Beijing's Animal Markets and “Week Long Dogs”
The end of summer in Beijing is traditionally associated with a wave of newly relocated families that have moved to China during the season. The frenetic period of finding a home, enrolling the kids into school, navigating the city and settling into life eases into daily routines and a comforting sense of familiarity. The one remaining aspect of truly making a house into a home is the addition of a pet.
For many first time pet owners and newcomers to Beijing, finding a pet leads many to the animal sales markets or to online vendors. The puppies and kittens from the breeders, pet vendors and online shops are usually quite young and taken away from their mothers at four to five weeks of age or even earlier. Ideally, newborns should stay with their mother until at least eight weeks old to breastfeed and learn socialization skills from momma and littermates. Because of this early separation, the puppies are too young to start vaccinations and their immune systems are not strong enough to ward off viruses and other potentially fatal infectious diseases common in China such as distemper and parvovirus.
As a result of these practices, a term has been coined for these prematurely weaned puppies called xing qi quan (星期犬) or “Week Long Dogs.” Many of these pups will not survive for more than a week after they are sold. These puppies have a poor start in life with their mothers kept continuously pregnant to produce multiple litters for maximum profit. These large volume breeders, also known as puppy mills, minimize costs by feeding the animals leftovers instead of nutritionally balanced pet foods, especially if the dogs are mixed breeds and command a lower sale price. Vaccinations for the dogs are often skipped or vaccines may be procured from the black markets and injected by the breeders to save on expenses. Vaccination schedules are not well understood so most puppies start vaccinations much too early on improper schedules leaving them inadequately protected and susceptible to canine distemper, parvovirus, coronavirus, kennel cough (bordetella) and other infectious diseases that are so common in China.
Puppies that are purchased from the animal markets or online vendors may appear fine for the first few days, but the enormous changes associated with new owners, environment, food and routines means a lot of stress for these young animals. Their immune systems may not be strong enough to handle these stresses and any incubating viruses to which they have been exposed may break out into full-blown diseases. For owners that then bring their pets to the animal hospital, the shock of learning that their seemingly healthy and active puppy may have a potentially fatal infectious disease can be overwhelming, especially when children are involved that have already formed a bond with the pet.
Based on statistics from the Beijing Animal Husbandry Bureau’s Animal Disease Prevention and Control Center, viral diseases such as canine distemper or parvovirus, may have fatality rates of 70 percent or higher among young puppies and adult dogs with a poor history of vaccinations.
Because there are no cures for these viral diseases, the key to treatment is supportive care to boost the body’s immune system to fight the viruses. Veterinarians must treat accordingly against clinical symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, eye and nose discharge, vomiting, diarrhea and poor appetite with fluids to prevent dehydration, antibiotics to fight secondary infection, nebulization to sooth coughing and respiratory distress, medication to alleviate vomiting and to control pain and nutritional supplements to provide energy. These diseases are highly contagious to other dogs and are spread via contact with stool, urine, nasal and respiratory discharge. Parvovirus is presenting the stool of infected animals and can survive outside the host organism for three months or more. So keeping sick puppies with these diseases under strict hospitalized quarantine and away from all other dogs is crucial.
Treatment periods are based on the condition of the puppy and may range from one to three weeks or more, depending on the severity of the disease. And as with any medical treatment, there is no guarantee of success. The shock of the initial diagnosis may turn into a confusing, frustrating and expensive experience for the pet owner that could still end with the death of the puppy. Out of desperation and despair, some owners may abandon their pets with puppies left outside in boxes or bags or released to roam freely in courtyard compounds or on the streets.
So please exercise caution when you acquire a new pet and always keep your new pet away from all other animals for at least three weeks as incubating diseases may not break with symptoms immediately. And please ensure other pets in the household are up-to-date with annual distemper and rabies vaccinations to protect from potential exposure.
Please consider adoption instead of purchase as the many rescued animals living with foster families and in well-managed shelters have often already been to the pet hospital for check-ups, vaccinations and found to be in generally good health. By reducing demand, we can also reduce the supply of the animals being bred solely for profit.
If you are thinking of adding a new furry member to the family, please visit the ICVS Adoptable Pets web page to see the many beautiful and healthy pets available for adoption! (Generous 50 percent discounts are available on examinations, vaccinations and spay/neuter surgeries for stray, rescued and rehomed pets at ICVS.)