In the world of cats, in Japan, there are two competing forces. One is a veneer over the other. The veneer is the cuteness culture for which the Japanese have a specific name ‘Kawaii’. The Japanese love cute things and that attitude applies to the selection of the kind of cat that they wish to adopt.
Favorite breeds for Japanese
The most popular cat breed – and probably domestic cat in general, whether a breed or non-purebred – is the Scottish Fold. This is a cat which has flattened ear flaps due to a cartilage problem and which gives the cat a rounded baby face. A face that is cute. Roundness equates with baby face.
The second most popular cat breed according to the Japanese website Nippon.com is the Munchkin. This is a dwarf cat. In fact, it is the foundation breed for all dwarf cat breeds. They have short legs and normal-sized bodies. They, too, are cute cats.
But there are lots of ugly things behind this veneer of cuteness, and they have to be mentioned.
Firstly, the Scottish Fold has an inherited genetic health condition which not only folds the ear flaps to the skull (in the best examples) but which also causes cartilage problems in other parts of the body which can cripple the cat. The recessive genetic mutation causes the cartilage to lose its stiffness. The breeders try to avoid this through careful selective breeding, but it is the kind of problem which the Germans would describe as “torture breeding” (Qualzucht). They’ve banned the cat in their country.
And dwarf cats have inherited two health problems as well: pectus excavatum and lordosis. So, you can see all is not rosy in the cat world garden in Japan.
The ugly kitten and puppy mills of Japan
However, it is worse than that. The Asahi Simbun website have a disturbing article dated April 21, 2020 concerning the breeding of cats and dogs to supply the burgeoning pet market in Japan.
They refer to a survey which found that “tens of thousands of dogs and cats die annually at pet shops and breeding facilities across Japan due to poor sanitation, neglect and illness”.
In a single year (2018), one average three percent of the kittens and puppies bred for sale, which in numbers translates to 26,249 animals, did not survive. This number can be broken down to 19,763, or 2.8 percent, of dogs and 6,486, or 3.2 percent of cats. This is up by 1,778 over 2017.
Over the past five years the number of unnecessary deaths through poor and neglectful breeding amounts to 120,000 individuals.
A veterinarian and researcher at the Japan Animal Welfare Society, Nai Machiya, said: “There are major concerns that agencies breeding cats and dogs are not given sufficient consideration to creating the right environment to raise them”.
It appears that the problem is due to lax law enforcement. The law requires that breeders report to the local authorities the number of dogs and cats that they create, sell and deliver as well as the number of deaths.
These reports have been mandatory after an amendment to the animal welfare law in September 2013. The online newspaper that I refer to has been tracking the results since 2014.
In 2018 the survey found that 896,126 dogs and cats were offered for sale in the domestic pet market. This was up by 40,000 from the previous year.
Cats have overtaken dogs in popularity. They suggest that this is because Japanese don’t want to take dogs for a walk anymore. This explains a 9.7% increase year-on-year in the number of cats offered for sale. The cats are kept inside their homes, often apartments.
Clearly, this is a huge number of unnecessary deaths for a market which itself is unnecessary because there will probably be enough rescue cats and dogs to satisfy consumers.
There is always a big question mark over whether breeders of cats and dogs should be allowed to bring cats and dogs into the world which until purchased are unwanted.
The report says that the Environment Ministry are concerned about the situation. They have set up a panel of experts to get to the bottom of it and to improve standards.