The US is home to 280 million people and 350 million pets, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers' Association (APPMA).

The 40 million pet owners in America pull out all stops when shopping for their pets, splurging $31 billion on them in 2003, an increase from $500 million last year.

In contrast, the candy industry had sales of $24 billion while the human toy industry clocked up business worth $20.3 billion.

Food purchases top the US pet budget at $13 billion annually - but medication and gadgets come in second at $7.6 billion.

Some kind of pet is found in 62% of American households, with cats the most popular (77.7 million), followed by dogs (65 million), small animals, birds, reptiles and fish, the APPMA said.

Taubman Centers, which surveyed 6000 pet owners, found that 90% of them plan to purchase their pet a Christmas gift this year.

Nine out of 10 Americans said they would spend up to $50 on pet gifts, while the other 10% said they would spend more.

Novel gifts

The range of gifts for the furry and feathered creatures are getting more novel by the day. On the racks this year are edible greeting cards and rubber chew toys in the shape of George Bush.

With presidential elections next year, there are toys for both sides of the political divide.

For $13, a Democrat can let his canine sink his fangs into a 14cm rubber chew toy in the shape of Bush that squeals when squeezed or bitten.

Republicans can return the compliment with a similar toy of Senator and former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

For those wanting to impress their pets, the Gucci goat hair dog bed comes for a cool $2050.

Japanese gadget

Trust the Japanese to come up with a gizmo to make communication easier between man and his animal friends - a dog collar equipped with software that translates barks into human language on a handheld computer for $100.

Other marketers are appealing to simple-living, health-conscious consumers.

With stress costing society $300 billion a year, Bruce Van Horn of the website petguru.com has published a series of books, priced at $10 to $15 each, about letting pets benefit from the quest for inner peace.

He says he places his hands on his dalmatian Goodboy and his cat Sarafina during his yoga session, so that they can reap the benefits of his meditation practice.