SPAIN'S 46 million inhabitants own 20 million pets, and one in four households has at least one furry friend, according to a four-legged census.
The Madrid Association of Small Animal Vets (AMVAC) says dogs are the number one pet, with just under 5.2 million living in Spanish homes – although they are the most costly to keep, vets say, at an average of €814 a year per head.
Dogs make up 22% of the total number of pets in Spain, and just under two-thirds – 63% - registered are pedigrees.
Yorkshire terriers are the most common, followed by German shepherds, although chihuahuas and golden retrievers are also high up.
With an average of 1.31 dogs per household, around half of all pooch-owners prefer smaller versions of less than 10 kilos (22lb).
Cat-lovers are fairly prolific in Spain, although only about half as many pets are feline – nearly 2.3 million – but concentrated into fewer homes, with 8.2% of Spanish households ruled by cats on behalf of their human slaves.
Smaller, cheaper and easier to maintain, cats are more likely to live in multi-feline homes, with an average of 1.54 cats per household.
This effectively means that the number of both cats and dogs per household is higher than the number of children, which sits at 1.32 per woman of fertile age, taken as those between 15 and 49 but who are fast diminishing in number, making the average per household around 0.8%.
Only 20% of pet cats are pedigrees, and non-moggies are most likely to be Siamese or Persian – although even Spanish cats that are not pure-bred tend to have a significant amount of Siamese in their DNA, making them generally thinner, longer, smaller and with larger ears than moggies found in the UK.
These data may not be the true picture, however, since not everyone has their pets microchipped, even though this is the law in Spain.
All dogs, and any cats who go outside are required to be chipped, but house-cats who stay indoors permanently tend not to be chipped.
Although fluffy favourites tend to be dogs, followed by cats, the most popular pet overall is birds – a total of 5.32 million feathered friends share their homes with humans.
Fish in tanks and ponds are even more popular than cats, with just under four million on the national census, and in the category of 'other pets' – totalling 2.03 million – everything from reptiles (tortoises, iguanas and snakes) through to ferrets, who are becoming more popular, via hamsters, gerbils and turtles, who are on the decline, are included.
The AMVAC estimates that, including food, litter where necessary, shampoo and other cleaning products for dogs, vet bills – sterilising, vaccinations and medication in the event of illness or injury – owning a pet can cost from €376 to €814 per year.
They calculate the cost at €2.23 per day for a dog, €1.47 per day for each cat, and €1.03 per day for other small pets.
In practice, the main running costs for pets who rarely need to see the vet are much lower – not counting vaccinations, which Spanish vets prefer to give only every two to four years, keeping a cat is around €2 a week or 30 cents a day.
Spain currently has around 6,000 veterinary surgeries, and 5,000 specialist animal care shops, although a high number of cats and dogs live on food bought from the pet section of mainstream supermarkets.
Veterinary clinics have been struggling more than ever since 2013 when IVA on medication and other services was forced by the government up from 8% to 21%, meaning pet-owners now avoid taking their animals for treatment or check-ups unless absolutely necessary, and leading to surgeries' turnover plummeting.
As a result, 730 clinics have closed in less than four years, says the Association of Pet Industries (ASAC).
Whilst the idea of IVA increasing was to earn more money for the State, in practice the government is making less than ever because of vet bills becoming prohibitive and owners avoiding incurring them where they can.
In fact, ASAC fears the increased IVA could lead to a 'public health problem', with general pet health declining.
Animal-loving politicians have tried to push through motions to cut IVA on all veterinary-related services and products to 10%, the middle bracket – which used to be the band that applied and was previously 8% - stressing that affordable pet care would mean healthier fluffy friends and, in the long run, even more money for the government and for vets.
Some vets prefer to keep costs down for general care to encourage owners to continue to bring their animals to see them, but in order to do so and stay in business, need to make a greater mark-up on less-regular and traditionally more expensive services.
A decade ago, an antibiotic injection for a cat would be in region of €10, but is now €25; sterilising a tomcat costs at least €75 compared with about €40 in 2007 – figures which double for sterilising a queen-cat.