The true story… behind pets in Japan

Dave McCaughan
McCann WorldGroup Asia Pacific

The simple truth is that Japan is fixated on pets. The low birth rate and aging demographics are real headline makers. However, the number of children being born did level off years ago and the number of people who are reaching middle age with no children has steadily grown. So maybe it's no wonder that a country with one of the highest per capita incomes in the world - and a middle class that, while shrinking, still takes in the great majority of the population - uses pets to supplement a need for companionship, rather than having someone to fuss over.

First, a few facts:

  • According to a November 2011 study by the Japan Pet Food Manufacturers Association, household dog ownership was at 17.7% (that meant nearly 12 million pet dogs) and cat ownership was over 10% of homes (over 9 million pet cats).
  • But 33% of householders said they would like a dog and over 18% wanted a cat. These figures have been flat for the last four years or so as the economic uncertainty of recent years seems to have halted increases in the number of people actually buying a pet, despite a lot of evidence that indicates the desire to live together.
  • As you can imagine, it has a lot to do with cost. People try to cut expenses on their pets.
  • The pet food market was an amazing 268,308 million yen ($3,354.00) or 685,806 tons in 2010. While there has been some slight volume decline that is sometimes attributed again to economic concerns, there is the increasing fad for smaller dogs, which eat less. But the actual cost per packet is growing, reinforcing a continuing trend for the Japanese to spoil their cats or dogs with premium or super premium brands of pet food.
  • The growth in pet sales is all in the smaller dog market. The "ultra small" (dogs under 5kg/11lbs) segment is now 35% of a pets and "small" (under 10kg/22lbs) is nearly 65% and increasing fast.
  • These figures have been stagnant in the last four years, especially since the global financial crisis in 2008, with ambiguity and uncertainty in the economy and society.

Japanese values have changed