Sharmelee Mehta, 41, spent almost Rs 7,500 on her pet dog Teddy's birthday party last month, having taken her to a plush uptown Mumbai pet boutique for manicure, nail chipping, haircut and vanity pampering, and organising a grand party, complete with "Teddy's other friends" with a buffet snack counter serving dog food and drinks. "She is like my child and deserves the same kind of love," said the homemaker.
Sonali Kaalar, 24, treated her four-year-old Labrador to a lavish, one-day holiday resort for canines only in Pune, where he was given an expensive spa treatment, branded apparel, freshly prepared meals, a pool splash and a personalised suite where he was served apple cinnamon muffins and quiches.
Pets have never had it so good. According to Raajjesh Chandna, owner of SmaartPetsz in Pune, which offers pet grooming services to dogs and cats, along with boarding options and resort facilities, two main reasons contribute to the mushrooming of an industry surrounding pets. "First, the lack of time on the part of pet owners has led to a dog's cleaning services to be outsourced to pet parlours. Second, the increasing number of imported dog breeds demands specialised trainers and caretakers, available at such boutiques."
Rana Atheya, founder and CEO of dogspot.in, said, "The foremost reason is social growth. In the last five years, the growth in nuclear families and their disposable incomes have led to a shift in attitude towards pets. India is the fastest growing pet industry today - I believe it is currently worth Rs 1,000 crore, and growing by 50% annually." About his own company, he said, "We have grown by 150% over last year."
A Euromonitor International report on the pets industry in India said: "With pet ownership on the rise, there will be greater demand for pet care products in terms of healthcare, grooming and leisure. Pet care as a whole is expected to post a CAGR of 14% in constant value terms... (2011-16)." The report said that pet shops will remain the leading distribution channel, followed by veterinary clinics.
A segment that is witnessing remarkable movement is the pet foods category, with many pet owners shifting from homemade food to prepared food. "Pet food is the fastest growing segment," Atheya said.
According to the Euromonitor report, the population of dogs in 2011 was over nine times that of cats and 14 times that of other pets. Indian pet owners show a preference for dogs because of their loyalty, companionship and intelligence. The fondness for dogs can also be attributed to their portrayal in the media and celebrity culture. Kannada actress Ramya reportedly buys her pets avant-garde luxury collars decorated with Swarovski crystals, and leashes priced at Rs 15,000 a piece.
Innovations are increasing, with pet parlours, pet wear, pet gyms, and even pet psychologists capitalising on the growth.
Rashi Narang of Heads Up For Tails, which specialises in dog couture, is seeing 30-40% growth per year. "Most of our collection is priced between Rs 800-1,500. Fancy jackets are priced at Rs 3,500-4,500." Narang also sells tuxedos and sherwanis and a Rs 10,000 four-poster dog bed. "We sell 30-40 pieces of fashion clothing per wedding season (October-February)."
Vizal Atheya started PetSpot, a boarding for dogs in Delhi in 2007 at her home. "At the time we were just the fourth such service. Now there are almost 20. We provide un-caged boarding and treat the animals the way their owners would. We have around 15 dogs at a time, charging Rs 600 per dog daily."
Anand Vishwanath, 35, founder and pack leader, Anvis Inc, has started a pet gym in Bangalore, in addition to the hostel. "I have converted the ground floor of my 24,000 sq ft house into a pet centre. We have a gym, swimming pool and treadmills," said the HR professional turned entrepreneur whose initial investment was Rs 15 lakh-plus. He hopes to break even in two years.
Another interesting service is that of the pet psychologist or counsellor. "I counsel the owners first as they sometimes cross the boundary and start taking the dog to be a human," said Nabheesh Lal, 36, a pet psychologist who provides pet owners with tips and tricks on how to tend to the dog and charges Rs 25,000 for 15 sessions. "I started with hardly two-three pets a few years ago. I now handle 15-20 dogs per month."