Not too long ago, the only time most people would take their pets to their veterinarian was to get a rabies vaccination. And the only other time they'd spend money on their dog, cat, hamster or bunny was when buying food, perhaps a pet bed or maybe a chew bone at a supermarket.

That’s certainly not the case any longer.

According to data from the American Pet Products Association, pet related spending last year in the United States was $66.7 billion, more than 10 percent higher than in 2015.

Many pet owners now routinely spend hundreds of dollars every few months on wellness visits at the vet, and if any abnormality is discovered in a blood test, additional exams can easily climb into the thousands of dollars.

At the same time, specialty pet stores now stock a huge variety of food items for pets, and many are grain or gluten-free, costing $3 or $4 a can. A variety of other items and accessories, including Halloween outfits, coats, dresses and other clothing for pets is also popular.

Doggy daycare facilities are also popular, and some pet owners will send their pooches to summer camp-type retreats instead of simply boarding them.

According to psychologist Steven Tobias, many pet owners are spending huge sums of money on their dogs and cats because they have accepted them as part of their family.

He noted society has become less connected than ever on a human-to-human level,  and many people are turning to their pets for companionship.

“Rather than sitting on your porch and hanging out with your neighbors, now maybe we’re sitting in front of the television hanging out with our pets,” he said.

“The thing about pets is that they give you unconditional love. They’re always going to be there. They greet you at the door, they sit next to you, they appreciate everything you do for them,” he said.

“People need to feel connected, so for some people pets do really sort of provide that connection, that feeling of being loved, and companionship.”

He also pointed out people are becoming closer with their pets because “there’s a lot more stress in the world and so I think that pets do de-stress us.”

Tobias believes that while having the emotional support of pets is healthy to an extent, ideally it should not take the place of relationships with other people.

“The companionship that a human being can provide is a much fuller relationship. Yeah, the pet does love you unconditionally and you love the pet, but it’s not really a reciprocal relationship. The pet, ultimately, is dependent on you.”

He also noted having a relationship with a dog or cat can be much easier than with a fellow human being.

“It’s much more difficult to negotiate a reciprocal human relationship than it is a human-animal relationship," he said. “Ultimately it comes down to creating a balance.”

“We need human-to-human interaction and pets certainly can also be a source of love and support.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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