Pampered pets a booming industry

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SARASOTA, Fla. - When we say we love our pets, we put our money where our mouth is. The American Pet Products Association says that Americans now spend more than $50 billion a year on their animals.

The reasons range from medical care and specialized food, to accessories that our pets endure to humor us.

Lulu is a long-haired chihuahua getting a shampoo as part of her spa day as Lulu's owner -- a short-haired human -- snaps a photo to share on Lulu's Twitter feed. “I just find that people are interested in what her day is like,” says Lulu’s owner Joey Panek.

To say that pets are family members may understate the case, when we think of all the things we do for the sake of our animals -- from professional grooming, day care, and accessories, to $100 bags of pet food, surgeries that can cost thousands, and medical treatments that seem exotic even for humans.

Barbara Epperson's dog Choco needs knee surgery, and she was happy to learn it would cost only $3,500. “I was thinking it would be $5,000.”

She could let Choco live with the injury, but doesn't want to. “Because he's our little fella.”

From knee surgery to neurosurgery, the critical care and veterinary specialists office in Sarasota handles difficult cases -- and offers advanced treatments for animals whose owners feel the same way. “People are very willing to do treatments for their animals,” says veterinarian Anne Chauvet.

Willing enough that Dr. Chauvet invested in a bariatric chamber, where animals breathe pure oxygen inside a pressurized tank -- for $125 per session.

And that triple-digit priced dog food at Holistic For Pets in Sarasota? “It isn't so much extravagance as it is the only food the dog can eat without having an allergic reaction,” says Val Clows.

But sometimes people do lavish luxury on their pets.

Bayside Pet resort offers doggy day care. Boarding services include suites with televisions for the dogs to watch, and a web cam for the owners to watch their dogs. “Even up to tuck-ins at night, where we give them a belly rub, extra walk, and read them a story before bedtime at night,” says general manager Marilee Namaka.

Comforting as playtime, attention and pampering may be for the animals, Panek confesses that the comfort from the day spa comes not only to his pet. “Honestly, it's probably for me.”