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Japan's aging pets fuel market for elderly pet care products

Japanese pets are living longer than ever before thanks to advancements in petfood and veterinary care, which is fueling a need for elderly pet care. As pets' lifespans increase, a new market in the pet industry is emerging, with products ranging from animal diapers, to walking aids, to research into pet tissue-engineering, according to an AFP report.

The Japanese have 22 million dogs and cats, according to the latest data from the Japan Pet Food Association, outnumbering children under age 15 in that country by about 30%. Japan's aging human population has been declining since 2007, with nearly one-quarter of the population now age 65 or older, according to the report.

But, many pet owners say they want to take care of their beloved pets until the very end, regardless of age, rather than opt for euthanasia. So to help animals live out their older years in comfort, companies have developed new product lines, including Osaka, Japan-based home builder, Yamahisa Co., which began making elderly pet products five years ago.

"We realized that there is demand for goods to take care of elderly dogs because they are considered members of the family," said Yuko Kushibe, a marketing official at Yamahisa.

To help older, larger pets that may be difficult to move, the company offers a cart, a sling, diapers and a mattress with handles to turn a dog's body and prevent bed sores, as well as hip supports that help a dog stand up and walk. Electronics maker Fujitsu Ltd. teamed up with Japanese veterinarians to provide around-the-clock medical care for pets, and recently began offering trial services at a Tokyo animal clinic.

Researchers at the Jikei University School of Medicine are trying to help solve kidney failure, a problem the researchers say leads to death in nearly 30% of elderly cats, by trying to grow new cat kidneys in pig embryos. Takashi Yokoo, a head of research, said he succeeded in cultivating tiny kidneys in pig embryos by injecting stem cells collected from bone marrow of cats. He said his team implanted the "neo-kidneys" into a fat membrane that hangs from the cat's stomach, where a crucial blood-forming hormone is produced. Yokoo said he is hopeful he will be able to apply the technique to pets within two years, a procedure that he said would cost about 50,000 yen (US$620).