Prices for necessities such as gasoline, food, clothing, and medical care may be going up. Headlines may scream about home foreclosures and bankruptcies. Mastercard may report on people using credit cards to pay for everyday needs rather than for luxuries. Budgets are squeezed, and we’re all feeling the pressure. But it appears there’s one area of our spending that’s getting better all the time, and that’s – yes, I mean it – spending on pets.

According to the 2007-2008 National Pet Owners Survey, 63% of U.S. households, 71 million households, own pets, mostly cats and dogs with some fish and birds thrown in, and expenditures to support these family pets are estimated to exceed $43 billion (yes, with a “B”) this year. Most of the dollars go for food, veterinary care, supplies, and over-the-counter medicine for pets, but growing trends include high end – and high tech – items.

Some big-name corporations such as Paul Mitchell, Omaha Steaks, and Old Navy offer everything from dog shampoos, pet toys, and gourmet pet food, ornate birdcages and monogrammed and even mink doggy coats. Digital ID tags, digitalized automatic feeder and lighting systems, and self-cleaning litter boxes reduce owners’ chore load. Meanwhile, overall spending on veterinary care is increasing, with the owners of the more than 72 million dogs and 82 million cats taking them for checkups and treatment an average of three times yearly. American Veterinarian Marketing Association’s sourcebook coordinator Jim Flanagan said his organization’s research has not found evidence of price sensitivity in pet owners.

As a bankruptcy lawyer in Indiana and who scours the news for information of relevance to my clients, I read this item on pets with somewhat mixed feelings. On the one hand, thriving pockets of enterprise, including pet-based business, means jobs and commerce, and that’s hopeful for people trying to get back on their feet after a bankruptcy. On the other hand, with all the foreclosures, a new phrase has actually been created – foreclosure pets. These are animals that have been left behind when a home is foreclosed. When people’s finances are on a downward spiral, they may not be able to consider the welfare of their pets. Hundreds of animals are found in foreclosed and abandoned homes, when, sadly, a call to the animal shelter or humane society could help prevent pet suffering.

On a rosier note, if people are able to keep their pets, those pets can actually help them get through times of crisis. National Institute of Health studies found that pets help lower blood pressure and sooth nerves, and that pets have been found to fight depression and loneliness. In the long run, pets might “pay for” their own veterinary care costs by lowering health care costs for their owners!