Tailored tuxedo, fake fur and not a word of thanks

John Carlin joins America's $5bn spree on pets' gifts

We had the first snowfall of winter in Washington last week, a warning that it was time to go out and buy some good strong boots. No, not for myself - for my two dogs.

A company called Polar Paws has come up with the answer to a condition of which I was shamefully unaware: "the ice-ball build-up" between dogs' toes. The boots - available in small, medium, large and extra-large at $39.95 (pounds 25) a pair - are designed to provide the dogs with a warm, snug, natural fit. As insurance against the flu, the catalogue suggested, I might complement the boots with a couple of leopard-skin scarves, priced at $16 apiece.

This is great news. It could be that here at last is the answer to a problem that's been dogging me for the past month - what to buy the animals for Christmas. I am not alone in my predicament. Americans, the Wall Street Journal says, spend $5bn each Christmas on presents for their pets.

Hardly surprising when you consider the results of a recent survey by the American Animal Hospital Association. Of 1,206 pet owners polled, 47 per cent said their pets were a more dependable source of love than their spouses or children.

As a resident of the American capital - where, as the saying goes, "if you want a friend in this town, buy a dog" - I feel a particularly strong obligation both to reward my two animals for kindnesses past and to take precautions against any future lapses of affection.

The first question the sensible Christmas shopper must address, given the mesmerising array of pet gifts available, is whether to buy something practical and long-lasting or something frivolous but fun. Ideally one should try to combine the two. Something like the Pet Mansion, a gilded doghouse modelled on the Taj Mahal, that may be obtained at Neiman Marcus department stores for $9,400 before tax. The problem, of course, is that then you have to buy the furniture. I'd go for the basics: an orthopaedic bed with foam mattress and lambs' wool-covered pillows and a hammock with reversible sheepskin cover - both available from Aardvark Pet Supplies.

Clothes present a notoriously risky option when planning a gift for a human but one good thing about dogs is that in matters of fashion they may be relied upon to respond with a merciful absence of fuss. Velvet Santa Claus outfits and strap-on reindeer antlers may provide some fleeting amusement on the 25th, but I'd be more inclined to go for the pyjamas, the bathrobes or even - a charming accessory for my Border collie bitch - the "faux mink" acrylic coat. An appropriately butch alternative I came across on the Internet for my male golden retriever might be a Dallas Cowboys shirt for $24.95, or a hand-loomed turtle-neck sweater ($69) whose "vertical stripes bring out your dog's slim figure".

If your pet doesn't have a slim figure, a wise course of action might be to find yourself a dress-maker trained in the art of masking nature's imperfections. In Virginia, there's a shop called Loise Custom Tailoring where you can have your dog fitted for an evening gown or a tuxedo complete with satin collar and tails.

As for other pets, I have always wanted my own reptile but have resisted the urge, because it would be a shame not to be able to take it out for a walk. Besides, it probably wouldn't survive long in the cold. Now the problem has been solved. It turns out that Petco Animal Supplies sells these adorable little jackets for iguanas, and leashes, too!

But returning to dogs, I would like mine to enjoy their Christmas lunch like the rest of us. Which is why I want to buy them each a "correct posture feeder" I came across recently in an in-flight magazine. It's a head-height table on wheels with an in-built bowl that allows the dog to eat without inclining its neck, thereby - another shamefully belated discovery on my part - minimising the risk of indigestion.

The boots, I still think, would make fine presents. But I am tempted to go for the whole wardrobe - the tuxedo, the evening gown, the bathrobes, the turtle-neck sweater, the fur coat. That way when people come to my house they will look from dog to man, and from man to dog, and from dog to man again; but it will be impossible for them to say which is which.

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