Americans spent $50.96 billion on their pets in 2011.
That's an all-time high and the first time in history more than $50 billion has gone to the dogs, cats, canaries, guppies and the like, the American Pet Products Association said in a report issued Thursday.
Food and vet costs accounted for about 65 percent of the spending. But it was a service category _ one that includes grooming, boarding, pet hotels, pet-sitting and day care _ that grew more than any other, surging 7.9 percent from $3.51 billion in 2010 to $3.79 billion in 2011.
APPA President Bob Vetere said 2012 should be another banner year for services, predicting it would grow 8.4 percent to an estimated $4.11 billion in 2012.
Owners are taking care of their pets, said Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, a San Diego veterinarian and author of pawcurious.com. "They are planning ahead. When they go on vacation, they want to make sure their pets are well cared for," she said.
Spending in 2011 was up 5.3 percent from 2010, when it totaled $48.35 billion, Vetere said. He estimated 2012 sales would total $53 billion.
In 2011, people spent $19.85 billion on food, $13.41 billion on vet care, $11.77 billion on supplies and over-the-counter medicines, $3.79 billion on other services and $2.14 billion on live animal purchases.
In 2010, they spent $18.76 billion on food, $13.01 billion on vet care, $10.94 billion on supplies and over-the-counter medicines, $3.51 billion on other services and $2.13 billion on live animal purchases.
Food sales did slow down, Vetere said, even though the 5.8 percent growth exceeded projections of 4.1 percent growth.
APPA numbers indicate that animal sales and adoptions are flattening out and the number of people who switched over to high-end food products is topping out.
Pet ownership is becoming less of an impulse decision, Vogelsang said. "I am seeing a lot of people saying, `This isn't the time for us.' People are more interested in pets than ever before but they are taking their time, once they make the commitment, to do it right."
"I don't think this is a bad thing. I am proud of the owners," she said.
Pet insurance is another area that is expected to grow briskly, Vetere said. Included in the veterinary care category, insurance was estimated to be $450 million in 2011 and expected to grow to more than $500 million in 2012.
"Insurance makes such a difference in the health of an animal," Vogelsang said. "I can't tell you how many times I have had a pet come in and the only reason (the owners) were able to afford catastrophic care is because they had insurance. It's literally a life-saver and I'm really glad people are embracing the concept," the veterinarian said.
The pet industry is also a major attraction for entrepreneurs and investors looking for creative and innovative products, Vetere said.
Vogelsang believes the trend is toward "very specific items geared to the specific needs of pets. We are seeing a lot of puzzle feeders for dogs _ not just toys but ones that are geared toward the mental needs of the animal. Then there are bionic toys for destructive chewers, a lot of very niche items," she said.