The next time you see someone pushing a stroller, take a closer look.

The occupant might be furry, four-legged and diaper-free.

Dog strollers are the newest trend to hit the streets of Toronto. And the reasons range from all-out glamour to the more mundane.

“We sell more when the weather gets nasty,” says Mike Fitzpatrick, co-owner of Bark & Fitz, a chain of pet boutiques based in Mississauga. “People don’t want to drag their perfectly coiffed dogs through the slush. And the salt can sting their paws. I’ve seen dogs roll over on their side because they don’t want to walk.

“It’s something that started in California, New York, Miami and Chicago and has become more mainstream in Canada in the last three years. At first we were hesitant to bring strollers into the market because we thought they were a little over the top.”

But once you get beyond the Paris Hilton-indulgence factor, there are practical issues that make pet strollers appealing.

“High-quality food is extending the life of dogs, but they are getting hip ailments and can’t walk,” Fitzpatrick says.

Even healthy toy dogs can get too tuckered out to keep up with their owners. In the summer scorching pavement can burn bare paws. And crowds can be treacherous for small dogs and nerve-wracking for their walkers who fear they may get trampled.

“And there are places where dogs aren’t allowed, so a carrier or stroller comes in handy,” Fitzpatrick says. “If the flaps are down people won’t even realize there’s a dog in there.”

Pet strollers at Bark & Fitz range from $150 to $400, from bare bones to sturdier models with high-end windbreakers and waterproof covers. “They’re not all pink and frilly,” Fitzpatrick says. “Jeep makes a pet jogger that even a guy would be fine with.”

Jeep strollers are distributed by Vermont-based Pet Gear Inc. (petgearinc.com) which also offers ultra-lights and an all-terrain pet vehicle.

Kittywalk.com has double deckers for situations where pets are better off travelling in separate quarters.

“There really is something for everyone now,” says Connie Wilson, publisher of Vancouver-based Modern Dog magazine.

She got a pet trailer this summer so she could cycle to work with her 65-pound Wiemaraner-pointer cross, Kaya, attached to the bike. The Burley brand pet trailer is built to withstand a larger dog’s heft. “And it has a flat bed with easy access and different ventilation than a baby stroller.”

Another option is the Tutto carrier on wheels, which resembles a big black lawyer’s briefcase and would be ideal in a situation that requires a professional image.

A stroller came in handy at Modern Dog when another office companion, a miniature dachsund named Esther, suffered a partially ruptured disc.

“She’s only 11 pounds, so it’s easy to pick her up, but if you go any distance it’s a burden. That’s when you really appreciate a stroller,” Wilson says.

“Prior to this, people had to make do and convert baby strollers, but now there is something for all kinds of different needs. And you can even colour co-ordinate.

“It all stems back to the fact that pets are integrated into people’s lives,” Wilson says. “They hold a spot in the family that is equivalent to a child. They give so much to us; it’s a way for us to give back to them.”

But is there a danger dogs might not get the exercise they need?

“Any responsible dog owner will understand a dog can’t be contained 24/7,” Wilson says. “But if you are out on a mission and you want your dog to be safe, then a pet stroller is a useful tool.”