How many dogs and cats are put down in Japan every year and how is this done?
It is a difficult question that we have to face, but here is the reality of the legal basis for animal culling in Japan.
Over 46,411 dogs and cats are killed each year
According to the Ministry of the Environment (2014), over 46,411 dogs and cats are legally killed at the Department of Public Health (“Jichitai”) local animal shelters and animal welfare shelters in Japan.
In just 6 years, between 2009 and 2014, roughly one million dogs and cats, which included both strays and owner-surrenders, were taken to so-called “dream boxes” where they faced an inhumane death by gassing. This is often a cruel process that can take 10 to 15 minutes until they die. In many cases, all sized dogs and cats, whether large or small, are given the same amount of gas exposure which may cause more suffering when it’s not enough to put animals to sleep.
The veterinarians and staff are involved in the whole culling process and depending on the animal shelters; the vets need to double check the death of each animal by hand before they are cremated.
People become veterinarians to save lives, but at Jichitai, they are forced to do the opposite. It is not hard to imagine that most of them are shocked to see the reality of animal culling at first and suffer from serious psychological distress as culling becomes their daily or weekly routine.
The Ministry of the Environment has announced that 30,757 cats were killed in 2018 and about 66% of them were newborn kittens. Most of them were born as strays and brought to the shelter by people. There are not enough staff to take care of newborn kittens at most of the shelters and as a result them end up being put down on the same day that they come into the shelters.
The primary factor: Strays and abandoned animals.
Why are innocent dogs and cats being put down in the first place?
Listed below are the main reasons why dogs and cats usually end up at Jichitai.
1) Owner surrender:
Before the animal law revision*1 in 2013, pet owners could legally surrender their unwanted pets at Jichitai. It can be hard to imagine, but the Jichitai had/have trucks going around collecting unwanted dogs and cats in some cities. After the law was revised, there were still 24,385 dogs and cats brought to Jichitai and taken in as “exceptions” in 2014 even though the surrenders were refused and owners were advised to look for new owners by themselves. There is no doubt that some owners release their unwanted pets and that cause an increase of population of the strays.
2) Reports to animal control:
Because of the Rabies Prevention Law*2, administrative animal control must trap stray dogs being outside without any sign of its ownership. As soon as the dogs arrive at Jichitai, they use a microchip scanner to identify its owner. A microchip implant is an identifying integrated circuit placed under the skin of an animal so that if the animal is lost, the owner’s information still can be read with a scanner. Even though microchipping has become an obligation for breeders and pet shops to get their dogs and cats microchipped, it is still not well known and remains as the obligation to make the best efforts by pet owners. A microchip was designed to help owners, however, they often find microchips with outdated or no information at Jichitai.
There is however no obligation to trap stray cats. The injured cats or kittens that cannot survive on their own are usually taken in, and over 70% of the cats brought into Jichitai are kittens born as strays.
3) Stray animals that people bring in:
When people bring in a stray dog to Jichitai, the staff must check for rabies. As previously mentioned, they first read the microchip and if the owner is unknown, they release a notice to look for its owner on their website for 2 to 7 days. If the owner does not contact Jichitai or show up for his/her dog, then it will be determined if the stray dog is adoptable or not. However, if there is no space for the dog at that shelter, which happens on a regular basis, it would be put down no matter if it is adoptable or not.
When a stray cat is brought in to Jichitai, they normally only take injured or a newborn kittens. Then a notice of the stray cats, not including kittens, goes onto the shelter’s website.
At many Jichitai, they advise citizens to find a new owner by themselves if the cat isn’t injured. If they bring kittens, they usually ask them to return to where the kittens were found as the mother cat may be looking for its kittens. There are Jichitai where they take in newborn kittens. There are some Jichitai where they hand over the kittens to these milk volunteers who take care of the kittens at home until they grow big enough to be adopted, however, at most of the shelters where they lack numbers of their staff, kittens often end up being put down on the same day since they don’t make it for hours without a mother cat or someone nursing them.
Unlike females of most of other species, cats are induced ovulators which make their pregnancy rate 99%. Usually cats go into their first heat cycle at around 4-6 months of age. They inbreed, and female cats typically become pregnant up to three times a year to deliver an average of 4 to 6 kittens. Therefore, it is possible that over 50 kittens to be reproduced within a year with just a pair of male and female cat*3.
There were originally no wild dogs in Japan before, which means all stray dogs today are either pre-owned or descendants from domesticated ones. On the other hand, there are two kinds of wild cats in Japan. However, those that end up at animal shelters are all domesticated cats or descendants of them. Finding out where all of these animals at the shelters come from leads us to understand that the primary reason of why they are being put down is because dogs and cats were/are continuously being abandoned by their owners.
Below are common reasons for giving up a pet:
1) Inconvenience: Moving out and ageing owners not being able to take care are the top two reasons why pets are abandoned. There are also other irresponsible reasons such as environmental change, financial issues, neglect/abuse, breed being unfashionable, lack of education for animal care, and so on.
2) Escapes: Dogs and cats may escape as a result of lack of supervision. It is also the responsibility of the owners to be aware of the escape, look for their pets, and know how to reach out for help.
3) Animal hoarding: The issue of animal hoardings has become bigger and serious. Animal hoarding could happen to anyone who lacks knowledge of dogs and cats being extremely fertile animals. It also happens when owners refuse to spay or neuter and/or nonprofessional individuals try to breed and sell puppies/kittens which it’s called “a back yard breeder”.
Before the revised Act on Welfare and Management of Animals*4 was finally passed into law in 2013, most of the owner surrenders were claimed as “inconvenience,” such as: the owners moving into a place where pets were not allowed, barking issues, watch dogs becoming useless due to ageing, financial issues, “not cute” anymore, the breed is not fashionable anymore, pets get sick, not willing to face the pets’ death, and so on.
Jichitai doesn’t release a notice for owner surrenders. If the pets are determined as adoptable, they can either be put up for adoption, adopted by the shelter as their training dogs, or taken by animal welfare organizations. However, the rest will be put down without any second chance.
These are not the only reasons; however, pet abandonment by its owner is a fundamental factor for a huge number of innocent dogs and cats being put down.
Why do owners abandon their pets in the first place?
The Japanese pet industry is a huge market as it generates sales of over 1.5 trillion yen; however, our society does not seem to be pet friendly.
• First, people are used to see pet shops in any cities and are encouraged to buy on impulse without the staff checking if the particular pet suits the buyer’s lifestyle, home environment, family members, former pets’ personality, and so on. They also lack of educating buyers about the characteristics of the breed. Many owners who give up their pets complain about their pets’ unexpected growth and behaviour, which could be solved if there were a matching test or given enough information before their purchase.
• Second, there are not many pet friendly apartments in Japan. Many pet owners do not have “security nets,” whether shelters or fosters where their pets can be cared for in case of emergencies. As a result, many of them are surrendered as the owners’ living environment changes.
• Last, but not least, senior pet owners are often forced to be separated from their pets as they move into nursing homes. In 2020, about one third of the population is over 65 years old and there are only a few nursing homes where seniors can move in with their pets.
As mentioned on our “Before adopting animals” page, pet owners must consider being responsible for their pets for the rest of their lives before adopting one. When people start realizing the importance of considering what it means to have adopt a pet before buying them on impulse at pet shops, we will be able to get closer to ending animal culling as the number of abandoned pets would decrease and more animals would be taken out from the shelters.
It’s more than just reducing the number of animal culling
The average of reduced numbers of the animal culling between 2009 and 2014 is 25,699 per year. Through efforts to rescue more dogs and cats from shelters and putting them up for adoption, we may be able to achieve the number of “0” animal culling of healthy dogs and cats someday in the future.
Unfortunately, this will not change anything for the ones that will be put down somewhere in Japan tomorrow. It’s the only “life” they have, and no one can give another life once it is gone.
We also tend to focus on the numbers of animals being put down at local shelters. However, when you learn that the number of puppies that die during the process of being sold from puppy mills to pet shops, you will be surprised to find out that it’s more than twice as many dogs as the loss from culling. It is important to know that the strays, irresponsible owners, pet shops, and animal culling are all connected to each other in some ways in the society we live in, and if we want make a change for animals, we need to work on every piece of it.
As we try to end animal culling, it is also important to make sure that each rescue is adopted by a forever home. Many animal welfare organizations take in too many dogs and cats, even though they do not have enough staff or space to foster. It is sad that these animals are forced to live under stress by sharing a space with so many others. The staff at these organizations do their best to find new homes for the rescued animals, but sometimes they adopt out without screening the new owner well.
‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.’ by Mahatma Gandhi
As the animal welfare in Japan still has a long way to go to improve, we should be working on not only to end the animal culling but also to have a security net that gives rescued dogs and cats a second chance to live. Our society should be a better place for both human and animals by making it an animal cruelty free.
*1 The Animal Law Revision was passed on the 1st of September in 2013, and it allows Jichitai to refuse taking owner surrender animals except in emergencies such as the owner passing away.
*2 Rabies Prevention Law places the responsibility on local health and animal control authorities to catch and impound any stray dogs to do rabies testing.
*3 In Japan, the cat multiplication is calculated as delivering 6 kittens per female each giving birth to three males and females each.
*4 Act on Welfare and Management of Animals states “The purpose of this Act is to engender a spirit for animal welfare among citizens and contribute to the development of a respect for life and sentiments of amity and peace by providing for the prevention of cruelty to animals, the proper handling of animals and other matters concerning animal welfare, as well as to prevent animals from causing an infringement on the life, body or property of humans by providing for matters concerning the management of animals.” (2009) Taken from: