WASHINGTON (AFP) — Christmas is going to the dogs -- and cats -- in the United States, where many of the 71.1 million US households that have a furry family member include them in their holiday celebrations.
That doesn't just mean buying them a present, but includes throwing a party for them, having them photographed with Santa, or giving them a spa treatment.
"Last year, if you counted all the snacks, treats, gifts and parties that people had for pets from Halloween through Christmas, they spent almost three billion dollars in that two-month period alone," Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA), told AFP.
"People have birthday parties, Christmas parties, Hanukkah parties for their pets," he added.
"I have heard of people having 'pupperware' parties. People bring their dogs over and there are a bunch of toys and games and gifts, and just as humans would do at a Tupperware party, the pets pick out the gifts they like."
A poll published last week showed that around 90 percent of Americans consider their dog or cat a part of their human family, and 65 percent of Americans buy gifts for their pets during the holidays.
"Many people think of their pets as another member of the family, so it's only natural that they want to include them in their holiday celebrations. We offer a variety of merchandise that allows them to do that," said Sara Schwimmer, founder of popJudaica.com, which sells Jewish items for people and animals.
The popJudaica yamulke and tallis for dogs sell like hotcakes.
"It's very popular at Hanukkah, for bark-mitzvahs to celebrate a dog's 13th birthday, and at weddings," Schwimmer told AFP.
Tammy Zaiko has brought painting kits for pets onto the market, aimed at budding Dali-matians or Ruff-aels, the blurb on the package reads.
"Everybody makes dog treats and coats and collars and leashes but it seemed to me that there wasn't a lot of interactive stuff out there," said Zaiko.
"Sales are definitely picking up with the holiday season," said Zaiko, who is a banker by day and set up "Art-casso" in memory of her golden retriever, Fletcher.
Human resources manager Debbie Guardian invested all 20,000 dollars (14,000 euros) of her life savings in a unique present for her two labrador-dachshund mixes called Opie and Dixie: she created and named a product line in honor of them.
"My girls get nothing special for Christmas because they get everything they want all year long," Guardian told AFP, adding that she spends "thousands" on Opie and Dixie in addition to her investment in the eponymous health supplements and toiletry line.
Humans spend so much on their pets because they have humanized the furry creatures, which play an important role in their lives, Vetere said.
Empty-nest parents fill the void created at home when the kids grow up, with a pet.
Young professionals who are delaying having families are turning to pets instead of kids, and "people who live alone, or work out of their house or in cubicles all day and are looking for some sort of interaction, get a pet," Vetere said.
"Pets are the one thing you can come home to after a hard day and complain to, and they just sit there with their purring or with their tail wagging," he said.
Big-name designers, hairdressers and shops are also getting in on the pet merchandise market.
John Paul Dejoria, a founder and chief executive of the company that makes Paul Mitchell haircare products for humans, has created the John Paul Pet range of body care products for pets.
At a pre-Christmas event to raise funds for the Washington Humane Society, held at upscale department store Bloomingdale's, canines could have their picture taken with Santa and Frosty the Snowman, or snack on gourmet treats.
Pets could be given a spritz of PawFume, a scent for dogs developed by Juicy Couture, a division of Liz Claiborne, or try on a faux-fur jacket, also by Juicy Couture, which costs 70 dollars.
A plush-toy bottle of Dog Perignon, for 15 dollars would be the perfect -- or should we say purr-fect? -- way to see in the new year.
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