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Pampered pets have increasingly lavish lifestyle

BRITONS are spending more than ever pampering their pets with gifts and "gourmet" food.

The nation's cats and dogs are increasingly enjoying a lavish lifestyle as owners try to "humanise" them, says a new report.

Along with expensive meals and Christmas presents, there has also been a growth in sales of vitamins, pet insurance and veterinary treatments.

Market research company Mintel says the pet market grew 25 per cent between 1996 and 2001 and is this year estimated to top £3.54 billion.

Dog ownership has declined in the last decade while having a cat has increased, reflecting changing lifestyles, as people have less time to look after a dog and take it for a walk, according to the report.

It found the total number of cats and dogs in Britain had fallen from 14.2 million in 1991 to 13.6 million last year.

The report found little growth in the number of people owning other pets such as fish and birds.

The pet food market was worth about £1.68 billion last year, with a growing trend towards both "added value" products and those designed for a single serving.

Pet insurance has seen the biggest growth in the last five years, with sales up 55 per cent between 1996 and 2001 to reach £148 million.

In a survey of 1,006 owners carried out by Mintel, more than a fifth said they bought their pet gifts, including Christmas and birthday presents. This rises to almost 40% among 20 to 24-year-olds.