Keeping a household pet has become more and more popular in China. Some 1.6 million domestic pets can be found in China now, according to one estimate which also reports that in Beijing alone, about 10 percent of households have a pet.
“Most people who raise pets now are ordinary wage-earners. People in their thirties or forties are in the majority. Young couples without children, or elderly people whose children cannot live with them raise pets as a kind of substitute. Some people have pressure at work, and they will keep pets as friends for entertainment and relaxation,” according to Hou Ya-nan, a manager of the Beijing Association for the Protection of Small Animals (BSAA).
Pets benefit people in many ways, but they can also be costly and time-consuming. Pet owners need to look after their animals' health, feed them, clean up after them and even groom them – which is how China’s pet service industry has the potential to become a big money-maker.
When packaged dog food made its first appearance in Chinese supermarkets a decade ago, people weren't even sure what it was. Some bought it thinking that it was canned dog meat.
Today, according to one news report, Guangzhou pet owners spend 200 million yuan (US$24 million) a year on their pets, and Beijing pet owners pour out over 500 million yuan (US$60 million) a year on their animals.
A survey also revealed that a quarter of the dogs are still fed with scraps because the owners don't know about the new packaged pet foods.
"Things will be different in five to 10 years. By that time China will have become the largest pet market in the world." said Wang Xiping, manager of the Bo'ai Pet Supplies Company in Beijing, who is optimistic that although the pet market in China is quite small compared to that in Western countries.
Medical care for pets is also a big market. However, many people are dissatisfied with the high fees of veterinary hospitals. They consider fees too high, and besides many pets are not registered. The market is obviously ripe for regulation.
Pet owners are waiting for the establishment of grooming parlors, training schools, pet-sitting services, and even funeral parlors for pets.
"Where there is consumption, there is opportunity for business," said Lao Qing, whose pet photo studio is famous around Beijing.