If there is one question that is truly universal among pet-loving cultures it would be this: あなたは猫派？犬派？（Anata wa neko-ha? Inu-ha? Are you a cat person or a dog person?) Or, more simply, you could rephrase the question as, 猫と犬とどっちが好き？ (Neko to inu to docchi ga suki? Which do you like better, cats or dogs?) Based on the latest statistics for pet ownership, it would seem that the 猫派 enjoy a slight edge, since the number of pet cats in Japan has outnumbered that of dogs since 2017.
The Japanese ペットブーム (petto būmu, pet boom) is said to have kicked off in earnest in 2003, when the combined total of pet dogs and cats outnumbered children under 16 for the first time. In fact, many 飼い主 (kainushi, pet owners) refer to their beloved animals as うちの子 (uchi no ko, our child). For example, the other day my neighbor remarked that she was worried because “うちの子は最近あまり元気がない” (Uchi no ko wa saikin amari genki ga nai, Our child isn’t very energetic these days.) She wasn’t referring to one of her sons, but to the family’s elderly toy poodle and so she was planning to consult the 獣医 (jūi, veterinarian) at the local 動物病院 (dōbutsu byōin, animal clinic).
There are specific gender terms for animals, too: メス (mesu, female) and オス (osu, male), but owners will typically use 女の子（onna no ko, girl）and 男の子 (otoko no ko, boy) when referring to them. In fact, many people will add the diminutive term “ちゃん” (chan) to the end of their pet’s name, especially if they are raising a 子猫 (koneko, kitten）or 子犬 (koinu, puppy). When I take one of my three fat 猫 to the vet, the staff add “chan” to their names, too.
飼い主 will always be happy to show off their cat or dog, but will appreciate being asked in advance if it’s OK to ナデナデする (nade-nade suru, pet) their baby: “ナデナデしてもいいですか” (Nade-nade shite mo ii desu ka? Can I pet it?). To ask what breed a dog is, you can say “何犬ですか” (Nani ken desu ka?), with the kanji for “inu” being read as けん here. You can see this again in the term ミックス犬 (mikkusu ken, mixed breed), which sounds more elegant than the traditional term 雑種 (zasshu, mongrel).
If you want to get a pet but live in rental accommodation, first ensure that animals are allowed. In the real estate business, you might see the terms ペット可 (petto ka) or ペット相談可 （petto sōdan ka）, which means “pets are allowed” and “enquire about pets,” respectively. The “可” is actually short for 可能 (kanō, possible) and is used in many different situations:
Japan has no shortage of ペットショップ (petto shoppu, pet shops), but the animals sold there are usually taken from their mothers and siblings while still very tiny, making them equal parts かわいい (kawaii, cute) and かわいそう (kawaisō, pitiful). If your heart’s set on a certain breed, consider purchasing directly from a reliable ブリーダー (burīdā, breeder). Better yet, visit a シェルター (sherutā, animal shelter) during one of their 里親会 (sato oya kai, adoption events). One more useful term for responsible pet owners is 避妊手術 (hinin shujutsu, spaying/neutering).
While every owner thinks, “うちの子が一番” (Uchi no ko ga ichiban, My child is the best), it’s hard to share their enthusiasm if you’re 動物嫌い (dōbutsu girai, someone who thoroughly dislikes animals). In order not to hurt your animal-loving friend’s feelings, you can use the milder “動物がちょっと苦手です” (Dōbutsu ga chotto nigate desu, I don’t really like animals.).
Puppy talk in Japan
The respective Japanese terms for “meow” and “woof” are ニャンニャン (nyan-nyan) and ワンワン (wan-wan), both of which also form the basis for ニャンちゃん (nyan-chan, kitty) or ニャンコ (nyan-ko), and ワンちゃん (wan-chan, doggy).
There is no shame in using these cute terms, which are widely employed by animal clinics and pet care companies. You’re forgiven if the variant for dogs, ワン公 (wankō) raises a chuckle or a few 吠え声 (hoe-goe) howls.