While human babies might not be increasing much in number in China despite the relaxation of the one child policy, pets are becoming much more prevalent.  The Chinese have a reputation for eating more types of meat than most Westerners have the stomach for, so to be a cat or dog lover is a relatively new cultural concept.  However, pet owning is on the rise.  

Interestingly, up until the 1980s having a pet dog was actually illegal in Beijing because they were considered to be a “bourgeois affectation” and an imitation of Western lifestyle.  After restrictions were loosened in the 1990s and early 2000s pet ownership grew.  By 2012 Beijing had more than 1 million registered pet dogs, which are now served by more than 300 pet hospitals, according to the Beijing Small Animal Veterinary Association.   

The government isn’t particularly happy about the situation.  Late last month the party’s national newspaper, the People’s Daily, published an article which described the increase in dog ownership as ‘a reality we can’t ignore’, stating that “the number of pet dogs has grown at an alarming rate in the past ten to twenty years, and no matter which city or district you’re in, it has become difficult to find a place without dogs”.  

China has now become the third-largest pet market in the world, after the United States and Brazil, according to Euromonitor International. In 2012, Chinese pet owners spent 7.84 billion yuan on animal care. Euromonitor predicts that figure will rise 64 percent, to 12.9 billion yuan, by 2017.  

Meanwhile, the West continues to also spend more and more on its pets, with the booming pet industry seemingly recession proof.  For example, in the United States consumer spending in the pet industry increases every year, and this growth trend is expected to continue.  Spending per pet increased 80 percent over the past 10 years according to a BGL pet industry report released on 31 July. 

Industry growth is largely attributed to the deepening bond Americans have with their pets, which fuels their spending. The 40 page reports states that:

Humanization has given new meaning to the old adage “man’s best friend”, elevating the long-established role of pets from companions to beloved family members, with favorable demographics and rising pet ownership spawning a proliferation of products and services and fueling sustainable growth.

The sharp increase in pet ownership comes at the same time as a sharp decrease in fertility rates.  Some see pet ownership as a good substitute for actual children, giving them cute pictures and videos to show off, without the ‘babysitting’ commitment.  Although, one 28 year old Chinese resident does report that taking his new puppy on daily strolls is good for catching women’s attention, commenting that “He is much more handsome than me.”  Perhaps there are at least some benefits for the fertility rate?

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...