Pet owners are spending more for holiday treats and toys this year, with seasonal plush toys and special treats topping many Mainers’ lists, local pet shops say.
Luxury items like $185 moose antler chewy treats, $200 orthopedic memory foam dog beds or $35 Advent calendars with a dog treat in every window tend to make the news, but there are plenty of popular blueberry and lobster treats and locally made catnip in the $30 and less range. Mainers spend an average of $15 to $75 per purchase, Maine stores estimate.
Maine pet stores are part of a national trend of increased holiday spending on pets. More than half of U.S. pet owners bought a holiday gift for their furry friend in 2020, and that’s expected to increase by 5 percent this year, according to the American Pet Products Association. At Ann-imals Pet Supply Store in York, sales in October and November were up about 15 percent over last year, and owner Ann Peterson said she expects the same percentage rise this month.
The industry association attributed some of the increase in total spending on pets to a spike in adoptions during the COVID-19 pandemic and both independent pet stores and large chains like Walmart have increased their stocks of holiday pet gifts to meet demand.
“Pets are definitely becoming part of the family,” said Heidi Neal, owner of Loyal Biscuit Co., a pet store with seven locations in Maine. “My dogs are my kids. I can’t imagine not giving them something special on the holidays.” Even her parents buy gifts for their “granddogs.”
Clockwise from left: Maine-based company Maine-ly Chews’ moose antlers dog chews are for sale in a bin inside the Fish & Bone pet store in Portland on Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021; A Maine-made device designed for hanging a full dog poop bag from a leash is for sale at the Fish & Bone pet store; Dog collars featuring the original Maine flag are for sale at the Fish & Bone. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN
Here are some of the hottest sellers among Maine’s independent pet stores.
Plush toys range in price up to $25. The Fluff & Tuff reindeer, a plush dog toy with a festive red and green scarf for $21, is flying off the shelves at Loyal Biscuit, Neal said. Hedgehogs are popular at Fish & Bone in Portland, manager Miles Brooks said. The store also sells a “Knottie Christmas Unicorn” plush toy and a President Joe Biden dog toy.
Chew toys to keep the family dog busy when guests arrive or gifts are opened are also popular, especially long-lasting moose antlers made in Maine for $12.50 (or the 11-inch, 2.8-pound chunk for $185) and $6.50 bully sticks, manager Reagan Cola of Two Salty Dogs in Boothbay Harbor said. Sometimes people just need to get away from their dogs, especially pets adopted during the pandemic who tend to follow them around, she said.
Maine-made items that are popular purchases at Fish & Bone include $9 blueberry treats from Biddeford-based Growlin’ Gourmet, $12 paw protector ointment for those cold winter days from Cumberland-based Maine Street Bee and a $36 dog lead decorated with the original Maine flag from Cumberland-based The Belted Cow. Cat fanciers can buy $8.50 catnip toys, including the “lobstah nip” from Turner-based Dr. Pussums. More people are supporting local pet stores and buying Maine-made products this year, Loyal Biscuit owner Neal said.
Munchables and stocking stuffers including catnip and cookies shaped like Santa or reindeer are popular, as are treats containing calming ingredients for dogs that get nervous when company arrives, Peterson said. Jerky treats priced at 99 cents to $1.69 are going fast at the Loyal Biscuit in Brewer, store manager Shawna Harriman said.
A new item this year that hearkens Loyal Biscuit owner Neal back to her childhood is the $10 plastic candy cane filled with organic gingerbread dog treats. As a child, she received a similar plastic candy cane filled with peanut butter cups. Her stores also sell more unusual items such as figgy pudding treats made of apples, bacon and honey and lumps of coal treats for naughty dogs, each for $7.
Helping shelter dogs is on the minds of several store owners, including Neal. She said Loyal Biscuit is close to reaching its $10,000 goal so it can buy 12,000 pounds of food for local shelters.
“It’s really nice to see that people are aware of what we’re doing to give back to our communities and are willing to round up their purchases to help us,” Neal said.