Government says dogs are not livestock as pet business booms

Society & Culture

Last week was a big week for dogs in China: China's agriculture ministry released a draft classifying them as pets instead of livestock. The announcement follows February's nationwide ban on the trade and consumption of wildlife in China following widespread suspicion that the COVID-19 outbreak stemmed from the virus being transmitted from wild animals to humans.

Xinhua News Agency image of a recovered COVID-19 patient leaving the hospital.

Not on the menu for much longer?

Last week was a big week for dogs in China: China’s agriculture ministry released a draft classifying them as pets instead of livestock. The announcement follows February’s nationwide ban on the trade and consumption of wildlife in China following widespread suspicion that the COVID-19 outbreak stemmed from the virus being transmitted from wild animals to humans.

The reclassification is one of the silver linings from the pandemic in China, at a time when pets have been the unsung heroes in many homes. While some owners abandoned their pets during the outbreak — fearing they’d spread the virus — most of China’s pet owners found that their furry friends provided a much-needed source of comfort, companionship, and even entertainment during the challenging time.

About 100 million Chinese families already had pets in 2018, with many doting on them. As long ago as 2017, 41% of China’s pet owners took their dogs to a beauty salon. During last year’s Singles’ Day shopping festival, imported cat food was the best-selling category on Tmall Global, outperforming other popular import categories such as baby formula and face serums. Online sales for pet health supplements grew 50% annually between 2017 and 2019, many pet fashion accessories and beauty product categories saw triple-digit growth on Tmall Global between June and December last year, and premium imported pet food grew 400% YoY in January. With consumers feeling closer to their pets than ever since the outbreak, the category is likely to have shifted up another gear.

Three quarters of China’s pet owners are under 40, making this a segment that is already very digitally savvy in China. An estimated 90% of owners bought pet products online in 2018. The rise of digital consumption resulting from the lockdown has accelerated online opportunities for pet-related content and products even further. One of the rising sales channels from COVID-19 — livestreaming — saw a 375% growth in sessions featuring pets in February.

Chinese consumers’ love of their pets is only going to grow, fueled by other macro trends such as singledom and decreasing fertility rates. There are also likely to be indirect trends stemming from rising pet affection in China. Animal welfare will be increasingly top of mind with consumers, which will reward brands that align with organizations supporting this. In addition, the adoption of cruelty-free legislation on cosmetics, skincare, and other products will hopefully speed up, which will allow imported products not tested on animals to be sold in China.  

This article was originally published on China Skinny.