By DR. MARTY BECKER and GINA SPADAFORI
Universal Press Syndicate
Those who think Americans spend too much on their pets aren't going to be happy with the news that soon we'll be spending even more. But for the hundreds of manufacturers and thousands of retail buyers who turned up in Orlando, Fla., recently for one of the pet industry's biggest trade shows, the news is nothing but good.
"I don't want to use the term recession-proof," said Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association Inc., at the group's annual Global Pet Expo. "But I will say this industry is resilient."
Vetere's group had predicted spending on pets would hit $38.4 billion in 2006 -- up from $21 billion in 1996. In fact, the APPMA was a little on the low side, with spending in 2006 coming in at $38.5 billion. Next year, said Vetere, the group's "conservative" estimate is an astonishing $40.8 billion in spending on pets.
To look around the massive trade-show floor -- the show sold out its 2,300 booths -- is to get a pretty good idea where all the money goes and how our relationship with pets has changed over the years.
"It's an emotional connection," said Vetere. "When I was growing up, we had a dog in the back yard, and he was considered well-cared-for. Now, if you're treating pets like children, you're no longer the oddball in the neighborhood -- you're the norm."
Vetere noted that because so many pets are now considered full members of the family, trends migrate quickly from human products to pet ones. "The same person is making both purchases," he said.
At Global Pet, the growth in human products that tout "natural," "organic" or "herbal" had clearly made the migration, not only in foods, but also in such things as aromatherapy kits and health-care products. Trends in fashion have migrated as well, with brand-name apparel for fashionable "purse dogs" more than holding its own from previous shows.
Choices in products that promise easy ways to deal with pet challenges also continue to expand. Where once there was one option in a self-cleaning litter box, now there are several competing for the dollars of the busy cat lover, along with countless litter box accessories. The revolutionary no-pull design of the front-clip dog harness is now offered with slight differences in several product lines.
One of the most pronounced trends at the trade show is the push toward products at the high and the low end of consumer spending. While the rich think nothing of spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on collars and coats for their dogs, and designer handbags for carting them around in, the desire for pup bling is also drawing the silly stuff into the nation's mass merchandisers.
For example, the venerable Sergeant's brand, which made pet-products history with its introduction decades ago of the flea collar, not only launched a new line of pest-control products for dogs, but also a clothing line for small dogs. Both are set to be competitively priced and headed for big-box grocery or general merchandise retailers.
The drive behind it all? Vetere says in part the spending is because baby boomers don't look at pets the way their parents did. Where once having a pet was something you did when the kids were at home, today's empty-nesters are filling their homes with pets. And at the other end of the age scale, young adults adopt pets while delaying marriage and children. Today, 63 percent of U.S. households have pets, but only 34 percent have children.
The next trend? Watch for an increase in new pet-care services, says Vetere. "Anything that allows people to have pets and freedom, too."
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dogmobiles," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting PetConnection.com.
Are cats happiest when allowed outside?
Q: I've noticed you're one of those people who insist that cats be kept inside. I disagree with you and don't think it's the problem it's made out to be. Our cats learn to stay close and avoid cars. We keep them well-fed, so they don't hunt.
Most of all, their lives are happy. They cry to go out, and we will continue to let them. Will you please provide the other point of view? -- W.S., via e-mail
A: No one disputes that cats love to go outside and roam freely. The problem with free-roaming cats is twofold: What cats do, and what gets done to them.
To a free-roaming cat, the world is his litter box. That's not fair to your neighbors, and it's also not good for the environment. Cat feces can transmit toxoplasmosis, which can potentially be not only a danger to humans but also a lethal risk to animals such as otters, when rains flush fecal matter into the sewage system.
Free-roaming cats also hunt, and some of their prey may be endangered. Feeding your cat doesn't stop him from hunting, by the way. The ability to hunt is hardwired into all cats. But the level of desire varies by a cat's genetics and early experiences, not by the rumbling in his belly. Many a well-fed cat is an avid hunter.
You may have been lucky with your cats, as studies show that free-roaming cats have life spans many years shorter than indoor kitties, thanks to traffic, predation, disease and poisoning (accidental ... or maybe not). You'll also likely spend more money in veterinary bills coping with the problems of your free-roaming cats, such as treating abscesses.
The prudent alternative to the risks and problems of free-roaming cats is to keep your cats in and provide environmental enrichments such as toys, access to a screened patio and so on. Your cats will be happy, and so will be your neighbors and all the birds within reach. -- Gina Spadafori
Puppy on the run
Q: When I lost my dog to cancer before the holidays, I lost not only my best friend but also my running partner. I have a new puppy now, a springer spaniel named Mathias. With the previous dog, we both started running as adults. How soon can I start running with Mathias? I miss having a dog with me. -- F.R., via e-mail
A: You need to wait awhile before putting the miles on that pup, or risk permanent damage to his developing body. Eight months of age is about the earliest you should start him running with you, and even then, you should figure on only a mile or two at a relatively slow pace at first.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't be doing anything with your puppy now. Use the next few months to make sure your pet is well-socialized. Introduce him to any situation that's likely to pop up, including being comfortable around people of all ages, bicycles, strollers, cars and noisy motorcycles.
Get your pup into a training class now so he'll learn how to walk -- and later run -- on lead without dislocating your shoulder or pulling you off-stride. While it's best to teach your dog to run without pulling, you can also get a great deal of control with one of the new front-clip harnesses. They're wonderful!
Talk to your veterinarian to get a more accurate assessment of your pet's development and suitability as a running companion. When you get the go-ahead to start training together, take your time building up your pet's mileage and speed.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Teach your cat to come running
Your cat can learn to come when called, if you give him good reason to try.
Before starting any training, resolve to never call your cat to come to you before anything bad happens. Never call your cat for a bath, trimming nails, giving medications or anything else your cat doesn't like.
Your cat likes his dinner, so starting calling him when you put food down. Give a little less dry food to snack on during the day and offer canned food for supper to strengthen the association between the word you use to trigger the desired behavior and your cat's natural desire to come in for a meal.
When your cat is making the association between the word you're using and supper being served, expand on the lesson by offering kibbles or treats by hand. Call your cat, move backward, and then give the treat when he follows. For playtime, drag a string and call your cat as you back away.
You want your cat to know you are the source of all good things when the magic word is used.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
Repetition key to bird talking
You can try to teach your parrot some words and phrases by repeating them clearly. Nurture communication further by using the words in their proper context and by setting up an association your bird can grasp.
For example, every time your bird lowers his head to request a scratch, ask him, "Wanna scratch?" and then scratch him. When you give him foods or other toys, call them by name out loud. Play naming games with him. Say "toy," and then tell him "Good bird!" for taking the toy from you, and then repeat the exercise.
You may have an easier time if yours is a one-bird household. Two birds may be more interested in talking their own language with each other than figuring out your expressions. Some experts also suggest not attempting to teach your bird to whistle, at least not until he has picked up speech. Whistling birds seem to show a reluctance to use words.
What about the words or sounds you don't want mimicked? Don't teach them, for a start, no matter how funny it may seem. As for those nasties a pet picks up by accident, the best you can do is ignore them, providing neither positive nor negative reinforcement. -- Gina Spadafori
Set up care for you pets in your will
How can you ensure that your pets will be well-cared-for if something happens to you?
You can't leave money to your pet because, in the eyes of the law, an animal is a piece of property, with little more legal status than a chair. Instead, you must leave your pet (and money to take care of the animal, if you can) to a friend, relative or organization that will look out for your pet's interests.
While you should formalize any arrangements with the help of an attorney, it's essential to discuss your plans with the person you've chosen to handle your affairs and with anyone you hope will adopt your pet. You might assume a friend or family member will adopt your pet, but that same person, no matter how well-meaning, may not be prepared for the responsibility and might quickly drop off the animal at the nearest shelter.
The time to find this out is now, so you can make other arrangements.
The Web site of the Association of the Bar of New York City (www.abcny.org) offers information on providing for your pet after your death. You can access the information by clicking on "Reports/Publications/Forms," then on "Brochures/Books," and finally by clicking on "Providing for Your Pets in the Event of Your Death or Hospitalization."
Although the information specifically applies to New York state law, it's broad enough to outline all the options. Even better: The association provides sample documents to show how to draw up agreements that will protect your pets. -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
More pets than ever
The love of pets continues to grow, with more people than ever keeping company with some kind of companion animal or bird. The percentage of U.S. homes with pets:
1998 61 percent
2000 62 percent
2002 62 percent
2004 63 percent
2006 63 percent
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association Inc.
PETS ON THE WEB
Better care for parrots
Sally Blanchard has strong opinions about parrots -- and she doesn't seem to care who disagrees with her. In both her public appearances and in her magazine, The Companion Parrot Quarterly, she offers strongly worded advice on how these clever pets should be raised, handled and cared for.
With some pet publications caring more about offending advertisers than offering information that puts pets first, Blanchard's views are a breath of fresh air. Her magazine is well worth the $28 basic subscription for six issues by second-class mail (or $40 for six issues by first-class mail).
You can also find a wide variety of articles for free on Blanchard's Web site (www.companionparrot.com) as well as her Web log. The site also offers original artwork, both drawings and sculpture, by Blanchard herself. Anyone with a parrot needs to bookmark this site. -- Gina Spadafori
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600