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Pet Culture and Breeding in Japan

Ewa Nowogorski

Japanese homes are small and when renting a home, regulations for pet ownership can be quite strict. Small homes and a combination of these strict rules mean that if one is to keep a pet, it must accommodate the conditions. So, small pets are incredibly common and popular in Japan. If you go into any Japanese pet store, you will see tens of tiny puppies and kittens displayed in glass capsules, all for sale.

The way they are displayed makes it easy to view all the pets as they eat, play with themselves, and sleep. They are usually kept in small spaces though, and in isolation, so it can be quite sad to look at. It is a very standard practice across Japan, and it is done to prevent the spread of disease and injury across animals by keeping them from each other, so it is probably a necessary evil.

Cats and dogs are especially bred with size in mind. Genes to keep animals baby-like small even in adulthood are selectively bred, and Japan has some of the smallest cat and dog breeds. Teacup dogs and cats are very, very popular because they are not only perfect for small apartments, they are absolutely adorable.

But this selective breeding for small genes and inbreeding to keep breeds pure has created a big problem: genetic disorders. What you see in the pet store are the dogs that have managed to escape a terrible fate at birth. Some dogs and cats from litters are born with brain disorders so severe that they spend all day running around in circles. Some are with bones so frail they dissolve in their bodies. These are the animals that you will probably never see, because they are put down quickly.

Many can also carry hidden diseases that don’t show up years later. It is incredibly difficult to tell sometimes, but you should never trust a store bought purebred.

Rampant inbreeding has given Japanese dogs some of the highest rates of genetic defects in the world, sometimes four times higher than in the United States and Europe. This is all the result of Japan’s love for cute and cuddly animals. It can also be a huge status symbol to own one of these pets, as they can easily cost over $3,000 USD, with some animals fetching over $10,000 USD.

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