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Section II: Living in China continued. Updated October 25, 2010

Buying, Raising, and Traveling with Pets in China

As the average income in China has risen over the years, so too has the number of household pets. Owning a pedigree dog is now considered vogue among China's nouveau riche and, in the year 2007 alone, the Chinese spent $757 million on approximately 11 billion pets. Although most of the household pets in China include birds, fish and reptiles, there are an estimated 150 million dogs and close to 11 million cats as well (Chaney, 2008).

According to a recent article in the New York Times, as of October 2010, there were 900,000 registered dogs in Beijing alone (not including the thousands of dogs that are unregistered) and that figure is growing at a rate of 10 percent every year (Wines, 2010). The same article explained this recent boom in dog ownership as a residual side effect of China's single-child policy: Many owners claim that dog ownership is a way to provide companionship to young children growing up without siblings and to fill empty nests in homes whose children have grown up, moved off to college, and then remain in distant provinces after graduation (ibid, para 10).

Buying and Caring for Pets in China

Depending on location, breed, and pedigree, pure-bred dogs can cost anywhere from 1000 to 1 million yuan (approximately $144 to $144,000), and there has been increased activity on the part of China's National Kennel Club (CNKC) in establishing guidelines for the registration of pure-bred dogs as well as promoting and monitoring dog shows.

Beijing Dog Groomer Yorkshire Terrier enjoys a bath and trim in Beijing.

As the demand for services continues to rise, so too has the quality of veterinary care and animal grooming services. In virtually all first- and second-tier cities, one can easily find all-in-one establishments where animals are bred and sold, medically treated, and groomed, i.e., pet shop, breeder, animal hospital, and groomer all rolled into one.

If you decide to buy a pet in China, it is best that you check with the locals for information about the most reliable animal hospitals in your area. Avoid buying pets from street vendors as these animals tend to be sick and are typically pumped up with large doses of antibiotics to mask their symptoms: They usually die within hours or days after being brought home.

In addition, it can be very difficult to find well-trained groomers in second- and third-tier cities and those who are unskilled will routinely anesthetize the animal before grooming it in order to make their lives easier. Do not allow your pet to be groomed by anyone who first anesthetizes the animal. Aside from the fact that this is an indication of incompetence, there is always some risk associated with general anesthesia. Grooming fees vary considerably by location, skill of the groomer, and breed, and typically range anywhere from 100 to 300 yuan ($14.60 to $43.80).

Bringing Your Pet to China

If you have a pet in your native country and you plan to be in China for an extended period of time, arrangements can be made to bring that pet along with you. Many airlines do have provisions for shipping larger pets in the cargo department of their planes and a few will even allow small pets to be brought onboard if the pet carrier can be placed in front of one's seat. It is best to check with a travel agent to obtain a list of airlines with flights to China that allow onboard and cargo shipping of pets.

However, transporting large pets in the cargo department is only really feasible during those times of the year when temperatures are not extreme (as the cargo department is generally not temperature controlled). Although this is a controversial subject among vets, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) strongly recommends that pets not be sedated for the trip as: 1) it is felt that the reaction of the animal, if and when it awakens en route, will be far worse than if it is allowed to gradually acclimate to the experience in a state of full consciousness and 2) at high enough altitudes, the physiological changes from sedatives and/or tranquilizers may be enhanced often resulting in pets that cannot be revived once they have landed. For these reasons, due to liability concerns, most airlines will not transport animals that appear to be sedated.

Once you have made arrangements to ship the pet in the cargo department, the best way to prepare the animal is simply to have it spend as much time as possible inside the carrier it will be traveling in. Place its food and water bowls inside the carrier as well as one or two of its favorite toys so that it will become accustomed to and comfortable with that environment.

In addition to making the necessary travel arrangements, you will also need to secure all the proper health-related documents as well. Each city has its own regulations, so you'll need to verify this prior to departure but, as a rule, the following describes what is required.

First, you will need to have your pet's health certificate approved by your country's appropriate government bureau. For U.S. citizens, pet owners will need a USDA stamp of approval.

The following documents are required to clear customs and quarantine and it is suggested that you have the documents translated into simple Chinese in order to expedite matters once you arrive:

  1. International health certificate issued in the originating country showing the name, sex, and breed of the pet (certified by USDA).
  2. Vaccination record showing that a rabies shot was given within the preceding 12 months, but not less than 30 days before departure. Cats must be vaccinated against enteritis (E3) within 12 months of arrival into China. In addition, you will need certificates demonstrating proof of vaccinations for feline panleucopaenia (FPL) and feline respiratory disease complex (FRDC).
  3. Owner's residential details in China
  4. Copy of airway bill (if traveling as cargo)

As a rule, pets brought into China from overseas have to undergo a 15 to 30 day quarantine period at a special facility set up by the city, but some cities, including Shanghai, will allow the pet to remain quarantined inside the owner's apartment after which (usually 30 to 45 days later) the quarantine station's staff veterinarian will pay a call to the residence to examine the pet. If the pet passes the examination, the owner is then given a certificate of health which allows the pet to be legally registered. The maximum fee for all of this is typically 1,000 yuan. When returning home, the pet will have to be brought back to the local quarantine health station within 15 days of departure for another examination and a health certificate will be issued which allows the pet to clear China customs and board the plane.


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Middle Kingdom Life is the premier award-winning educational website for foreign teachers and Western expats in China. It was founded by an American professor in psychology and sociology for the purpose of disseminating valid and reliable information about living and teaching in China. The site's mission is to protect and enhance the interests and social welfare of foreign teachers and Western expats in China.

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