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Pet industry shows strength in down economy

The economy has gone to the dogs.

That’s according to a survey from IBISWorld, a market research firm, that has found that pet owners are still willing to spend money on their animal friends regardless of the recession.

The report states that the pet business is expected to generate $51.6 billion this year, an increase of 1.3 percent from 2008.

Local businessman Sam Levy is not surprised by those figures.

Levy and his wife, Dana, opened a business in Lakewood Ranch in March called Woof Gang Bakery. The business specializes in dog treats that are baked on site and specially formulated as organic pet foods.

“We opened March 5 and have been doing very well, I’m happy to say,” Sam Levy said. “People seem not to be spending as much on themselves and they’re staying at home and spoiling the pets more.”

Some of the specialty dog foods Woof Gang Bakery carries cost as much as $65. But Sam Levy said people are happy to pay the price for their special pet.

The pet food business is the second leading category by size in the pet industry and is expected to generate about $15.2 billion this year, according to the IBISWorld report.

Before opening the business, Sam Levy worked as an oil distributor in Louisiana and also did home window-tinting in Sarasota until the housing market tanked.

“We did research and found that despite the fact that the economy was struggling, the pet industry was still doing well and thriving,” Levy said. “So that’s why we went into it.”

The Levys also liked that they could bring their own dogs to work.

“We call them the ‘pup-prietors,’” Sam Levy said.

Veterinary services comprise the largest section of the pet industry, representing about 43 percent of the market.

Pamela Snoble, office manager at Bayshore Animal Hospital, said the facility’s three veterinarians have stayed busy despite the faltering economy.

“Most people have come to think of their animal as part of their family,” Snoble said. “Certain things they leave out — they may be late on their vaccines — but if their animal needs something, they are in here. We’re maintaining. That doesn’t mean the slow season isn’t coming for summertime once people leave.

“But we’re keeping busy. Our appointments are booked until next Tuesday.”

George Van Horn, senior analyst at IBISWorld, said, however, it’s not all rosy in the pet industry.

One segment that is showing a slightly negative trend going forward is pet grooming and boarding, he said.

“That’s actually showing a negative (trend) when we get into 2009 and 2010,” Van Horn said. “The slowdown in that category is related to, if people aren’t taking vacations and flying all over the world, then those services aren’t needed.”

Pet stores account for 22 percent of the pet industry and are expected to generate $11.45 billion this year.

Van Horn said people tend to treat animals as family members and there are increasingly more households with pets.

The current population of dogs and cats as pets is approximately 169 million, about 2.4 percent more than last year, he said.

That means vets should be happy.

“Certainly, the total expenditures for pets and their care is up this year,” Van Horn said. “When you look at veterinary services, veterinary services and their fees continue to show the highest growth. So health and conditions that affect the wellbeing of the pet still gets a lot of attention.”