Australia is officially pet crazy, with about 2 million more pets than people. A new report - a state of the pet nation - also found owners trust their pets more than their friends.
Nearly 90 per cent of pet owners regard their dog or cat as part of the family and often treat them better, says the survey of 1734 pet and non-pet owners.
In an industry worth $8 billion a year, Australians are showering pets with gourmet food, protecting them with insurance and pampering them with reflexology, acupuncture and hydrotherapy.
Pet cause: Rachel Anderson and Darci. Photo: Peter Rae
Australia also has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, with about 25 million pets living in about 63 per cent of the nation's homes.
The survey was commissioned by the Animal Health Alliance, which represents many of the largest companies involved in animal healthcare products, including Bayer and Novartis. There are 4.2 million pet dogs in Australia, about 3.3 million cats and about 10.7 million pet fish. Other pets include 4.8 million birds. Suburbs also house 2.2 million small mammals such as pigs as well as reptiles.
Out of the non-pet owners surveyed, about 60 per cent said they would like to get a pet.
Pet ownership rates were highest among people living in free standing houses, at 68 per cent compared with 39 per cent for those living in units or apartments.
''Strata restrictions can severely limit pet ownership,'' said Duncan Bremner, chief executive of the Animal Health Alliance.
He said 35 per cent of those surveyed who were affected by these restrictions were prepared to pay more rent or strata fees to have a pet.
The Australian Pet Ownership Survey and an accompanying study on pet ownership in Australia will be released on Sunday.
''Given that Australia is certainly a nation of pet lovers, we expect strong growth for the industry ahead,'' said Mr Bremner.
Companionship is the primary reason behind pet ownership, with seven out of 10 Australians citing it as the main reason for getting a dog or cat. Most pet owners consider their pets to be members of the family and this has a powerful impact on how and what people buy.
The report found people were prioritising spending on their pets as they would a member of their family. It also found alternative health therapies were becoming more popular to treat pet health problems, including acupuncture and reflexology.
Pet insurance was increasingly popular, with about 20 per cent of Generation Y pet owners holding insurance for their cats and 27 per cent for their dogs.
Puppy love? Mais oui!
Rachael Anderson and boyfriend Rian Leitch admit they treat their 10-month-old French bulldog Darci as a surrogate child. "She is always on the couch with us, and I carry her around all the time. She is affectionate and very cute," Ms Anderson said.
The 23-year-old nursing student from Bronte regards Darci as "definitely and 100 per cent a member of the family'', echoing sentiments of 80 per cent of people surveyed.
Including Queen Elizabeth II: according to a new book on British royal pets, she is so fond of her corgis that she personally supervises their daily meal and pours the gravy for them herself.
Pets by Royal Appointment, by Brian Hoey, says the monarch prefers - and trusts - animals more than humans.
The Queen has two corgis and two dorgis, a cross with a dachshund, and has had more than 30 corgis during her reign. The book says the dogs' meals of fillet steak and chicken breast are prepared by a footman and served at 5pm every day, with the 87-year-old queen pouring gravy on the feast.
Prince Philip, however, loathes the waddling, short-legged animals because they yap too much, according to Hoey.
Darci, meanwhile, may be more expensive than some babies. The purebred cost $3500 and has already tallied up a few hundred dollars in vet fees after she developed an allergy to meat in her pet food, and required repeated tests.
Like increasing numbers of pet owners, the couple plan to buy health insurance for Darci because the breed is susceptible to health problems.
They bought Darci a range of doggie coats for winter, and have also purchased indoor and outdoor beds, a kennel and toys.
Because her boyfriend works full time, Ms Anderson relies on Darci for company and entertainment. "She is pretty much my best friend," she said.
Darci's funny faces, a feature of French bulldogs that has inspired books, online memes and websites such as http://dailyfrenchie.tumblr.com, made her laugh.