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Tracy Frank, Published October 10 2012

Pricey pets: As the options for pet care increase, so do the amounts Americans are spending on their pets

FARGO - Budgets are ballooning with extra expenses on items like food, health care, grooming and clothing – all because of the family pet.

Americans will spend more than $52 billion on their pets this year, according to estimates by the American Pet Products Association.

That’s a 5.3 percent growth over last year and a higher-than-ever spending forecast for 2012, according to the association.

While the largest portion will be on food, at just over $20 billion, that’s still less than half of the estimated total.

Veterinary care will ring in around $14 billion, supplies and medicines will cost around $13 billion, pet services like grooming and boarding will cost $4 billion and animal purchases will be around $2 billion, according to the association’s estimates.

Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Association, said the growth and response to consumer demand will continue as pet owners pamper their pets and treat them like members of the family.

There are all kinds of ways people spend money on their pets, from necessary yet spendy procedures like physical therapy to frivolous yet fun splurges on things like pet pedicures.

Hotdog! Pet Salon is a full-service groomer in downtown Fargo that offers standard cuts as well as creative styling like hair dye, nail polish and feather extensions for dogs.

“Pets have totally become part of the family, and it’s fun to pamper them a little bit and it kind of humanizes them a little more,” said Cristen Voeltz, Hotdog! owner and groomer.

Voeltz said the dogs seem to prance around like puppies after receiving a creative grooming treatment.

“They get that extra attention, and they totally feed off of that,” Voeltz said.

Hair dye starts at $5 for a small job, feather extensions are $5 per color, and a pet pedicure, complete with a trim, file and colored polish is $20.

While at Hotdog!, owners can also peruse an array of hand-crafted clothing for their four-legged friends.

Kelly Hildreth of Fargo makes raincoats, hoodies, T-shirts, polo shirts, bandanas, bows and costumes for pets. She sells her custom-made work under the business name BellaDisenos in Voeltz’s salon and on Etsy.com, a website where people can buy and sell handmade or vintage items, art and supplies.

“We wear clothes, too, so it’s kind of fun to dress up your dog and make them kind of like you,” Voeltz says. “I definitely believe people consider their dogs children because they take so much care of them.”

Hildreth says creating pet clothes is a great way for her to combine her love of sewing with her love of working with pets.

Most of the items start at about $20 for small pooches and $60 for big dogs, she said.

Through her Fargo-based business, Quantum Wonderworks, Tara Argall offers an array of unconventional services for pets.

She communicates with pets through telepathy and helps their owners understand what an animal might be feeling to address behavior problems, help with adjustments, foster harmony between multiple animals or develop a closer bond between the animal and its owner.

When communicating with an animal, Argall sees the pictures, thoughts, feelings and emotions they send, she said.

Argall also performs body talk and Reiki on animals and people. Both are forms of energy therapy to bring balance to the mind, body and spirit, she said.

“When people know they have other choices besides traditional medicine, a lot of people are open to that because they’re finding it works really well and is less invasive than other procedures,” she said.

The animal communication sessions cost $60 for a half-hour session. The body talk and Reiki sessions cost $80 for a one-hour session.

“Overall, I’m seeing that people are more open to it,” Argall said. “They might not understand it or know it, but they’ve been trying to heal something for so long with no results, trying many different things.”

Argall said she will often get calls from people who have tried everything and nothing else has worked.

“They’re willing to try it because they have some kind of health crisis that they need addressed and nothing else is working,” she said.

Even animal hospitals are offering unconventional pet treatments.

Casselton Veterinary Service in Casselton, N.D., offers Canine Rehabilitation Therapy that includes an underwater treadmill and laser therapy. And for pet owners looking for a holistic approach to pet health and wellness, Casselton Veterinary Service also offers treatments like acupuncture, massage, herbal supplements and chiropractic therapies, in addition to traditional medicine.

Traditional medicine would only go so far with some animals, but offering alternative therapies has shown to prolong the life of some animals and improve their quality of life, said Brad Bartholomay, veterinarian and one of the owners of Casselton Veterinary Service.

“I like the integrative approach,” he said. “Whatever works, we’re going to use it.”

He gave the example of an arthritic dog that was going to be euthanized five years ago, but it went through acupuncture and chiropractic treatments and lived another three years. When it wasn’t showing further improvement at that point, the dog started receiving rehabilitation therapies and has lived another two years, Bartholomay said.

“That’s what makes it worthwhile,” he said.

Some people are skeptical of the holistic options, but Bartholomay said once they try it and see an improvement, many become advocates. Some have even gone for chiropractic and acupuncture treatments themselves after they see how well it works for their animals, he said.

While more veterinary practices are becoming interested in alternative therapies, as of yet there are few others in this area that offer it, Bartholomay said.

Prices vary, but rehabilitation services tend to cost around $127 a day and include two sessions of various modalities. Acupuncture and chiropractic services cost around $100 to $120 per session.

“I think every clinic should have somebody who does this because it does offer a whole other approach to solving a problem,” Bartholomay said. “It’s just a different way to look at things and we get some improvement.”