By Heng Yi Ling | 2013-3-19 | NEWSPAPER EDITION
(From left) Bella, Miao Haibin and Yin Xuan bring their pet cats to the 5th Shanghai Pet Fair.
Photo by Heng Yi Ling
IN China today, cats seem to be more often chosen as pet compared with the past, because of people's changed lifestyle requiring easy-care pets, smaller living quarters and better knowledge about pet keeping.
This is especially obvious at the recent 5th Shanghai Pet Fair in early March, where over 20 pure-breed cats were the highlight at the World Cat Pageant organized by the Cat Aficionado Association (CAA), China's largest cats registry.
The pet industry is rapidly growing at 30 percent to 50 percent every year in China. Just dogs alone, there are 700,000 of them registered in Shanghai. (Studies say there are also many registered cats but they have no concrete figure.)
Shanghai is one of the five main pet cities, along with Beijing, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Chongqing.
Raising pets is more affordable as Chinese people are becoming more financially abled.
However, the affluence has a price to pay; city dwellers are having more money, less free time and some are lonelier.
This group of people turned to buying a pet, often a cat, which is independent, low-maintenance, keep themselves clean and tidy. These characteristics of a cat accommodates to their lifestyles.
"Cat owners are increasing at a very fast rate," says Miao Haibin, who is in charge of the China Cat Fancier's Association, based in Shenyang in northeastern Liaoning Province.
The most popular breeds of cats in Shanghai are British Shorthair, Exotic Shorthair (which are also known as Garfield), American Shorthair, Scottish Fold and Chinchilla Persian.
"Unlike dogs, cats don't need to be walked," says owner of an Exotic Shorthair, who once owned a dog.
"People usually think that cats are less friendly than dogs which are hardworking and always protect their owners, while cats are more commonly seen as spooky, lazy and more detached."
"Cats are clean and they take care of their own hygiene. Give them food, water and a sand box and they can get settled," says Yin Xuan who is raising 10 cats with her boyfriend.
At the pet fair, one creative man even came up with a cat-themed business, catering to cat lovers who do not have time, money to keep felines themselves.
The owner has more than 30 cats at home and he puts around a third of them in a café named Hu Tu Jia. While customers buy drinks and pastries and relax, they can also enjoy time playing with the cats.
Many studies show that the presence of a pet or therapy animal helps people cope with loneliness, depression and stress.
Pets, especially dogs, do depend on their owners, but pet owners say their animals are pillars of strength.
"A pet is like a spouse to people who are single, widowed or unattached," says Yin.
Her Oriental Shorthair won first place in two rounds of the cats pageants.
The pet industry witnesses a surge in older pet owners. These financially stable and stable and healthy owners are well informed and take better care of their pets than many younger people.
The pet product and pet service industries are booming and the burgeoning market just began to take off in the past 10 years, so it has lots of room for expansion.
At the recent pet fair, more than 100 vendors sold animal products and services, pet food, health food, health and hygiene, animal houses, scratching posts, toys and grooming equipment.
The event featured five major activities, CAA World Cat Pageants sponsored by Royal Canin, China Dog Show, Frontline Plus Cu, which is a national sports competition for dogs, Big Eater Competition and a blind date meeting for pets.
Pet owners are getting younger compared with the past where mostly were elderly, and they are also better informed about proper pet care.
"Pet owners are more serious about raising a pet now," says Miao, who also owns a champion American Curl breed.
Many are trying to learn every detail essential for their new family members - from grooming brushes to health products.