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Keeping Fido Fit

Chie Tanaka

Pet lovers in Japan keep more than 20 million cats and dogs, and lavish them with a level of attention usually given by parents to their children. In the first installment of our two-part series on Japanese pet care, we'll look at the steps some companies are taking to help people keep their pets in shape.

One Tokyo gym has opened its doors to a new breed of customers. A dog can be seen on a balance ball, another swimming with all its strength, and yet another learning to jump over a hurdle. The fitness center especially for dogs opened last month. An expert in animal fitness consults with the owner and draws up a customized program for each dog.

Hiromi Kojima comes once a week with her dog, Shiro, which lives indoors. She wants to make sure he's getting enough exercise. She also wanted Shiro to get used to water, so he works out in the pool. The trainer says dogs can exercise more efficiently in water, and doing so will help boost its metabolism. In just one month, Shiro has made progress. Kojima says coming to the gym will help prevent Shiro from getting any serious illnesses or injuries.

Training sessions start at about $30 for 30 minutes. The operator, Sports Club NAS, plans to open more such gyms around Japan. It says a lot of dogs don't get much exercise, and it sees a chance to meet a growing need.

Major mobile service provider NTT Docomo is also getting into the canine health business. It developed a device that allows dog owners to keep track of the physical condition of their pets. The unit fits on the dog's collar. A built-in sensor detects the animal's movements.

The owner can use a smartphone to monitor the dog's status, even from a distance. The device transmits behavioral data to a central server, and then to the user's smartphone.

The animal's daily activities are summarized in a graph. Any variation from the normal pattern could mean there's something wrong with the dog. Owners can enter the type and quantity of the pet food, and the calorie intake will be calculated automatically. Should a dog's activity level drop, the owner will receive a veterinarian-approved message.

The device costs about $135, plus service charges of about $60 a year. NTT Docomo sees growing demand, as people invest more and more in pets as if they were their children.

Businesses are hoping the desire of pet lovers to keep their animals trim and fit will result in healthy profits in the years to come.

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