It’s no secret – Britain loves its pets, and no more so than at Christmas. 80% of us head to the shops in a mission to find them the perfect present. And we’ll spend anything from £10 to over £500 on festive gifts for our furry friends.
"Even when budgets are tight, 42% of us will still choose to spoil our pets, with over half of us treating them to a Christmas stocking."
Although the cost of owning a pet isn’t cheap, we’re not holding back when it comes to treating them to Christmas gifts. In 2016, a quarter of pet owners spent up to £50, nearly half a million people spent over £250, and nearly 350,000 shelled out more than £500. However, the level of generosity may well depend on who’s buying. A recent survey revealed the 25-34 age group as the most lavish, with a fifth planning on spending over £250, and men more than twice as likely to buy top-quality goods.
But what exactly are we buying, and why? We spoke to some indulgent and not-so-indulgent pet owners to find out.
Waiting for Santa Paws
Even when budgets are tight, 42% of us will still choose to spoil our pets, with over half of us treating them to a Christmas stocking.
Bruno, a chocolate Labrador, is proudly owned by Debbie and Chris, and firmly recognised as the fifth member of their family. “Every year we get him a stocking – ok, we get him his own personalised stocking – with five or more little presents: balls, bones, and squeaky toys that he will destroy in 30 minutes flat” says Debbie. This sets them back around £25.
And they don’t stop with the stocking. Before he got put on a strict diet, "He used to have a doggie advent calendar (£8-10), up on the fireplace with everyone else’s. Every day he used to sit and stare at it until he got given his treat!"
Putting presents under the tree
As well as a stocking, Bruno also has his own pile of gifts under the tree. “The kids each choose him a toy (£5-7), my parents also get him a toy (£8-10), and when she was alive, my sister’s golden Labrador, Dora – the love of his life – would also buy him a present (£5-10). And our neighbour, who looks after him during the day, buys him two to four every year (for approximately £30). In the past, she’s made him a cushion and bought him a bed, a leather collar and even a picture for his wall!” says Debbie.
Debbie and Chris aren’t alone. Heather says Millie, her spaniel, is also spoiled by the whole family. “She gets a stocking as well as presents. I haven’t planned this year’s budget yet, but I suspect it may be near £100.” Not one for surprises, Millie likes to choose her own presents. Last year it was a bear, “She choose it in a shop. My brother-in-law promptly paid £40 for it,” says Heather.
And it’s not just dogs that are being indulged. When Terence was a kitten, Pete used to spoil him, "We even bought him a cardboard fire engine for £15. He never used it."
Why do we buy presents for our pets?
Every year, a new range of pet presents hits the high street, enticing us with promises of hilarity or downright cuteness. This year’s must-haves include the DJ Cat Scratching Pad and matching PJ sets for humans and their dogs. But, as we can’t be sure our animals understand the significance of this time of year, why are we spending so much on them?
Pets are more than just pets, they’re becoming part of the family – we’re humanising them. As Jane Westgarth, senior market analyst at Mintel, says, "People are increasingly treating their pets as humans, relying on them for companionship and gaining a sense of fulfilment from needing to be needed as they look after their pets. They want their pets to feel cared-for, comfortable and mentally stimulated. So there is driving demand for added-value products, often mirroring mainstream human styling and healthcare trends. As a result, people are prepared to pay more for their petcare products and to replace them more often".
This might explain why many of us sign our dog’s name on Christmas cards, buy treats for our pets more often than we do for our partners, and name our pet as beneficiaries in our wills.
Although treating your pets to a present-filled Christmas can be fun, it’s worth bearing in mind the environmental consequences of throwaway items and outfits. Plus, going overboard can have a substantial impact on your household budget.
As an alternative, dog owners could consider going for special Christmas walks – spending quality time together and offering health benefits for both pet and family. And if you have a cat, why not create homemade gifts using recycled materials. There are plenty of eco-friendly ideas online.
Another option is to give money to an animal charity so an unloved pet can enjoy some festive cheer too, and maybe even find their forever home.
Buying Christmas gifts for our pets is a national pastime. From the sublime to the ridiculous, there are options to suit all budgets and all tastes. The most important things are to make sure you set and stick to a budget, keep your pets safe over the festive period and enjoy your time together. And should anyone suggest gifts for our four-legged friends are pointless, simply follow Debbie’s lead and be proud, "Yes, I know - we’re crazy dog people. But there’s nowt wrong with that!"