Doctor Anthony David Beck has been working as a vet in China for almost 20 years. One half of the team that heads up Beck & Stone, he tells us what he thinks about expats bringing pets to China.
The Chinese are fast becoming a nation of pet lovers. As with all social changes, the transition has been a little painful at times and the level of education varies from city to city. I‘ve read articles that suggest bringing pets to China should be avoided at all costs, and it’s true that this country still has a way to go before it’s as pet-friendly as many others. I believe, however, that, dogs especially, can have a great life in China. And if your dog could talk, he would probably agree.
China is a country with strong laws about pet ownership that are firmly enforced. While I may not agree with their methods of enforcement (pets can technically be removed from their owners and ‘destroyed’), as long as you follow the rules, you will not fall foul of the authorities. It can be a little confusing, however, as each province has its own regulations, both for importing pets from abroad and for owning pets once here.
For example, import quarantine for cats and dogs is four weeks in Beijing, while in Shanghai it’s only seven days. Any vet in Beijing that has government approval can give the Rabies vaccination. In Shanghai, however, there’s only one government vets that can give this injection. It is, therefore, vitally important that you have a thorough understanding of the local regulations before arrival in China, as this knowledge may even dictate where you want to live.
Dogs need to be registered every year with the local police, no matter where you live in China. This process is fairly easy for a foreigner to navigate, although it will differ slightly from city to city. In most cases, you will need to provide proof of a Rabies vaccination, your rental contract and a photo of your dog. The annual charge is usually around 500 RMB, although some cities will give you a discount if you can prove your animal has been sterilized.
Although you will these days see many big dogs in central Beijing, you are not allowed to register a dog within the 5th ring road that’s more than 35 cm in height from the ground to the shoulder. As it is the law to register a pet dog to a household, this is something you’ll want to consider before shipping your Great Dane to the city. Many people get around this by registering their dogs to a friend or family member’s address outside the city. If you don’t have many connections on arrival, however, this may be difficult to organize. Also remember that any bending of the rules potentially puts your pet at risk.
Essential multi-vaccinations and the Rabies vaccination are available in China, but some of the animal healthcare that we take for granted in the West is not. Veterinary care in China is understandably at a lower level than it is in the West, but this is improving rapidly, especially in the country’s most cosmopolitan cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai. Western veterinary consultants that cater to expat pet owners are helping to drive this improvement, just as Western doctors have helped develop medical care for people. The good news is that even when you go to the best practice and your pet receives treatment from the best veterinary practitioner they have, your bill is still likely to be a fraction of what you’d pay back home.
Before you bring your beloved pet to China, give a thought to where you might go next. China is a non-registered country from an export perspective, which means that the UK, countries in the EU and many others will require a rabies antibody titer blood sample and certificate before your arrival (America does not). This, and all the other paperwork required to export you pet, can take up to four months when you’re organizing it from China. It therefore makes sense to get this blood sample and a pet passport before you leave your home country if you know you’re going to need it. Note, however, that the certificate is valid for different lengths of time in different countries.
Other than the titer test, the export process from China involves more or less the same steps as it does in other countries (i.e. an export health certificate and permit from an approved veterinarian). As this is China, however, there’s always a bit of extra bureaucracy to deal with, so start early and research what’s required thoroughly.
While I have mainly treated dogs and cats during my time in China, iguanas, chameleons, parrots, terrapins, turtles, and all forms of small furries have found their way through my door. It should be noted that the import and export of all species other than cats and dogs is becoming increasingly complicated, if not impossible, here, however. I would, therefore, recommend leaving your more unusual pets at home.
Obviously China isn’t currently as pet-friendly as many other expat destinations. Although it is now illegal in most cities and thought of as aberrant by the majority of Chinese people, it is true that a very small minority of older folks still eat dogs and cats in China. Many people are also scared of dogs, which is hardly surprising given that thousands have died of rabies here in living memory.
Dogs are not typically allowed in eating and drinking establishments or even parks in big city centres, and most cat owners do not let their pets roam the streets. There are, however, always a few green spaces to walk your dog and an increasing number of cafes, bars, dog parks and daycare centers that cater to China’s new breed of pet lovers. You’ll also find that nobody bats an eyelid if you bring a dog into some of the more humble restaurants in China’s smaller cities. And while some national parks do not allow dogs, China is full of amazing countryside, leaving you lots of options for fun doggie day trips.
If we wanted the familiar and risk-free, we would have stayed at home, though, right? The countries we visit may well have rules and regulations, beliefs and perspectives that we find frustrating or unacceptable, but I think we should remember that we are the oddity in this society. Next time a Chinese family flattens themselves against the wall of an elevator as you walk in with your Teacup Yorkshire Terrier, swallow a big dose of humility and accept that all societies change and mature over time.
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