Shanghai's growing affluence has a matching index - a rising number of pet animals and veterinarian clinics.
The Shanghai Veterinary Medicine Bureau reports there are 23 registered animal clinics and it is granting licenses to new practitioners every year.
The Jianping Animal Clinic at 1778 Hongqiao Road was founded by Zhang Jianping in 1992. His clinic was one of the first to open in Shanghai. Today, he has four veterinarians, including one from Taiwan, and he also owns and operates the Wang Wang Pet Goods Company.
Zhang, a Shanghai Agriculture College graduate with a major in veterinary medicine, worked at the Shanghai Zoo from 1983 to 1992.
Naughty Pets Clinic, established in 1993 in the Hongqiao Area, opened its Pudong branch a year ago.
"We heard that many of our clients are moving their offices and homes to Pudong in anticipation of a big boom there following China's entry in the World Trade Organization, so we decided to open a branch there as well," said Jing Xiaoping, general manager of Naughty Pets Clinic.
Though Shanghai's first veterinarian clinic was founded in 1982 by the Shanghai Agriculture College (now part of Jiao Tong University), the veterinarian business began to flourish three years ago, said Xu Xiefu, a veterinary surgeon at Little Genies Animal Hospital.
Xu is a retired professor of animal science at the Agriculture College of Jiao Tong University who use to work at the city's first animal clinic. In the early 1980s, most of his clients were attached to local foreign consulates and joint-venture companies. These days, however, his clients are mostly area Chinese.
"With growing incomes people can now afford expensive pet licenses," says Xu, adding that there are a great number of unlicensed dogs in the city. A dog license costs 1,000 yuan a year.
During last year's Asia Pets Expo, officials estimated the number of pet animals in Shanghai exceeded 10 million. "But I'd say only 150,000 or so of the total were dogs and cats," says Xu, who diagnoses his patients with a biochemical test machine.
"Several years ago, many diseases that weren't obvious couldn't be diagnosed because we didn't have modern equipment like this," says Xu, who recently treated a paralyzed dog other hospitals were unable to help. He diagnosed a blood problem with the test machine and was able to prescribe an appropriate treatment. "That would have been impossible five years ago," he said.
But treatment doesn't always come cheap.
Overcharging is a major problem in the industry.
"Once, my dog had the flu and it cost me 200 yuan to cure it," said Yang Xiaocheng, a local resident. "I'm glad my dog didn't get something like enteritis because I would not be able to afford the 200-yuan-a-day injections."
The cost for treatment is high and there are no uniform prices or fees among the city's 23 animal clinics. Xu Weiqi, director of Shanghai Veterinary Medicine Bureau, revealed that some clinics charge more than standard international rates. "The pricing authorities should really look into this matter," he says.
As for the role of his bureau, "We are preparing a public education campaign involving all of Shanghai's animal clinics to teach people how to take care of their pets," said Xu.