Brutal Tragedy Behind Cute Cats in China

Most pet owners in China don’t know where their pets come from. This allows unregulated breeding and inhumane practices to thrive.


When Yuanzi (26 years old, not her real name) decided to buy a cat in July, she didn’t take much time to research and simply chose one from a top cat breeding farm in Shanghai on the online marketplace Taobao.

After a while, the recent college graduate chose a Persian cat and paid 8,500 yuan (1,250 USD), according to Sixth Tone.

However, a few days after the cat was delivered, Yuanzi quickly realized that something was wrong. The cat seemed frail, began to vomit and have diarrhea. Within 3 days, she had to hospitalize it for infectious enteritis. Five days later, the cat did not survive.

The sorrow of the loss quickly turned into horror as Yuanzi began to investigate the reason behind the cat’s condition. She discovered many online videos showing the inhumane conditions inside China’s animal breeding industry.

In one video, dozens of cats – nearly all injured – were crammed into a small, squalid room. In another clip, a cat was subjected to brutal cesarean section, its cries haunting her for days.

Yuanzi wasn’t sure if her cat had gone through similar captive breeding conditions or not. When she contacted the farm, they refused to provide images of the living conditions of the animals and offered to send her another cat with “100% good health.”

“My intuition told me that my cat came from a fake cat farm disguised as a breeding farm,” she shared.

Many pet owners in China have had similar experiences. Unregulated breeding farms in the country are thriving, profiting from captive breeding conditions due to the lack of monitoring and control.

The pet market in China has also seen strong growth in recent years due to an increase in living standards and the 3-year pandemic that kept people at home. The number of cats in the country exceeded 58 million in 2021, up 19.4% from the same period last year, while the number of dogs was 54 million.

According to the IT business information platform Juzi, a “pet parent” usually spends 6,650 yuan (960 USD) annually on pet products, more than the average spending of Chinese consumers on food, cigarettes, or alcohol.

The source of the goods

Su, a former owner of a “cat factory,” said he had 600 cats that gave birth 3-4 times a year. Some female cats spend their entire lives in cages. Su used stimulants to increase cat reproductive productivity.

According to him, such factories are the source of 80% of pet shops in China. According to a 2019 report from the research company Leadleo, pet shops are also the largest sales channel for China’s pet industry, accounting for over 35% of total revenue.

Many unregulated breeding facilities have also emerged to supply nearly 5,000 stores on Taobao. A top cat supplier on the platform sells over 10,000 cats per month, claiming to have thousands of cats in stock but refusing to show images of their captive breeding conditions because of the “large quantity.”

Many cats are kept in inhumane conditions before being sold. Photo: Sixth Tone.

Many videos taken by animal rights advocates during surprise visits to kitten factories show terrible conditions, with many animals in an agitated or injured state.

For Su, pet breeding is no different from any other business. The attraction is the high profit margin: the cost of producing a cat is usually only 20-30 yuan, while they are sold for hundreds or even thousands of yuan.

Cai Chunhong, a lawyer specializing in animal welfare cases, said that many breeders inject their pets with immune serum to keep them active and healthy. Su confirmed this and said that many breeding farms often use antibiotics to keep cats alive until they are delivered to pet shops.

According to rescue organizations, breeders will abandon animals as soon as they are no longer profitable. In August 2021, RHR Shanghai found 33 Chartreux cats abandoned at an inactive construction site. All were sick, with mature cats weighing less than 3 kg. Volunteers also found the bodies of 15 other cats, apparently dead from being hit by cars or due to illness.

According to RHR Shanghai, these cats are likely the property of a breeding facility, abandoned because their owner didn’t want to spend money on treatment.

The large number of cats abandoned by breeders also creates another problem: a surge in feral cats. According to The Paper, the number of feral cats in China is increasing by about 40 million per year on average.

Ineffective control

There are currently not many control measures in place to regulate kitten factories in China. According to lawyer Cai, without guidance from the industry, breeding facilities conditions depend almost entirely on the conscience of business owners.

For many years, animal rights groups have been urging the Chinese government to enact stronger legal regulations to protect pets, but progress has been slow. Animal welfare regulations currently only apply to laboratory animals, while the ban on the sale of wild animals during the pandemic did not include pets.

Animal welfare groups are also currently working to raise awareness and promote stricter regulations in the industry.

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