Britain's dog population has reached an all-time high of 8.3 million, up from 5 million in 1970 and nearing the 8.6 million cat population (down from 2004's peak of 9.6 million), according to a Mintel report for the Pet Food Manufacturers' Association.

"Dogs are now seen as a fashion accessory, with the likes of Paris Hilton seen carrying hers around, whereas cats are getting less attention," said Ben Perkins, an analyst at Mintel. "They aren't seen as a sociable animal and you're not likely to see a celebrity holding a cat."

Figures from the Kennel Club show that "handbag dog" breeds, such as Pugs, have increased sixfold and Chihuahuas have trebled since 2001. This, according to experts, may be partially due to an increase in amateur dog breeding. "It is easy money, but it means some breeds have seen a huge rise in numbers and many of those dogs end up in rescue centers because they can't be looked after," said Beverley Cuddy, editor of Dogs Today.