The rise of overly pampered pets

The rise of overly pampered pets
Pet photography is becoming popular.

It seems not too long ago that one of the more common topics of conversation at dinner parties revolves around how owners fuss over their pets by sending them for delicate grooming and expensive obedience training, and how some pets are served gourmet meals.

Some of us still go wide-eyed and sometimes let out a snicker when friends or relatives fork out a considerable sum of money every month for such treats. But, these are no longer the hottest trends in the pet-care industry.

The grooming sector now offers more than just the usual wash and trim. There are spa services included, like hydrotherapy, nano-milk spa therapy, mud baths, salt baths and more.

"Owners are more willing to spend on their pets now.

"A combination of health and beauty consciousness spurs the creation of pet spas," says Ricky Chang from Ricjo Sdn Bhd, one of the main players in the pet-spa-and-grooming business today.

The first grooming academy in Malaysia was established in 2002, says Chang, and to date, there are more than 15 such academies in the country.

"There is no regulation of the term 'pet spa', but pet spas seem to be in every pet salon now.

"There are different types of services, with the more common ones being the mud bath and salt bath. These were started in Malaysia between 2006 and 2008.

"One of the latest pet spa technologies is the nano-bubble milky spa, which started to be widely distributed here in 2011.

"It produces nano-bubbles to deep cleanse, moisturise, massage, deodorise, provide skin and coat care, as well as boost pets' immune level," says Chang.

Because of the diverse range of spa services available, one session can cost between RM20 and RM300.

And, while some may view these services with incredulity, it is recommended that pets go for spa treatments "at least once a week".

"It is regarded as a luxury treat for owners who want to provide a better lifestyle to ensure the health and beauty of their pets. It is becoming very fashionable."

Another new sector that is gaining momentum is pet photography, be it standalone portraits or wedding photography.

"For most pet lovers, pets are regarded as part of the family.

"Are you willing to pay for a photography session for your parents or kids? The same answer applies to your pet," says Tan Eng Aun, pet photographer and owner of Pet Pet Houzz, a studio devoted to photographing pets.

The studio came about from Tan's passion for photographing pets, which started from him taking photographs of his first dog, Louis.

"Having a furry 'kid' is like having a baby. I wanted to capture every stage of her life.

"That was how pet photography became my hobby and how Pet Pet Houzz was started in 2012."

His customers are mostly dog and cat owners who want him to capture the best sides of their "furkids" -- as they are often called among pet lovers -- though there have also been the occasional bird and reptile to keep things interesting.

Dogs and cats have always been the more popular pet choices, with a small percentage divided among smaller animals and exotic pets, like reptiles and spiders.

But of late, there has been renewed interest in owning smaller animals, particularly rabbits, says Beh Aik Kang, a rabbit breeder and owner of Beh & Yo Trading.

He says Malaysians are shedding the stereotype of rabbits as "little white furballs with red eyes that feed on kangkung and have a high reproduction rate".

More are coming to realise that rabbits are highly intelligent and trainable creatures, he says, adding that many families are now beginning to adopt them as indoor pets.

"They can be trained to use litter boxes. Like dogs, they can also be trained for agility competitions, like jumping hurdles.

"In fact, there are international competitions," says Beh, who conducts agility training for rabbits.

Such training requires much interaction between pet and owner, and Beh believes it fosters bonding, while teaching the owner patience, persistence and discipline.

Bunny pageants, where owners custom-make clothes for their rabbits, and the prettiest and hunkiest ones emerge the winners, are also gaining popularity.

The exotic pet market, too, is being rediscovered.

Joel Justin Singam, owner of Joe Jungle Exotic Pet, says people used to want to keep exotic animals because of the "cool factor", but the choices then were limited.

"Now, the choices are fantastic, from snakes to geckos, chelonia to lizards.

"But, Malaysia's reptile scene is young compared with the United States and Europe.

"We do not have many captive-bred animals, with 80 per cent of those in our market being imports from the US, Africa, Europe and Latin America."

An industry analysis from reports that the pet industry is booming in many countries, not just the US.

"Americans, for example, are owning more pets than ever. Growth in the sector is derived from increasing pet ownership and increased spending per pet.

"Pet pampering is becoming the norm, as owners' spending has moved beyond simple food and grooming expenses to include innovative and specialised premium products.

"The bottom line is that people increasingly view their pets as part of the family and are willing to spend on them even during difficult economic times," says the report.

There are no clear figures in Malaysia, but Eric Chan, project director of the upcoming Pet Fiesta Expo, which will be held at the Setia City Convention Centre in Shah Alam from April 11 to 13, says the number of pet-related businesses has mushroomed in the last 10 years, "easily by 90 to 100 per cent".

And, he says, the industry is enjoying healthy growth.

"Being a pet owner, I have always wanted to organise a pet expo, but my researches have always shown that the number of businesses that could take up such an event was insufficient.

"However, this has changed drastically in recent years. Now, we even get enquiries from developers selling townships who want to join and exhibit at our pet expo.

"Why? Because they realise that a lot of people who own pets are people who have money to spend on a certain lifestyle. This is how much the pet industry, or pet ownership, has evolved today.

"It is not cheap to own a pet. Having pets today is as much a lifestyle as it is about having affection for animals."

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