25/08/2016 7:44 AM AEST | Updated 25/08/2016 7:45 AM AEST

Treating Pets As Family Has Led To Small Business Boom

More Aussies live in households with a dog or cat than with a child.

We love our pets so much we even include them in our selfies.

Preventative health care, photo shoots, brain puzzles, vitamin supplements, luxury beds and prescription food; Aussies are increasingly treating their pets as members of the family -- and small businesses are cashing in.

This changing attitude and 'humanisation' of our pets is also reflected in their increased life expectancy -- recent research by Banfield, the largest vet group in the U.S, has shown that family dogs are living twice as long as they did four decades ago and the average lifespan of a house cat is double that of its wild counterpart.

And longer lifespans translates to big business for those in the pet healthcare and products industries, with the Animal Health Alliance estimating that Aussies spend $8 billion per year on their pets.

Charlotte Reeves Photography
Pet lovers have created a niche market for photographers such as Brisbane's Charlotte Reeves.

There's no doubt we love our furry friends, with a higher proportion of Aussies living in households with a dog and/or cat than with a child.

Roy Morgan research shows that 50 per cent of us live in a household with at least one cat or/and dog compared to 35 per cent who share their household with at least one child aged under 16.

Steven Perissinotto, director of VetShop Australia, told The Huffington Post Australia that smaller families, an ageing population and increase in lone-person households has contributed to a rise in the desire for animal companionship.

"And of course, unlike 21st Century children, dogs and cats will (generally) do what they are told, eat what is put in front of them, and never say 'I hate you' or 'I wish I was adopted'," he said.

He said the increase in the life expectancy of our pets could be attributed to improvements in veterinary medicine and a better awareness of what pets should -- and shouldn't -- eat.

Just For Pets
Pet lovers can now buy a range of foods that cater to pets' specific physical, dietary or dental requirements.

"No longer do pets just make do with scraps from the table, but most Aussie pets now eat prepared pet foods, many designed specifically to help manage health complaints such as urinary problems or obesity," he said.

"As well as improvements in the actual foods and veterinary treatments themselves, there is also an increased willingness, and capacity, to care for pets and invest money on the better foods/treatments because households are richer, families are smaller."

Karen Justice, who founded Just For Pets; Australia's largest group of independent pet retailers and animal health centres, said pet owners now have access to a wide range of products and services offered by a host of small businesses.

"Chiropractors, physios, osteopaths, and even dentists -- all specifically for pets -- have sprung up in the past few years," Justice told HuffPost Australia.

"There's much more of a focus on preventative care than there was even five years ago, as people are increasingly seeing their pets as members of the family."

Just For Pets
Pet owners are increasingly opting for preventative health checks rather than just taking their pets to the vet when they're ill or need vaccinations.

She said there has also been an increase in the number of businesses selling IQ toys for pets.

"They're such a part of the family that we feel guilty when we leave them at home by themselves," she said.

"Empty nesters are the most indulgent on their pets with many buying educational toys to improve their pet's IQ and relieve them of boredom.

"Also dogs aren't sleeping on old towels or makeshift kennels, they're in $300 pure wool beds with their shoes, sunglasses and dress or waistcoat laid out ready for tomorrow's walk."

Brisbane-based pet photographer Charlotte Reeves said she had seen an increase in business in the past few years.

"Though I'd completed my formal photography qualifications in 2000, I had never found that perfect niche to specialise in," she told HuffPost Australia.

"After welcoming our new great dane puppy into the family in 2007, my camera turned naturally towards her and her doggy friends. Starting a pet-specific photography business seemed the perfect idea -- though it was a hard slog in the first few years.

"Along with the rise of social media and the increased inclusion of pets as family members, people are starting to actively seek out pet photographers.

Lyndal Carmichael
Brisbane pet photographer Charlotte Reeves and Luna.

"Having professional photos taken of your pets is the natural next step and is now firmly entrenched in the industry along with more commonplace genres such as wedding, family, maternity and newborn photography."

And we're not shy about dressing our pets up either.

"Whether it's a bee costume, Juicy hoodie or just a warm coat, we are seeing an increase in pet clothing both worldwide and in Australia," Perissinotto said.

"The growing popularity of Halloween in Australia for example has led to an increase in fancy dress. For outdoorsy owners, we are seeing a growing desire for dog life jackets, rashies, trail packs, folding/travel water bowls and so on as dogs join their owners in outdoor pursuits."

VetShop also now has a service called PetScripts, based on the model for humans, where pet prescriptions are uploaded into their system and kept by the pharmacy.

"While 20 years ago, an expensive ongoing treatment for chronic illness might be seen as justification to put a beloved dog or cat who was otherwise healthy and happy "to sleep", nowadays when there is a viable treatment, pet owners are much more likely to opt for the treatment," he said.

Karl Johaentges / LOOK-foto
Fashion darling, it's all about fashion.

Janine Yates who has a 12-year-old shepherd cross named Paris and a two-year-old labrador named Max, buys specially made carob, yogurt and liver birthday cakes for them both.

"We always dress them up at Halloween and Christmas and they put out their stockings on Christmas Eve so Santa has somewhere to leave their presents," Yates said.

"We only buy premium dog food and they have a regular appointment with a professional groomer -- they're just as much our babies as our own daughter is."