Creature comforts (and joy): why Santa is packing more presents for pets this Christmas

For pet owners the festive period used to mean hiding chocolate out of harm’s way and trying to stop the dog or cat fighting or climbing the Christmas tree. Now it seems many people are also busy helping their furry friends open Advent calendars and counting down the days until they can pull a cracker together.

Since the Covid pandemic, pups appear to be more pampered, and cats better catered for, particularly around the festive season. According to retail analysts at Kantar, in the eight weeks to Christmas 2022, spending on pet supplies was up by 12% on 2021’s figure.

Pets at Home Advent calendar for dogs,
An Advent calendar for dogs. There are similar offerings at various supermarkets including Aldi. Photograph: Pets at Home

Kathryn Imrie, chief consumer officer at Pets at Home, says: “Pets are much-loved members of the family and owners want to treat them with gifts on big seasonal occasions, such as Christmas, Halloween, Valentine’s Day and Easter, and it is showing no signs of slowing down.”

Halloween sales at the retailer were up 18% year on year.

Although sadly the cost of living crisis has forced some people to give up their pets, the market is still booming, and retailers and manufacturers are launching more and more products for generous owners to spend their money on, offering everything from hampers to Christmas cards.

Dogs are on track to receive more gifts than cats. Pets at Home has sold 500,000 dog toys so far, compared with 20,000 cat treats. The retailer’s £30 Advent calendar for canines featuring toys and treats, including three packs of “three-bird-roast freeze-dried stars”, sold out online in three days. On the John Lewis website, the virtual shelves have been emptied of dog Advent calendars, though you can still buy one for your feline friend.

It’s not so much that pets are being treated as part of the family – in some cases they are being treated better. A survey of Pets at Home customers found a quarter were planning to spend the same or more on their pet than on their children or partner, while a third were expecting to spend the same as on their parents.

This isn’t new, says Matt Piner, a retail expert at GlobalData. “Maybe 10-15 years ago we did a survey and found that people were more likely to cut back their spending on their grandparents than on their pets. People take their pets very seriously,” he says.

He adds that during the pandemic there was an increase in pet ownership “and people spending more time with their pets, and that probably fosters a closer relationship”.

Piner says dogs may be getting a better deal because they are less independent than cats and because there are more options for presents.

Fortnum & Mason’s Hound About Town hamper.
Fortnum & Mason’s Hound About Town hamper – with doggy biscuits for the owner too. Photograph: Fortnum & Mason

Gift guides now frequently feature a section for pets and their owners, and it’s not just specialist stores that are offering an array of options. Fortnum & Mason’s traditional hamper range includes two new offerings for dogs: the Hound About Town (£90), which contains a tartan bow tie and paw balm for the canine recipient and iced biscuits for the owner, and the Man’s Best Friend (£185), which has all that and more, including a tartan treat pouch.

The upmarket department store is also stocking crackers for cats and dogs (£25). They contain a toy – but there’s no need to worry about your pet’s ears as there are no “frightening bangs”, or jokes.

Alice Eastwood, a fashion, beauty and homebuyer at Fortnum & Mason, says consumer spending on dogs and other pets has increased at the retailer.

“The trend started post-Covid, when more people were adopting pets, and spending habits began to change,” she says. “It’s a real mixture – customers buying special treats for their pets, or others buying the perfect gift for pet lovers.”

Squishmallows bed.
A frog-inspired bed from Squishmallows for your pampered pooch. Photograph: Squishmallows

Pets at Home has introduced toys from Hasbro and pet beds by Squishmallows, designed to cater for what it describes “a shift into more premium lines”. Squishmallows was a bestseller for kids last Christmas, and is targeting pet parents with beds in the shape of sharks and octopuses (£22.50-£37.50).

At the budget end of the market, Aldi has a large range of gifts, including a “meaty dog biscuit” Advent calendar (£3.99) and bacon flavour edible Christmas cards (£1.99). The Dog’s Trust has a cracker (£2.99) that contains a toy and raises funds for less-fortunate pooches.

For those who want their pets to enjoy all of the trappings of the period, there are several options including visits to Santa. Dobbies garden centres started Father Christmas visits in “a handful of stores” in 2021 and has added more each year. This year you can take your dog to a grotto at 55 of its shops. Furry visitors get a toy, while their owners can buy a professional photo of the meeting.

For the second year running, John Lewis has opened its grotto to pets – it charges £20 a pet for a visit to Santa Paws, and animals get a gift as well as the chance to meet Father Christmas. Although aimed at dogs, Santa does not discriminate and last year someone took their pet budgie.

Piner says there are different demographics looking to treat their animals. “For some, they are their fur babies,” he says. “The pet is a particular focus for spending.”

For larger families, he says, “they are part of the family. There’s more opportunities for giving gifts from different members of the family.”