In ageing Japan, even pets are setting records for living longer

Ms Hiroko Miura, head of a nursing and training facility for pets in Tokyo, helping a 12-year-old dog after it had received treatment for symptoms of epilepsy in an oxygen capsule on March 23 last year.
Ms Hiroko Miura, head of a nursing and training facility for pets in Tokyo, helping a 12-year-old dog after it had received treatment for symptoms of epilepsy in an oxygen capsule on March 23 last year.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TOKYO • Not only does Japan now have more pets than children, but also dogs and cats are extending their lifespans along with their ageing owners.

The average longevity of dogs and cats has hit record highs of 13.2 years and 11.9 years respectively, according to experts at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Techno- logy and the Japan Small Animal Veterinary Association.

The reasons for pets living longer include increased vaccinations, better veterinarian care, higher-quality food and more pets living indoors with their owners.

The number of pets has surpassed the population of children. There were about 19.8 million dogs and cats kept as pets, according to a  survey last year by the Japan Pet Food Association - compared to 15.9 million children aged 14 and below.

In the fast-ageing nation with the birth rate declining and people increasingly living alone, pets are replacing children in more and more households, so their owners are happy to spend on everything from better food to pet clothing and even massages.

According to a 2010 survey by the Cabinet Office, about 34 per cent of households in Japan have pets.

Sadly, not all pets are loved. While the number of dogs and cats put down in Japan has fallen in recent years, government estimates show that more than 100,000 pets were euthanised in the 12 months ended March 2015. 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2016, with the headline 'In ageing Japan, even pets are setting records for living longer'. Print Edition | Subscribe