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Pets not forgotten in holiday shopping rush

The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and people are out buying presents for friends and family. In many cases that includes the household pets.

Slightly less than half — 48.7 percent — of the homes in San Diego County own a pet, with 19.4 percent having a cat, 18.5 percent a dog and 10.8 percent both.

And, based on estimates for this year, about half of the pets will find something under the tree this year.

“We’ve already seen that pet owners reward their pets and purchase holiday gifts for them in even the toughest of economic times," said Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Association. "With retailers and researchers expecting the holiday shopping season to be even better than last year, we have positive expectations for the pet industry.”

Dogs seem to come out the best during the holidays. The association’s survey finds 53 percent of dog owners will buy a gift for their pet while only 38 percent of cat owners will get something special for their pet.

Unlike other retailers at this time of the year, the association reports, half of the pet retail leaders surveyed said they "expect to achieve higher sales without the deep discounting strategies they employed during the 2011 holiday shopping season.”

Unlike traditional gift giving, in which consumers are often scaling back their spending, 78 percent of pet owners say they will match last year's spending, and 13 percent say they plan to spend more.

Overall, pet spending in 2012 is expected to reach $53 billion, with food products being the biggest expenditure. But one of the fastest-growing expenditures for pet owners is health insurance to deal with the rising cost of veterinary care. It is estimated families will spend $13.6 billion on the care of their animals.

“Too many pet owners do not have a financial safety net for the unexpected injury or illness," said Bernadine Cruz, formerly of the North American Pet Health Insurance Association. "This can place the veterinarian and the pet owner in an excruciating position of limiting or choosing economic euthanasia of a beloved pet, rather than the treatment.”

Most pet owners spend around $200 a year on health care for the animals, but many pets, like humans, develop cancer or other serious illnesses that come with extensive surgery and big price tags.

Bottom line, spending on pets represents about 1 percent of the overall $586 billion the National Retail Federation expects consumers to ring up this holiday season. But, for many households, it is the most important part of holiday shopping and giving.

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