ST. LOUIS (AP) - Justine Ulrich's Christmas shopping included a new toy for her Australian shepherd and treats for her cats. The Suburban St. Louis resident also is giving her dog Beau a day at a doggie day camp for the holidays.
Ulrich is among a growing number of Americans who are expected to buy Christmas presents for their pets this year. A survey done by the American Pet Products Association found 53 percent of dogs and 38 percent of cats will receive holiday gifts.
Overall, the association says consumers are expected to spend $52.9 billion on their pets this year, up 4 percent from last year. It says that goes along with an overall increase in consumer spending.
Pet store owners say people aren't buying just for their own pets but for those belonging to family and friends. Many have filled their shops with collars that jingle, bow-wrapped rawhide bones and squeaky toys in the shape of monkeys and alligators with Santa hats.
"This has always been a busy time, but it continues to grow and get bigger," said Jeff Jensen, co-owner of Four Muddy Paws, which has locations in Lafayette Square and Edwardsville. "Pets are a big part of people's lives now. They've really progressed from being a pet in the house to being a family member."
Jensen's store sells dog and cat puzzles, treats with holiday icing and pet-friendly, self-adhesive holiday wrapping paper made of soy-based ink so pets can rip into their presents without concern about them ingesting chemicals or tape.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/RDPu0s) reports brisk business at non-pet stores too. The holiday designer gift collections at Target and Neiman Marcus include a $29.99 pet bowl and $39.99 pink sparkly dog collar and leash by Oscar de la Renta.
Cats, it seems, get the short shrift.
"Kids come in and shop for the neighbor's dog," said Teresa Miller, owner of Treats Unleashed, which has five stores in the St. Louis area. "But I don't see as many people shopping for other people's cats."
December is usually Miller's busiest month with double the typically monthly sales seen during the rest of the year. Pet owners tend to make bigger ticket purchases around the holidays, buying things like beds to keep their pets warm in the colder months.
Ulrich, of University City, thought Beau, who is only 8 months old, might be surprised by what's under the tree, but she said her cats are probably expecting gifts.
"I think my cats know because they attack the Christmas tree every year," she said.