Japan pet owners increasingly striving to keep furry friends happy

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Dog and cat owners are increasingly keen to ensure their domesticated darlings lead healthy, fulfilling lives. And there is no shortage of vendors vying for the owners’ attention — and money.

In recent years, the pet industry has developed a wide variety of technologies and services geared toward enhancing pets’ diet and living environments.

In 2021, electronics manufacturer NEC Corp. launched a service called Waneco Talk, which leverages artificial intelligence technology to allow owners to “talk” with their animal buddies using the Line communications app.

When an owner “sends a message” to a pet via smartphone, such as “What are you doing?,” a sensor in the animal’s collar analyzes data about its recent movements and generates an appropriate response, such as “I’m taking it easy” or “I’m awake.”

This data can also be used by veterinary clinics to help discern medical issues.

A crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for the project raised approximately ¥24 million — more than 20 times the original target.

A 40-something Yokohama resident who uses the service with her dog said: “I feel safer knowing about my dog’s behavior patterns while I’m not at home. If I notice anything out of the ordinary, it helps me decide whether to take my pet to the clinic or not.”

Panasonic Corp. sells a high-definition “pet camera” that allows users to keep an eye on their pets while away from home. According to Panasonic, their model outstrips other such cameras in terms of stability when it comes to boisterous pet behavior.

In 2021, there were more than 16 million pet dogs and cats, according to the Japan Pet Food Association. The figure is higher than the number of children younger than 15 in Japan, about 14.93 million.

As more and more pets are kept indoors and becoming “members of the family,” services and products that parents often deem necessary for their children are becoming increasingly popular among pet owners, an industry observer said.

New brands

It is often said that Japan has “the cleanest toilets in the world,” and the country’s high technology in sanitation is being increasingly utilized to help improve pets’ quality of life.

In February, S.T. Corp., which manufactures goods such as deodorizers and air fresheners, began marketing a new brand geared toward pet owners. The brand includes deodorant chips that keep cats’ feet clean and deodorant sheets that make it easier to monitor cats’ health based on urine color.

Anther company, Petgo Corp., which makes nutritional supplements for cats and other animals, was listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange Growth in April. The startup firm intends to use market-derived funds to invest in research and development of health care services for pets.

Welfare consideration

There has been an uptick in the number of pet owners amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, and the market continues to expand.

However, there has also been an increase in violations of the Animal Protection Law. In 2021, police across the nation registered 170 cases of pet abuse, up 70% from the previous year. Abandonment topped the list, accounting for 81 cases.

Since 2018, Mazda Motor Corp. employees have looked after stray cats that breed in its factory grounds. The employees have established a registration system for people seeking pets, and to date, 85 dogs and cats have been paired with new owners.

In April, Panasonic held a pet-adoption event for some 350 dogs and cats in Tokyo. “I heard that people from animal welfare organizations were having difficulties securing a venue and gathering visitors for the event amid the coronavirus pandemic,” a person in charge said. “We’d like to help facilitate new opportunities [for people and pets to meet].”