Owning a Pet in Japan: Is It For You? + Adoption Info

If you’ve been following along my other posts, you know that we have two cats that are our babies.  Hopefully you also remember that owning a pet isn’t easy if you’re looking for a rental property, because most rental properties do not allow pets.

© J // Washing Rice Blog

One of our cats in her current favorite box.
© J // Washing Rice Blog

Despite that, pet ownership in Japan has steadily risen over the past couple of decades and the pet population currently outnumbers childrenAs of 2009 dog ownership still beat out cat ownership, but the gap is steadily decreasing.  While leased properties that allow pets are few and far between, that number is rising every year (albeit at the pace of a snail 😉 ).  For those who don’t lease, owning a pet usually isn’t a problem.

However, even if you do lease and your apartment does allow pets, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wise to get one.  First off, consider your neighbors.  A barking dog or meowing cat, especially late at night, could be a nuisance and cause problems if the walls of your apartment are thin.  Or if you’re not on the ground floor, your neighbors might not pleased with the pitter patter of feet above.

You also might want to consider the damage owning a pet might cause to your apartment.  Small, caged animals or fish shouldn’t be a problem in this regard, but dogs chew and cats scratch.  Cats especially enjoy clawing the textured wallpaper your average rental is outfitted with, or poking holes in Japanese paper-covered sliding doors, called shoji.  There’s not much you can do to prevent this- declawing, which is inhumane and cruel, is not a widely performed by Japanese veterinarians.  Recently you can find nail caps or shoji/wallpaper marketed towards pet owners, but it only helps a part of the problem.  Be prepared to pay extra move-in deposits when you move in and/or move out.

Perhaps the biggest cost to budget for is getting a pet itself.  If you buy a dog or a cat from a pet store, home center, or breeder you’ll spend anywhere from 80,000 – 200,000 yen + ($800 – $2,000 USD +) no I’m not joking per animal.  This price usually doesn’t include any veterinary care, food, or accessories.  Puppies and kittens start out at the higher end of this range, and then get cheaper as they get older until they hit about the year mark and are moved or “disposed of”- which often means being taken to the pound and gassed before being incinerated.  It’s a pretty shady business and I recommend adopting if at all possible.

Food and veterinary care can be more expensive than you might be used to because veterinary medicine is still relatively new and not quite as modern as the West.  High business costs (rent, medicine, equipment, etc.) contribute to higher vet costs as well.  For our two cats, we pay about 7,500 yen ($75) every two months for a huge bag of premium dry food.  A check-up at the vet alone can cost 5,000-10,000 yen ($50-$100 USD) per visit, even if nothing besides a check-up is performed at the time, and this cost usually doesn’t include any medicine.  Other expenses include paying 20,000 yen ($200 USD) a year in vaccinations (wakuchin) and budgeting around 1,200 yen ($12 USD) a month per animal for Frontline.  Even though our animals are indoor cats, the humid summers here make a breeding ground for flea and mites that humans bring in from outside.

The biggest sticker shock we encountered was the price of getting both cats fixed.  Neutering was 30,000 yen ($300 USD) for one, and the spay ran around 40,000 ($400 USD) yen for the other.  Japanese vets will often refuse to neuter or spay until animals have reached adulthood, which is 6 months for cats.  I’m not sure what the official call on dogs are.

© J // Washing Rice Blog

A monthly dose of Frontline for our two cats.
© J // Washing Rice Blog

Having a pet is a serious, long-term commitment.  If you decide you don’t want or can’t afford your pet anymore, there’s not much in the way of humane options to get rid of pets unless you find someone willing to adopt.  Japan has a no tolerance policy on stray or loose dogs, and if captured will be sent to the pound, where they are almost always terminated in the same way unpurchased animals at pet stores are dealt with.  There’s no such law on the books for cats, which is why combined with a general lack of neutering and spaying by cat owners, one of the first things you’ll notice living here is the high number of stray cats running around.  There’s even a semi-famous island in Miyagi prefecture called Tashirōjima, or nekojima (cat island), because it’s mainly inhabited by cats.  It’s not uncommon to hear of Japanese abandoning their pets under highways or near mountain areas, or seeing government signs telling you not to do so, because pet owners that can no longer care for their animals think it’s more humane than turning them over to the pound.

If you’ve gone through the checklist above and you’re ready to get a pet, once again, I highly suggest adoption.  Coincidentally at the time we were looking to adopt, our neighbor’s cat had a litter and we ended up taking two of her kittens.  This was less work and initially free, but getting rid of the fleas they came with, and getting them checked up, proper vaccinations, etc. really added up in a short period of time.

Although it takes a little more work, adoption from a shelter is a much safer.  Sometimes the shelter has already provided necessary vaccinations, spays, and/or neutering.   And while a donation amount is usually necessary to adopt, it’s almost always a fraction of the cost of what getting the care yourself would be.  Plus they can often tell you about the personality of the animal, any handicaps, etc. that can help you make the best decision on which animal to adopt.

Shelters aren’t as common as you might find in your home country, but they do exist and are solely run by non-profit or volunteer work.  Even if you find that pet ownership isn’t for you at the moment but something you’re considering it on down the road, or you’d like to learn how to care for a pet, why not become a volunteer?

With shelters being scarce, it might be difficult to find one or find someone who knows of one, so I’ve tried to compile a list below.  Sometimes if you contact a shelter the next city or major city over, they might be able to hook you up with other local pet foster families or smaller shelters that don’t advertise on the internet.  Most shelters require you to go through a series of interviews and/or pick up the animal yourself, so the process is a lot easier if you can find an animal to adopt closer to home.

In addition to adoption, I’ve also tried to note other ways you can help out at each shelter or organization listed below.

Any Pets

Koinu no Heya – For dogs and puppies specifically, but has a handy list of centers all over Japan that will help with with pet adoption here (Japanese language only)
Animal Merry Land
 – in Hyōgo prefecture / accepts donations

Dogs & Cats

Angel Shelter – branches in the Saitama, Tokyo, Tōkai region (Shizuoka prefecture), Osaka, Hiroshima, and Fukuyama (Japanese language only)
Dōbutsu Fukushi no Kai AWS (Animal Welfare Society) – serving the northeastern Japan region
Heart Tokushima – in Tokushima / accepts donations
Shonai Animal Club – in Yamagata prefecture (Japanese language only)
Inochi no Kai – in Iwate / faciliates adoptions and accepts donations through online store purchases (Japanese language only)
Animal Friends Niigata – in Niigata / accepts donations and volunteers
Animal Aid – in Fukushima / accepts donations (Japanese language only)
Nyanderguard – in Fukushima / accepts donations and volunteers (Japanese language only)
Animal Peace – in Sendai / accepts donations and volunteers (Japanese language only)
Animal Club Ishimaki – in Miyagi / accepts donations **some pictures are graphic** (Japanese language only)
Pet Satoyakai – in Saitama / accepts donations
Lifeboat for Abandoned Animals – in Chiba / occasionally accepts volunteers and part-time workers (Japanese language only)
JAWS (Japan Animal Welfare Society) – in Tokyo (Japanese language only)
Sakura no Iori – in Tokyo (Japanese language only)
Animal Heart Rescue – in Yokohama (Japanese language only)
Animal Protection – in Yokohama / accepts donations and volunteers (Japanese language only)
Yokohama Dōbutsu Satoya no Kai – in Yokohama
Inu Neko Kyūsai no Wa – in Kanagawa prefecture / accepts donations and volunteers (Japanese language only)
Suteneko wo Nakusu Kai – in Fuji, Shizuoka prefecture
Yamanashi Dōbutsu Satoya no Kai – in Yamanashi prefecture / check blog for recent updates (Japanese language only)
Animal Support Wan Wan Wan – in Nagoya
ARK (Animal Refuge Kansai) – in Osaka or Tokyo / accepts donations, volunteers, occasionally offers paid positions, and shelter support through online store purchases
Japan Animal Trust / Happy House 
– in Osaka / accepts donations and shelter support through online store purchases
Love & Peace Pray – in Kyoto / accepts donations and volunteers (Japanese language only)
Animal Land Kanzaki – in Hyōgo prefecture (Japanese Language only)
Hyōgo Animal Circle – in Hyōgo prefecture / accepts volunteers
Animal Live – in Saga prefecture / accepts donations (Japanese language only)
Tarō no Tomo – in Nagasaki / specializes in disaster-related displaced animals and accepts members (Japanese language only)
Kita Kyūshū Noah House – in north Kyūshū /accepts members and donations (Japanese language only)
Okinawan-American Animal Rescue Society – in Okinawa / accepts volunteers and pet fosterers
Cherubims – in Okinawa (Japanese language only)


Dog Shelter – in Tokyo / support through online store purchases (Japanese language only)
YDR (Yokohama Dog Rescue) – in Yokohama (Japanese language only)
Animal Foster Parents – in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka prefecture (Japanese language only)
Dog Salvation – in Osaka (Japanese language only)

Pet Lost & Found

Maigo no Inu wo Ie ni Kaesou – for dogs

Search for Adoptions by Area

Itsudemo Satoya Boshū – Dog & cat oriented; I’ve used this site in the past and can personally recommend it (Japanese language only)
Pet Home
– For all types of animals (Japanese language only)
Pe-net – For dogs and cats (Japanese language only)
White Cat – For all types of animals, but rather small (Japanese language only)

Please be aware that some shelters might be weary of letting foreigners adopt if they are unmarried or cannot convince staff members that they can give a forever home to these animals in need.  They generally don’t mean to discriminate, but are just taking precautions to avoid potential situations where the animal might be returned later on down the road.

If you have a shelter recommendation or need any Japanese help facilitating an adoption, please let me know.  I’d be glad to help out in any way I can. 🙂

– J

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