A 1-year-old Dachshund, named Camila, is dressed up by owner Valery Palma to attend her first birthday party in Mexico City.
Palma, a single 35-year-old lawyer,blew out the one candle for Camila on a cake from an exclusive bakery, baked in the shape of a big bone.
An estimated 40 million Mexicans considered to be middle class are having fewer children than their parents did and starting families later in life. That leaves more disposable income and, to many, pets are taking the place of children, reports animal behaviorist Reman Medina.
"This goes beyond a trend," he said. "People see their dog as part of the family."
Since 2008, sales of pet-related products have grown an average of 13 percent a year, to $2.2 billion last year, according to market research firm Euromonitor International.
"We're seeing the growth of this idea in which a dog is an alternative to children," said Raul Valadez Azua, a paleozoologist at the National Autonomous University in Mexico City.
"People are no longer having children at a young age ... because they can have a different lifestyle with luxuries they know they will no longer be able to afford once they have children," said Zorayda Morales, an analyst with De La Riva Group, a market research agency.
DOGS ALSO MORE PAMPERED IN WORKING-CLASS AREAS
Dogs have become more popular and pampered in working-class areas also, reports. Newsday.
Neighborhood street markets feature ever-greater quantities of dog products such as shampoos, brushes and elaborate leashes and collars.
"It doesn't depend on class, it depends on commitment, said Medina, who is also one of the founders of MEDICAN, Mexico's first animal hospital with a hyperbaric chamber, used to accelerate the healing of wounds and infections.
"People without a lot of money are sometimes better clients than the upper classes. Some show up and want to barter for care of their pets. They will say, 'I don't have money, what can we do? I'm an upholsterer and I can reupholster your chairs in exchange for treatment.'
CULTURAL SHIFT TOWARD ANIMALS PROMPTED BY ACTIVISTS
It's a startling cultural shift in a country where a dog's life has long meant days chained to the roof of the house, says Newsday.
Mexico has an estimated 20 million dogs or more, many of them roaming the streets hunting for food in the trash or spending their days shut up in apartments by owners who see them simply as living burglar alarms.
Last year, the problem gained international attention when authorities said five people had been killed by a pack of feral dogs in the Cerro de Estrella park in Iztapalapa, a poor eastern neighborhood of Mexico City.
Authorities captured some 50 dogs near where the attacks took place and brought them to a pound, prompting demonstrations by animal rights activists that pushed officials to put the dogs up for adoption.
PET THEFT BECOMING A PROBLEM
At the other end of the scale, owners of pure-bred dogs are being hit by robbery and kidnapping of animals worth thousands of dollars in some cases.
Nurse Karla Gutierrez's dog walker was out with her 4-year-old Golden Retriever, Hebe, and several other dogs in February when two men held him up at gunpoint.
"They told him, 'the dogs,' and he let Hebe's leash go so she could run away, “But my girl just curled up into a ball and they grabbed her and another Golden," Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez has since plastered her neighborhood with posters of Hebe, with the caption "Stolen."
"I am still crying for her almost every night," Gutierrez said. "I'm trying to live my normal life, playing soccer and riding my bike, but I can barely do it."