insurance a booming market too. Just under a quarter of owners now have pet insurance, making this industry a cool 265m a year.

Pet fashion and accessories

But the most surprising growth area is pet fashion and accessories.

It's big business, and these days man's best friends can be seen sporting the latest designer fashions.

Big names like Ben De Lisi and Vivienne Westwood are in on the act with their own lines of canine couture.

Even London's most famous store, Harrods, hosts its own annual fashion show - "Pet-a-Porter" - which brings high-end, made-to-order dog fashion to the catwalk.

Some outfits can cost hundreds of pounds.

Pet boutiques have sprung up over the UK and have transformed the traditional pet shop into something very desirable indeed.

Sally Brazill-Drewett, of Pets and the City in Greenwich, thinks that the British attitudes towards their pets have changed dramatically.

"I think as Brits we're not embarrassed anymore to be seen spending money on animals that we love," she says.

Where America goes...

So it seems that the love affair with our animals is just beginning.

And to see where it could be heading we need only hop over the pond.

If you think the British are barking, then take a look at The Big Apple.

Here, the humanisation of pets has really taken off. Pets here are treated to Barkday Parties (birthday parties for dogs), Doga (Dog Yoga), and even Bark Mitzvahs (do we really need to explain?).

Pet slimmer of the year
This "pet slimmer of the year" won his owner a 2,000 holiday

Pooches here are pampered like nowhere else. Grooming parlours are a regular feature, and many New Yorkers don't bat an eyelid at spending a few dollars at a dog spa just to make sure their pooch is looking, and feeling, its very best.

The city even has its own pet bakery. Buttercups Paw-tisserie freshly bakes any number of treats for dogs all over the city.

There is even a luxury hotel for dogs and cats - "The Ritzy Canine Carriage House" - which boasts orthopaedic beds, a rooftop garden and its very own pet menu prepared by a chef.

Back here in the UK, it seems that our appetite for pleasing our pets will continue and companies are thinking of new and imaginative ways to get us to spend more.

So as Pets at Home opens its newest store in Carlisle, the market looks set to grow and grow.

Suddenly "a dog's life" doesn't seem a bad prospect.

The Money Programme: Pets For Profit, BBC Two at 7pm on Friday 9 June.

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