BEIJING - As more dogs and cats are being shipped throughout the country, the Ministry of Agriculture is encouraging its branches to ensure those animals go into quarantine before they are sent anywhere.
The ministry's latest regulation stipulates that dog and cat owners must inform quarantine authorities of their intention to ship their pet.
The rules, which took effect in October, also pertain to rabbits.
"The regulations are aimed at protecting public health since an increasing number of people now have close relations with dogs and cats," said Lu Wang, an official at the Ministry of Agriculture's veterinary bureau.
He made the remark in Beijing on Thursday at an animal protection seminar organized by Ta Foundation, a private foundation that looks out for animals' welfare.
The increasing popularity of pets in recent years has made shipping cats and dogs a more common practice. That, in turn, has increased the chances that animal diseases will spread throughout the country, he said.
When animals are in quarantine, they must be tested for rabies and other diseases, according to the regulation.
The ministry's statistics show that only about 10 percent to 20 percent of dogs in the countryside have been inoculated for rabies. For cats in the same places, the number approaches 0 percent.
"In Beijing, an increasing number of pets are now shipped here from other cities or provinces," he said. "Some of them come with no evidence that they have been in quarantine."
The regulation has meanwhile raised concerns among volunteers who work to protect animals. Many of them fear the rules will make it easier to put the pets - dogs especially - on dinner tables.
In October, two animal protection organizations paid about 83,000 yuan ($13,000) to a dog trader in Zigong, a city in Sichuan province, to rescue nearly 800 dogs that were to be delivered to restaurants in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
In contrast, many professionals who work with animals say they think the regulation will make it easier to protect pet.
The rules, for instance, place a ban on shipments of dogs and cats that are younger than 4-year-old or pregnant.
Chang Jiwen, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' institute of law, said on Thursday that the regulations may prevent some of these animals from being eaten.
"All dogs and cats are required to receive rabies vaccines before they can be shipped," he said. "And people who eat animals that have been vaccinated will see their health harmed."
Huang Xiao, a 28-year-old Beijing resident, said he wonders if the regulations can be put into effect everywhere in the country.
"I drove to Tianjin this past weekend and my puppy was in my car," he said. "But no one came to examine to see if I have a dog, let alone its quarantine certificate."