The growing popularity in Japan of dogs as pets has turned its pet industry into a lucrative market in which suppliers and sellers are eagerly competing to offer products and services from the pet's cradle to its grave.

According to Yano Research Institute, pet-related businesses, mainly comprising those related to dogs and cats, are expected to turn over more than 1 trillion yen in fiscal 2004, which begins in April. Moreover, in an otherwise sluggish consumer sector, this market is outstanding for the steady growth it continues to enjoy, having risen from 935 billion yen in fiscal 2001 to 966 billion yen in fiscal 2002 and an expected 993 billion yen in fiscal 2003.

The market consists of three sectors: the trade in live animals; pet food; and pet-related products. However, as the market continues to grow, Hitoshi Ohnaka, senior researcher at Yano Research Institute, points to a wide range of new goods and services becoming available, including pet-sitting services, dog parks, pet-training schools, pet hotels, cafes, beauty salons and restaurants for pet lovers and pet cemeteries. The pace of growth has accelerated in the last 10 years, reflecting Japan's falling birthrate and aging population, the spread of nuclear families and increased leisure time, according to Ohnaka.

Relieving pets' anxieties

"Pet owners spend money on their pets, just like they spend money on children," he said. "They are willing to spend more to improve their pets' environment and relieve the anxieties of their furry companions," he said.

Japanese owned about 9.5 million dogs and 7.1 million cats in 2002, or roughly a pet in every third household, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association Japan. Although the association expects the number of pets may not surge in the future, it notes that owners seem to be spending more of their budget on pet care. In fact the average household expenditure on pets in 2002 was 14,225 yen -- 60 percent up on a decade before -- according to the Public Management, Home Affairs and Posts and Telecommunications Ministry.

"Pet-related businesses will continue to grow because the emergence of new products and services has lured industries that had no previous ties to pets," Ohnaka said.

House-builders, for example, are now offering special landscape gardening geared to pet needs. Rooftops and verandas can be transformed into playgrounds with climbing/scratching posts and trees for shade and leg-cocking.

Toho-Leo Co. in Osaka, a home-design company, says it now receives a steady stream of inquiries on ways to turn rooftops into pet gardens, while another Osaka-based housing firm, Daiwa House Industry, has started to offer pet-friendly houses.

In a related move, last year Kawai Onkyo System, a manufacturer of soundproof chambers for musicians, began marketing a soundproofed dog house it calls Wandaa House. Utilizing the company's latest technology, this reduces the sound of barking (wan-wan in Japanese -- hence the house's name) to a 16th of its actual level. The pampered-pooch house also has deodorizing and sanitizing equipment, air conditioning and -- optionally -- a Web camera so owners can keep an eye on their dogs from anywhere. Depending on specifications, the house costs 1.15 million yen to 2.10 million yen.

Last October, leading bed-maker France Bed Co. launched a line of waterbeds designed to give dogs and cats a sound sleep no matter the weather. The makers say their France Pet compares in sophistication and comfort with its waterbeds for people -- all at a mere 47,000 yen to 89,800 yen.

Bookstores, too, are capitalizing on the trend, with many giving more shelf-space to dog-related books. For instance, the Sanseido bookstore in Kanda, Tokyo, has increased its dog-related titles from 150 to 300 since the beginning of last year, and the Nihonbashi store of Maruzen Co. has also doubled the number of dog books it sells to 80 titles. The Junkudo Shoten bookstore in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district regularly holds fairs that showcase books and other publications about canines.

"Nowadays people seem to regard pet dogs as humans -- or even as members of the family," said one Junkuko Shoten employee. "So books that take an anthropomorphic approach to dogs are selling well. When relaxation and healing become hot topics, there are always inquiries about whether there are similar books for dogs," he said.

Reflecting this trend are the growing number of relaxation services that are usually reserved for people. All over the country, dog salons continue to sprout up, offering mud packs, aromatherapy, massages, hot springs and other therapeutic pampering for pets.

Products related to a pet's health are also in vogue. Sunaga Impulse, for example, started to offer a running machine for dogs called "Dog Promenade."

Keeping in shape

The company said about 30 percent of dogs and cats kept indoors are overweight, and their equipment -- costing 170,000 yen to 290,000 yen depending on the dog's size -- will help them maintain an ideal and healthy body weight.

Dog-food manufacturers are also giving more emphasis to health issues. In a pet-food market estimated by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry at 233.78 billion yen in fiscal 2002 -- up from 160.75 billion yen in 1992 -- there is a lot to play for here.

Nestle Purina PetCare, based in Kobe, released its Purina Pro Plan line last autumn. It is designed to meet dogs' protein and fat needs according to their growth stage and body type.

Osaka-based Wanfoo Co. has introduced Wanfoo Dog, made of only organic ingredients. Free of artificial coloring or antibiotics, it is claimed to improve dogs' immunity and maintain their health. The food, which contains a variety of Chinese herbs, is available from 1,400 yen per a 1 kg. package.

In Nagoya, NatureVet Club, a store providing sundry goods for pets, sells 20 types of canine and feline supplements, some imported from the United Staes, and including some designed to strengthen the joints of dogs. According to a store spokesman, sales of these products have jumped 20-fold since their launch three years ago.

Naturally, as pets enjoy higher quality of life, they will live longer, and merely "giving a dog a bone" will no longer be the norm.

Ohnaka at Yano Research Center stated that during the last decade, the average life expectancy for dogs rose from eight or nine years to 12 or 13 -- around 70 or 80 in human terms.

"The aging issue is a great concern at present, so there will be a business opportunity in this field for the pet industry," he said. "Products that help pets live longer and healthier lives will soon be in great demand."