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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Americans may be scrimping and saving on some things, but they're spending more than ever on their pets. The American Pet Products Association says pet owners will spend more than 45 billion dollars this year, up more than two billion from last year.

NPR's Yuki Noguchi has this report.

(Soundbite of cat crying)

YUKI NOGUCHI: Meet Phoebe, our beloved black and white cat whose ear infection recently set us back $140. Phoebe also turns her nose up at anything that's not Gourmet Classics.

(Soundbite of can snapped open)

NOGUCHI: She prefers this premium canned food but only in the seafood and tomato bisque flavor. We are, commercially speaking, complete suckers for our pets, a fact definitely not lost on the pet catalog firms. Every day we receive new ones from Orvis, FetchDog, and In the Company of Dogs.

Like many families these days, we try to abide by a household austerity plan. In spite of this, our black Lab, Lucy, gets regular shipments of dog beds, special training collars and nylon chew toys. It turns out we are not alone in our countercyclical spending.

(Soundbite of dog barking)

NOGUCHI: At a Washington, D.C. dog park, I encounter Hunter, a 5-year-old Deerhound. He stands a waist high and has the face of a Dr. Seuss character. Hunter feasts daily on chicken carcasses and specialty food courtesy of Andrea Doughty who says these days she's comfortable spending more time and money on Hunter.

Ms. ANDREA DOUGHTY: It's a heck of a lot cheaper to maybe buy your dog a few extra treats and take them to the park or, you know, than it is to go to the Caribbean.

NOGUCHI: Treats are relatively inexpensive compared to human luxuries like vacations and clothing. Also with unemployment on the rise, people are spending more time at home giving their pets more face time. And pet industry people say pets have become the central focus among baby boomers whose kids have left home or among young professionals who are delaying having children.

Norms have also changed as pet ownership has increased in the last two decades. The bigger market has spawned a bigger universe of pet products and services, like car seats and electronic toothbrushes for pets, or organic foods, even plug-in air centers that calm nervous puppies.

One of the most significant growth areas include animal medical services. Doughty says Hunter recently had a seizure, and the vet bill came to $500.

Ms. DOUGHTY: They recommended he needed to see a neurologist. Hunter had an MRI, and that costs a couple of thousand dollars.

NOGUCHI: Did you flinch? Did you think twice?

Ms. DOUGHTY: No. No. You know, he's a member of our family, you know?

NOGUCHI: Pet industries are starting to mimic human industries in many ways. Drug companies are investing in veterinary medicines and that, in turn, has spawned a growing market for pet health insurance.

Mr. PAUL MANN (Chief executive, Fetch Pet Care): We provide a lot of services for humans and now the services for pets are starting to catch up.

NOGUCHI: Paul Mann is chief executive of Fetch Pet Care, a national pet-sitting and dog-walking business. He says business has increased nearly 200 percent despite the recession, partly because people have had to go back to work and partly because when the going gets tough the tough become total softies about their pets.

Mr. MANN: During rough economic times, people really look inward to what's important, that being their family and, in this case, pets as well.

NOGUCHI: No pet I've ever met has it better than Mac.

(Soundbite of dog snarling)

NOGUCHI: Mac lives a few doors down and is our dog, Lucy's, best buddy. Mike McDermott is the man we call Mac Daddy. Technically, he's Mac's owner but it's clear who's really in control.

Mr. MIKE MCDERMOTT: On our Sunday morning walks, we go to the praline French restaurant and I always get him a quiche, because he's a French bulldog so he can have his quiche Lorraine on Sunday morning.

NOGUCHI: Do you consider yourself slightly insane?

Mr. MCDERMOTT: No, no. I think I'm like a very normal dog owner.

NOGUCHI: Yuki Noguchi. NPR News.

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