Berlusconi is besotted with his girlfriend's poodle Dudu

Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has suggested the abolition of VAT on dog products, chasing pet lovers' votes in the run-up to the European elections in May.

Berlusconi, 77, was the guest on Italian TV program Domenica Cinque when he also announced a plan to eliminate vet costs for elderly people with dogs.

The program, which is broadcast by Berlusconi-owned TV channel Canale 5l, is mainly watched by elderly people and housewives.

"We will guarantee free vet visits, the abolition of Iva [VAT] on all dogs' products, and we will also provide retired people who receive a pension lower than €500 (£411) with up to €100 (£82) per month."

The former prime minister explained his aim to create special "clubs" - community-conscious groups of up to 5000 people.

"Our clubs must look for elderly people with small dogs to whom they cannot provide medical cures. Our clubs must guarantee that a vet visits the pets for free every 15 days," he said.

Berlusconi explained that his love for pets has grown thanks to his 25-year-old girlfriend's poodle Dudù, which has become part of the family.

The pet, very well-known all across the peninsula, has its own Facebook page with more than 600 friends and has become the symbol of the campaign against illegal New year fireworks in Italy.

There are about 15 million pet lovers in Italy, Berlusconi continued.

"Among them, are people who want to vote for Matteo Renzi or Beppe Grillo [Berlusconi's counterparts]...they can continue paying Iva on products for their pets.

"However, there also many pet lovers who are elderly people. For them, having a dog means to live longer and more serenely," he concluded.

The former premier, who is famous abroad for his rather controversial comments, has recently made headlines worldwide saying Germany denied the existence of prison camps during the Nazi era.

"According to the Germans, there never were concentration camps," he said at a European elections rally in Milan, after a previous gaffe in 2003 in which he had compared a German MEP to a concentration camp guard.

The former leader, charged with tax fraud, has been recently condemned to carry out one year of community service at a centre for the elderly.