Pet Parties

Simple Tips for Planning a Celebration

The popular demand to spoil our pets has become a booming market. In fact, the American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimates that Americans spend more than $60 billion a year on products for Fido and Fluffy.

Yes, billions. According to the APPA, that’s an increase from the $29.5 billion pet owners spent more than 10 years ago.

One reason for the increase: pet parties. Are you one of the many who’ve lavished your pet with a celebration that rivals a teenager’s Sweet 16? Or your nephew’s bar mitzvah?

If not, grab a party hat and take notes; the latest pet trend is celebrating your critters in style.

Posh Parties for Pets

Dogs eat birthday cake

Celebrating a pet’s birthday is nothing new; a 1992 survey by animal behaviorists Peggy Danneman, Victoria Voith and John Wright revealed that the majority of pet owners celebrated their dog’s birthday.

What has changed is the manner in which owners are celebrating these milestones. Gone are the days when donning a paper party hat and giving Fido a bowl of vanilla ice cream in the backyard was the accepted standard.

Today, pet owners are spending hundreds if not upward of $1,000 to host a party at a venue with decorations, specialty treats, a cake and party gift bags—all for the pet guests.

The concept has become a business in itself, with pet party planners making themselves readily available to organize pet birthdays or even puppy or kitten “showers”—much like a typical baby shower.

All for a price, of course. Petaholics.com will plan your furry companion’s special event for $250; this does not include expenses for invitations, supplies, games, the venue or treats. They will send out your chosen (and paid for) invitations and track the RSVPs on your behalf. For an additional $40 an hour, they’ll attend your party to greet and care for canine guests so you can enjoy the festivities. They’ll even clean up when your party is over—for an extra $45 an hour.

Even Petco has joined the pack. Their relatively new Unleashed by Petco boutique stores offer accommodations so that your pet can “party like an animal.” The community area comes free of charge, but treats, toys and a cake baked with all-natural ingredients are an additional cost.

Pet Parties Entertain Pets and People

Dog birthday party

Alison Baker of Walnut, Calif., marked her pug Pluto’s sixth birthday with a Disney-themed bash that included a dozen of his closest friends. Along with balloons and a cake featuring a photo of Pluto, canine guests were treated to a buffet with an array of pig’s ears, dog cookies and specialty pet hor d’oeuvres.

“I don’t have children of my own,” says Baker, “so why not do something special for Pluto? Everyone has fun—both the dogs and the other pet owners.”

Indeed, not only did the dogs enjoy games of fetch with balls and Frisbees, they also got to romp around an obstacle course and play in kiddie pools, all under the watchful eyes of their owners who were enjoying Disney-themed cocktails and finger food prepared especially for them.

Baker estimates she spent approximately $500 on Pluto’s birthday party. “Well worth the expense,” Baker says. “I’m already thinking of new ideas for Pluto’s next party!”

Plan Your Own Pooch Party

Of course, with a little creativity you can plan your own pet party, if you’d rather not spend the money on party planner fees. Here are some simple tips:

Pick a pet-friendly location. If you lack a backyard suitable for romp and circumstance, host a party at your local dog park or dog beach. Make sure to bring disposable doody bags so pet owners can clean up after their pooches.

Pet party treats
  1. Plan your menu wisely. Make sure that your canine guests don’t have access to human food, especially that which may be toxic, such as grapes, raisins, chocolate and caffeine. In addition, some dogs have food allergies and/or sensitivity to rich “party” foods such as vanilla ice cream. Ask your invitees ahead of time if there are any food issues you should be aware of and plan for simpler indulgences that won’t cause upset tummies.
  2. Bring enough water and bowls to quench thirst. If activities are planned for your guests, have plenty of fresh water available to quench thirsty mouths. Dogs can suffer from dehydration and overheating, too.
  3. Plan pup-friendly games. Offer the birthday pooch and friends fun activities such as a game of fetch with plenty of balls and Frisbees to go around, an obstacle course for the agile-curious guests, a water-relay race where owners accompanied by their leashed dogs run back and forth from point A to point B with a cup of water to see who can fill up a bucket first, and “pup painting,” where dogs can safely paint with their paws. Simply mix corn starch, flour, water and food coloring to desired consistency and color, then spread the mixture onto baking sheets or cardboard. Press the dog’s paws into the color, then onto a sheet of paper. Instant art d’canine, woof!
  4. Choose a theme. Looking to add a little more pizzazz to the party? Come up with a theme that both owners and pets can participate in, such as a luau (ever seen a pet in a colorful lei?), Mardi Gras, Cinco de Perro (get it? Ole!) or the Wild, Wild West. Decorations can be found on discount party Web sites.
  5. Invite “pre-approved” friends only. When throwing a party for a group of dogs, it’s wise to invite dogs that are already familiar with one another. This is not the right time to introduce new dogs to a group that will be presented with treats, toys and a high level of excitement. Pup pals will have a better chance of getting along and enjoying each other’s company. In addition, plenty of supervision by attending pet owners is required.
  6. Save the gift bags for last. Instead of creating what could quickly turn into a game of dominance and possessiveness, hand out party gift bags as your guests are leaving. Toys or take-home treats can spark aggression in certain dogs, and you don’t want Fido’s party turning into a rumble.

Parties for Cats

As most cat owners know, their feline companions would likely balk at the idea of a room-filled party in their honor. Crowds tend to overwhelm cats, most of which will run for cover at the first opportunity.

Here are some simple strategies to help you celebrate your cat:

Cat celebrates birthday
  1. Plan a small guest list. Avoid creating a stressful environment for your cat by limiting your guest list to family members and friends your cat knows well. Unless your guests have pets who’ve had established “play dates” with yours, or you have family pets already in the house, leave other pets off the guest list.
  2. Choose a cozy location. Cats prefer to feel secure, so choose a room in your house that will create a safe environment for your feline companion. Make sure to create some safe zones in the room where your cat can take refuge if he or she needs a break, such as an empty cardboard box or a cat tower.
  3. Have playful toys on hand. Your human guests can entertain your cat with whimsical cat toys and laser pens. Of course, don’t forget the “kitty champagne”: cat nip. Even your guest of honor deserves a cocktail on his or her special day.

Keep Your Pet’s Celebration a Happy One

It’s important to remember that our pets can easily become overwhelmed and stressed by too much activity and stimulation.

If you notice signs of anxiety (dogs may start panting heavily, tuck their tails and show fear aggressive tendencies such as growling and snapping; cats may hiss, raise their fur and turn into puff balls), try to give your pet a time out. Step away for some quiet one-on-one time and then try to reintroduce your furry companion to the festive event.

One more thing: Don’t forget to bring your camera. Moments like this can be enjoyed for a lifetime.