and Keith Turner
Universal Press Syndicate
Somebody forgot to tell our pets that we're in a recession.
While the ongoing U.S. economic downturn has forced many industries to cut jobs, close plants or curtail products, U.S. pet industry experts announced at last month's massive trade show that positive growth continued throughout 2008 -- and more is expected for 2009.
At its annual Global Pet Expo, held over Valentine's Day weekend in Orlando, Fla., the American Pet Products Association reported that Americans remain sweet on their pets. Last year the pet products and services industry saw an overall growth of 4.9 percent over the year before -- even though some sectors, such as veterinary medicine, are reporting slowdowns. In all, pet-loving consumers spent more than $43 billion on food, supplies, medicine and veterinary care in 2008, continuing an upward trend that places the pet industry as the eighth-largest industry in the United States, ahead of such stalwarts as toys, candy, jewelry and hardware.
"What we are seeing is that people are more willing to sacrifice on themselves before trimming back on their four-legged friends," said Bob Vetere, president of APPA. "The pet industry continues to grow at a record pace and has proven to remain strong during times of change, stress and economic setbacks."
For 2009, the APPA predicts continued growth, with overall sales expected to rise a moderate 3.9 percent to $45.4 billion. That's more than the gross domestic product of most countries in the world and almost double the amount spent on pets just a decade ago. That number could potentially increase to 7 or 8 percent, Vetere said, as the economy gets back on its feet.
For proof of the enormous popularity of pet products, one needs to look no further than the show itself, which saw a 10 percent increase in buyer attendance. As they made their way through the maze of pet products, store owners and wholesale buyers from all over the world tested, sampled and played with a record 16,000 products offered by nearly a thousand vendors.
Three clear themes were present in the new products being introduced at this year's show.
-- Clean and green. Natural, organic and biodegradable ingredients were prominent among this year's new products, signaling the industry's desire to offer pets the same quality of food their owners eat and to ensure that the materials used in pet products are more environmentally friendly.
-- Made in America. Vendors across all categories were quick to point out when their products were made domestically, a trend likely driven by recalls of imported products and the desire to support the U.S. economy.
-- Quality of life. Enrichment-activity products dominated, including food puzzles for dogs and cats, foraging challenges for birds and even a kit for teaching fish to do tricks.
"People may be changing their purchases and the way they are doing things," said Vetere, "but they are still making sure (their pets) are being well taken care of."
The 'Becker Best in Show' awards
This year, for the first time ever, the Global Pet Expo gave out an award to the product that Pet Connection's Dr. Marty Becker chose as his Best in Show.
Five finalists were named, and the top award went to the Bolt Frolicat Laser Light ($20, www.frolicat.com), a battery-operated laser toy that keeps a cat entertained without the owner having to keep the game going. You can't just set it up and leave, though, since the manufacturer recommends supervising the cat's play.
The other finalists:
-- Drinkwell 360 cat bowl ($50, www.vetventures.com). Unlike other models that are more like waterfalls, the 360 allows the pet access to fresh-flowing, filtered water from any angle. Keep your cat hydrated and healthy with this fun fountain that offers multiple streams of fresh, filtered water.
-- Contech Pet Compass ($100, www.contech-inc.com). A transmitter that attaches to a collar and allows tracking within a half-mile with a handheld base unit.
-- High Viz dog toys ($8 to $9, www.furpetssake.com). Toys designed to appeal to the colors dogs can see best.
-- Bissell ShedAway Pet Grooming Vacuum Attachment ($30, www.bissell.com). A vacuum attachment that works on the dog, not the furniture. Fits most models.
Reptiles not for preschool kids
Q: My son is dying to have a snake or lizard. He just turned 9, and I have no doubt he'll be able to care for a pet. I won't have a snake in my house, but I could see a lizard. My concern is with our pre-school daughter. I know there have been concerns with turtles in the past. Can we have a lizard safely? -- W.D., via e-mail
A: Because most, if not all, reptiles carry salmonella in their digestive tracks, these pets are generally not recommended for homes with children under 5 or with family members whose immune systems are compromised.
Talk to your pediatrician about your concerns regarding salmonella and your young daughter. It may be a good idea to wait a year or more before indulging your son with his desire for a pet reptile.
Once your pediatrician gives the go-ahead, the risks of owning a reptile (or any pet) can be greatly reduced with proper handling and care. The Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians suggests these basic safety precautions for reptile owners of any age:
-- Wash hands with soap and hot water after handling reptiles or after cleaning reptile enclosures.
-- Limit the part of your home that your reptile is allowed to be in, and wash your hands after being in that area.
-- Never allow reptiles in areas of the home where food is prepared. Don't share food or drink with reptiles, and don't eat, drink or smoke while handling them. Don't kiss these pets, no matter how cute you think they are.
-- Do not put reptiles into bathtubs or sinks. Buy a separate tub for bathing these pets. Pour the water down the toilet, and do not use sinks or bathtubs to clean the reptile bathing tub -- or any reptile housing or gear.
-- Supervise older children to be sure they don't touch the pets and then put their fingers in their mouths. Make sure thorough hand-washing follows each exposure to these pets.
The ARAV stresses that the precautions do not mean reptiles shouldn't be kept as pets, but rather that by following basic common sense in handling them, the potential for human health problems can be kept to a minimum. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
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 "dog cars," and a monthly drawing for more than $1,000 in pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Careful with that stick!
-- Playing fetch with a stick can be hazardous. Experts at the U.K.'s Royal Veterinary College say that canine injuries from sticks are as numerous as those acquired on Britain's roads. Not only can sticks rip holes in the mouths and throat of dogs, but a dirty stick can also raise the risk of infection.
-- The Nashville Zoo allows visitors to experience animals, even if they can't see them. The zoo recently developed an exhibit for the visually impaired, complete with explanatory Braille signs and life-size skulls for hands-on exploration. The zoo is the first of its kind with such a large-scale model for providing better access to more people, and it hopes to expand the effort in the years to come.
-- Stressed and lonely college students may do well with a pet. Participants in a recent study said the benefits of keeping a pet are companionship, staying active and having help through hard times. Researchers at The Ohio State University noted that pets can help during the difficult time before college students have developed new coping skills, including social networks.
-- Rats are rarely, if ever, infected with rabies and have not been known to cause a single case among humans in the United States. And according the book "Why Do Men Have Nipples," rats are still taking the rap for bubonic plague -- even though fleas were the real culprit. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
Littlest Honda a Fit for the times
When Honda launched the Fit into the North American market in 2006, the world was a different place. Gas prices hadn't gone crazy, the economy wasn't on the skids, and most everyone's idea of the perfect car for transporting dogs was an SUV, midsized or better.
Even with all that, the Fit made a splash: We chose it as the best small car for dogs in our first DogCars.com Best in Show awards (the overall winner that year was another Honda, the Element).
Gas has gone up and back down since, and the economy ... well, we know where that's gone. That makes the all-new 2009 edition of Honda's little hatchback even better than before.
In fact, it's about as perfect a little car as can be imagined, especially for dog owners. The space inside is so large compared to the tiny size of the vehicle that you start to wonder if the Fit is really a circus car, the kind that an endless number of clowns can fit into and come out of. You wouldn't want to cram that many dogs inside, but you could manage a couple of big ones with comfort and ease, especially since the Fit's seats fold flat and low to the floorboards.
The car sits low on the ground as well, making it easy to get dogs in and out. It's sporty to drive, especially with a stick shift, easy to park, and as fuel-efficient as it gets for a non-hybrid: 27 mpg city, 33 mpg highway, with a nifty real-time mpg monitor to help you get even more from a gallon of gas. With a starting price under $15,000, it's hard to imagine a better Fit for the times. -- Gina Spadafori
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Leash 'em up!
According to a survey by the American Pet Products Association, 93 percent of dog owners have purchased a leash for their pet. New leashes are purchased on average every three years. The breakdown by leash type (multiple responses allowed):
Nylon 75 percent
Chain 13 percent
Leather 11 percent
Rope 5 percent
Reflective 1 percent
All others 2 percent
Give your bird a regular bath
Many of the birds we keep as pets are of species most comfortable in places that we would find intolerable: the steamy, hot rain forests of Central and South America. The dry air of human homes is thought to be a contributing factor to feather-picking, a frustrating syndrome that can drive birds to pluck themselves bald.
You don't have to turn your house into a sauna to add some moisture to your pet's life. Many birds enjoy being dampened by water from a spray bottle or being offered the chance to take a bath in a shallow dish of clean water. Some parrot lovers even take their birds right into the shower with them.
How often should birds get a drenching? There are no firm guidelines, but daily would be fine with many birds. -- 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 email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.