High demand for animal clinics as Japan’s pets live longer

Courtesy of Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology
A dog is treated at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology’s Animal Medical Center.

Animal hospitals specializing in pets such as dogs and cats are increasing nationwide, apparently because pets’ longer lifespans mean more cases of cancer, kidney failure and other age-related diseases. A trend toward owning pets during the pandemic has also contributed to the growing demand for veterinarians.

On April 7, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology (TUAT) President Kazuhiro Chiba announced that the university would open an emergency hospital specializing in dogs and cats in Koganei, Tokyo, around autumn.

“There are many owners waiting for their pets to get medical treatment,” Chiba said. “We’ll make it one of Japan’s largest veterinary medical centers, while developing new treatments.”

The hospital will provide around-the-clock medical services even on weekends, national holidays, and at year-end and New Year. TUAT will be the first among 17 university veterinary hospitals nationwide to provide 24-hour medical care, the university said.

Animal hospitals are run by universities, corporations, local governments and individual veterinarians. The number is increasing every year, with 12,435 facilities in Japan in 2021, up 18% from a decade ago, according to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry. A drastic increase was seen in Tokyo, with a 26% increase to 1,816.

Insurance on the rise

Behind the increase is the fact that many dogs and cats are living longer thanks to advanced vet medicine, better food and indoor breeding. But this also results in them suffering age-related diseases.

A Japan Pet Food Association survey last year showed that the average lifespan was 14.65 years for dogs and 15.66 years for cats, both the longest since records started in 2010.

Another survey conducted last year by Tokyo-based pet insurance giant Anicom Holdings, Inc. showed that cancer was the most common cause of death for 10-year-old dogs, at about 23%, and chronic conditions such as heart and kidney disease are also increasing.

The spread of pet insurance has made it easier for owners to visit veterinary clinics. Surgery costs for cancer and other diseases can run into the hundreds of thousands of yen, but the typical pet insurance policy covers 70% of the costs. According to a 2020 survey by the Yano Research Institute Ltd., about 30% of dog and cat owners buy pet insurance, and the percentage is expected to increase.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made many people spend more time at home and become eager to have pets. The pet food association’s survey showed about 880,000 new dogs and cats were acquired in 2020 and about 890,000 in 2021, up two years in a row from pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

“Many people consider pets members of the family,” said TUAT Prof. Ryuji Fukushima, who is a veterinary cardiologist. “There will be increasing demand for decent medical care among breeders.”