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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

China's 'cat economy' set to drive pet spending surge

With spending on pets in the world's second-largest economy expected to hit Dh91.44bn in 2018, social media reacts with disbelief

Cats at a park in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, China. Pet spending is set to soar this year. Reuters

A forecast double-digit jump in spending by Chinese pet owners on their furry companions this year has been met with disbelief and even hostility on Chinese social media, with the world's second-biggest economy expected to further cool.

Spending on pets is expected to rise 27 per cent to 170.8 billion yuan (Dh91.44bn) in 2018 from last year, according to a recent white paper jointly released by a Chinese pets app and organisers of Pet Fair Asia, an international trade show for pets. Expenditure grew 9.8 percent in 2017.

On average a pet owner will spend about 5,016 yuan annually on one pet, up 15 per cent from last year, with "the cat economy" in China's bigger cities a major driver, according to the white paper.

The expected surge in spending on pets - once denounced by Mao Zedong as bourgeois - appears to be at odds with China's moderating retail sales in recent months, as consumers turned more cautious while disposable income rose at a slower pace, official data shows.

"It'd be better to spend the money helping poor kids," said a social media user. "Remember how we criticised capitalism in the past? We are now implementing it."

Another user wondered if pet owners had spent that much money on supporting their own parents.

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Off the mainland, Hong Kong is a growing source of income for the pet industry.

A study commissioned by the Veterinary Surgeons Board of Hong Kong last year and previous reports by the Census and Statistics Department, showed that pet ownership has undergone exponential growth over the past decade, rising 72 per cent from 297,100 dogs and cats in 2005/6 to 510,600 in 2015/16. It is expected to reach 545,600 in 2019.

The annual "Doggie Dash" held in the city is popular and raises money for abandoned animals.

Pet ownership is the highest among the more affluent families, with 11.1 per cent of the households earning $5,112 per month or above owning dogs and 6.5 per cent of these households owning cats, according to a study from 2011.

"HK Doggie Dash 2018" raises money for for abandoned and surrendered dogs in Hong Kong. AFP

In China, millennials account for three-quarters of pet consumers, with more than half of them possessing a bachelor's degree or above while 87.5 per cent of them are women, according to the white paper.

"Our company has seen sales in China's market grow by about 30 per cent every year due to a swelling number of pet owners in the country," Michael Dong, a sales manager at a Beijing-based pet food company, told Reuters.

"Most of the customers are young women and China has a rising appetite for hign-end pet products."

On a per capita basis, China's spending on pets is still relatively modest.

US spending on pets totalled $69.5bn last year, according to the American Pet Products Association. That's about equal to per capita expenditure of $213.

By comparison, the projected 170.8bn yuan expenditure in China this year equals only to $18 on a per capita basis.

"It's still much cheaper than raising a kid in China," quipped a user on Chinese social media.

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