Gone are the days of wishing your dog a merry Christmas while tossing him a leftover ham bone.
Today, pet lovers go all out for their beloved companions, piling pet presents under the Christmas tree alongside the tool box for Dad and sweater for Grandma.
A recent poll shows that although 93 percent of Americans plan to spend less on Christmas gifts this year, 52 percent of pet owners plan on buying gifts for their animals — a 9 percent increase from last year, according to The Associated Press and Petside.com.
So even when money is tight, pets receive top-notch treatment, posing on Santa's lap for pictures and celebrating the season with their own Christmas candies.
Lisa Malan, PetCo manager in West Jordan, said "dressing up dogs is now the norm," and doggie Santa suits are a popular seller during the holiday season.
"It's an enjoyable time of year, and we hope that people enjoy it with their pets also," Malan said.
And those looking to give their pets extra special treatment can head to PetCo on Saturday, Dec. 12, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., when PetCo customers are invited to bring their pets into the store to take pictures with Santa.
Malan said dogs are the most frequent visitors, because cats and other pets seemed more stressed during photo shoots.
"Most people's dogs are a member of their family," Malan said. "They treat them like their own children. And since they take their kids to sit with Santa, we wanted to do the same thing to facilitate the dog lovers."
The event has been so popular in past years that the West Jordan PetCo location added a second date to the this year's Santa visit, charging $8.95 on Dec. 12, with $5 from each purchase going to local animal shelters.
PetSmart stores also are offering Santa photo opportunities for pets, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 12-13 and 19-20, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
The digital photo and exclusive holiday frame cost $9.95, with $5 of every photo package donated to local pet adoption partners.
Most pet stores like PetSmart also offer dog-friendly holiday cookies, candy cane-shaped raw hides, and green- and red-colored balls.
Holly Bruderer, a dog groomer from West Jordan, is one pet pamperer who gives her dogs special treatment during the holidays, giving them presents, PetCo Christmas cookies and trips to see Santa.
"They give me affection all the time and make me feel good, so I try to make them happy, too," Bruderer said.
Her dogs are always included in the family Christmas card picture, dressed up with reindeer horns and Santa hats.
"When my friends get anything dog-related, they know it's from me," she said. "They know that's just my personality and dogs are my thing."
Bruderer doesn't save doggie dress-up time for the holidays alone, but said she often outfits her female pug in dresses, shirts, boots and jackets.
"She loves it — she'll strut around and lay down and cross her legs (when I dress her up)," Bruderer said.
Especially doting dog owners can find deluxe gifts via online boutiques, which offer high-end merchandise for Christmas gifts, pet birthdays or any time of year.
For example, at Paw Printz Pet Boutique "K-9 & Kitty Couture," dog and cat owners can order pet portraits for $500-$900 and feather canopy beds for $230.
Other sites like www.just4pooches.com provide cheaper presents to pamper your pet this Christmas, including calming aromatheraphy spritzer for $16.99, hemp-fleece harnesses for $29.99 and "dinner party food enhancer" for $10.99, a nutritious powder that "increases appetite and stimulates digestion" in your pet.
The Just 4 Pooches online boutique also offers pet outfits for any holiday occasion, including Hanukkah-, New Years- and Christmas-themed tank tops.
But pet owners also can show love for their pets by keeping them free from hazard during the holidays.
Dr. Martin Orr, a veterinarian at Creekside Animal Hospital in Draper, said that people who own dogs or cats should take a few precautions during the holidays.
Most importantly, make sure pets can't access the oftentimes toxic water meant for the Christmas tree, and avoid exposing any pets to the harmful fumes of scented candles, Orr said.
He also recommended keeping chocolates, Christmas foods or delicate decorations out of your pet's reach, saying high-fat foods can cause pancreatitis in animals.
And as a word for those thinking of giving pets as presents this holiday season, Dr. Orr said families should be educated on how to care for their pet before making the decision.
"We do see some pets purchased on a whim for Christmas, and the client doesn't know much about them, and the animal suffers because of the learning process," Orr said. "People need to know what they're getting into, what it will become, how to train it, and how it will be with their children."
e-mail: [email protected]