LOS ANGELES – Dexter's social calendar this holiday season is chock-full of travel plans, party invites, new clothes, special meals and trips to see Santa Claus.
Highlights for the 3-year-old cocker spaniel and his owner Carol Bryant, of Forty Fort, Pennsylvania, include a couple of car trips to look at light displays. A friend drives so Bryant can hold Dexter in the passenger seat as they drive by the lighted homes. "He especially likes the animation and wags his tail," she said.
Like a lot of pet owners, Bryant makes her holiday plans around her dog.
Bryant, the editorial, social media and public relations director for Fido Friendly Magazine, takes photos galore of Dexter in his holiday finest and uses them on Facebook, Twitter, her blog, and in emails to friends and Christmas cards. Their shopping sprees have already begun. Dexter will host a party. His best friend, a golden cocker named Bailey, will host a party. There will be presents to and from Dexter under the Christmas tree. He knows which ones are his and does his own unwrapping.
Bryant hung Dexter's personalized stocking with care. He'll spend Christmas Eve in pajamas and a bathrobe with ducks on it. He will look his brown-and-white best because of a holiday trip to the groomer, and he will dine on lean boiled turkey on Christmas Day.
A recent AP-Petside.com poll found that just over half of American pet owners will buy gifts for their pets this holiday season, and they'll spend an average of $46 on their animals, with toys and treats topping the list. Overall spending in the pet industry (including food, supplies, veterinary care, grooming, boarding and pet sitting) was just over $48 billion in 2010, with over $50 billion in spending projected for 2011, according to the American Pet Products Association.
"It seems many pet owners have accepted that their pets are like children and they enjoy indulging their pet more than ever. It is easier for pet owners to spend on their pets than other relationships in their lives because pets have no expectations," Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Association, said earlier this year.
The Associated Press asked a couple of pet lifestyle experts to describe ways people might celebrate the holiday season with their pets. Some of the answers: Buy your parrot a pinata full of dried fruit. Put a tiny video camera around your cat's neck and let it record some Christmas memories. Or build a holiday dinner around your dog's gluten-free needs.
Some pet stores and shelters host photo fundraisers where you can purchase a picture of your pet in Santa's lap. And photographers who specialize in pets can bring backdrops and lights to your home to take professional shots of your pet and family for keepsakes and cards, Bryant said.
Private chefs can teach you to create menus for human families based on a dog's diet needs, said Jessica Vogelsang, a San Diego veterinarian and author of pawcurious.com. Vogelsang ate ground chicken with cheese and stuffed squash at a recent demonstration by chef Tasha Ardalan from foxytreats.com. Or you can include goodies pets can eat -- like peanut butter treats -- in your holiday baking.
You might want to stock up on breath freshener for pets for this idea from Sandy Robins, an Irvine-based lifestyle consultant for Petco Animal Supplies Inc.: "If you can kiss your two-legged family members under the mistletoe, you can kiss your four-legged family members." Just don't let pets nibble on the mistletoe; it can cause gastrointestinal upsets.
Pets may also be allergic to ingredients in human perfumes, air fresheners, oils and candles, Robins said, but there are pet-friendly versions of some scented products. People who use those might even find themselves wheezing less, she said, because "what's good for pets is good for people."
There is no must-have pet gift this year, but one of the most popular gifts last year was the Snuggie for pets, Robins said, and this year, she expects pajamas will be big sellers. Another trend: Gifts for the senior set -- meaning pets over age 7 -- including infrared massagers and chew toys for those short on teeth, Robins said.
You can also buy a video cam that fits on a collar and let the cat or dog take home movies by the Christmas tree, though Robins acknowledged it might take some serious editing to get to the good stuff.
Petfinder.com is holding its third annual "Foster a Lonely Pet for the Holidays" campaign, hoping to give pets from 1,500 shelters a home stay between Christmas Eve and New Year's. Meanwhile, the goal of the Iams Home 4 the Holidays (IH4TH) drive this year is 1.5 million pet adoptions worldwide.
Finally, there is an endless variety of pet-themed clothing, housewares and accessories for the humans in a dog's life. For bakers, cake, cookie and candy pans come in the shape of bones, dog houses and fire hydrants. Tiffany & Co. sells a sterling silver dog bone charm for a bracelet.
"The apparel and accessory industry is recognizing that not all pet owners want embroidered cardigans or socks," Vogelsang said.