They are an everyday sight in streets and parks around the world — proud and smiling men and women pushing buggies containing adorable bundles of joy and mischief. In Japan, however, the occupants of these pushchairs are likely to be hairy, wet-nosed dogs.
Buggy manufacturers in the country are reporting surging sales in a new product line — “pet carts” designed for dogs. The conveyances have been seen in Tokyo for a few years now — but the business has now taken off as never before.
The surge in animal prams reflects the increasing importance of pets in a society with a shrinking population in which real babies are becoming increasingly scarce.
The prams’ popularity is also connected to Japan’s growing population of elderly people, who alleviate the loneliness of their long retirements by lavishing money and attention on their cats and dogs.
A survey by an insurance company disclosed that 30 per cent of dog owners had used a pet cart. Combi, one of Japan’s biggest makers of baby goods, said sales of pet vehicles had more than doubled this year, after three years of steady 20 per cent growth.
The cost of its animal push chairs range from 33,000 yen (£240) for a cat cart to 54,000 yen for the most expensive dog model. The average cost of a buggy for a human baby is 50,000 yen.
The prams were launched in 2012 with the slogan: “Your pet is as precious a member of family as your baby.” They have the same kind of technology for reducing bumps and improving ventilation as human buggies.
Fumika Ando, of Combi, said that the business was being driven not only by ageing owners, who are less able to carry their pets, but by old, much loved dogs. Improved veterinary care and healthier pet food had given dogs a greater life expectancy. Many older pets, however, struggled to keep on their four legs.
The average Japanese dog lives for 14 years and two months, twice as long as three decades ago. The country is home to 360,000 cats aged 18 or more.
Other products available to help owners care for their elderly companions are pet nappies and special dietary products such as softer fish flakes for the older moggie.
There are also several pet nursing homes, where animals can see out their twilight years with a team of carers. Several shopping centres and tourist sites in Tokyo allow dogs only if they are enthroned on a pet cart.
“They live longer,” Ms Ando said. “But even when they are still in good health, a cart is useful if owners want to take their pets on a trip. Often in summer, owners feel they can’t let their pets walk on a hot asphalt road.”