Specialized pets can be very cute, but your home environment can kill them

tee jung

Deng Yingya became fascinated with angora rodents after seeing them in videos online, so she bought one from a pet shop in Putuo District and named it Kai Kai.

The mammal bred in a Scandinavian facility has a face similar to that of a hamster and is 30-50 cm long. The owners praise the animals as being “clean as cats and friendly as dogs”. Through training, rodents can learn to do some tricks.

“I’ve raised both cats and dogs, and yes, my lovely Kai Kai looks cute as expected,” the marketing professional said of her new pet.

The Angora is a relatively new breed of ferret, that has been around for about three decades.

Ding bought her ferret from a shop in Lanling Flower & Bird Market – the largest selling pet and ornamental plant store in Shanghai.

The shop, run by Ding Ning, is never as busy as the nearby vendors selling kittens, puppies, koi fish and beetles, but it has stable customers.

Young customers don’t blink at prices. The average price for a ferret is 2,000 yuan (US$296), which is the same as a British Shorthair cat or a Corgi puppy. The new pet comes with a pedigree certificate and a guide on how to raise rodents.

“The angora ferret is a relatively new species of pet in a very competitive market,” Ding said. “Some of my clients have become sellers in their own right.”

The growing popularity of these niche pets is mostly falling back on social media networks, with internet users uploading videos of pet ferrets, snakes and even foxes to short video sites like Douyin, lifestyle platforms like Xiaohongshu, and video sharing sites like Bilibili.

On Bilibili, it is common to watch videos of angora ferrets, which attract millions of views while in Xiaohongshu, successful bloggers of specialized pets can get hundreds of thousands of followers.

Specialized pets can be very cute, but your home environment can kill them
On Xiaohongshu, successful glider industry bloggers can get hundreds of thousands of followers.

However, what looks cute on screen may not be an ideal pet once it arrives in your home.

A banker by the name of “Birmingman” shared online his sad story of owning a sugar glider, a type of Australian marsupial.

Birmingmann said he first saw sugar gliders in Xiaohongshu. The little opossum has a fluffy body, a long tail, and large, round eyes that melted its heart.

Specialized pets can be very cute, but your home environment can kill them
Le Vieran / IS
Small sugar glider hugs its owner’s thumb.

But the love affair broke down as soon as he brought home a sugar glider.

“It was a very foul-smelling animal,” he said. “My house smelled of urine and feces for months. The animal died when winter came. The internet never told me sugar gliders are very tough pets.”

Gene Shen, a professional breeder of sugar gliders, said Birmingmann made several mistakes.

“The sugar glider can only survive in temperatures above 18 degrees Celsius, while in Shanghai, the average winter temperature is 4 to 12 degrees,” Jin said. “Now even in the summer I cover them with thick blankets if we had an air conditioner running inside.”

As for the bad odor, Jane said he suspected that Birmingmann bought a male glider, which has a smell gland that smells foul during mating seasons.

In their natural environment, sugar gliders live en masse in large family groups on trees. They are nocturnal mammals, with sharp claws that are used to “slide” from one tree to another. A person’s home is far from his original environment.

“The moral of the story is that we should always have enough knowledge before raising a new pet,” concluded Birmingmann.

White worker Amy Ma is a professional pet owner who prefers cold-blooded animals. She said she knows how harmful the Internet can be to such pets, so she never reveals anything about her “precious children” on the Internet.

“Many types of cold-blooded pets are not beginner friendly and raising them unscientific is often fatal to animals,” she said. “I have heard a lot about people who have no experience in raising reptiles and buy frogs or lizards out of motive. They don’t bother learning to create a livable environment for them, and the animals die within days. We want to avoid such tragedies as much as possible.”

Specialized pets can be very cute, but your home environment can kill them
tee jung
Australian Green Tree Frog Amy Ma

Ma has been keeping cold-blooded pets for seven years. Allergic to the fur of cats and dogs, she bred a central bearded dragon as a pet.

Her pet family has grown to include an Australian green tree frog, several caramel pink slipper turtles and gecko lizards.

“With cold-blooded creatures that live in the house, you have to pay attention to the humidity and temperature inside,” she explained. “Take the Australian green tree frog, for example. If the temperature in the tank is 28 degrees Celsius, while the internal temperature is 23 degrees, it may develop a stomach disease just out of the water for several minutes.”

Ma and his fellow pet enthusiasts communicate in cold blood with each other over the phone. They exchange tips and sometimes buy newborn babies from each other.

“Social media is a double-edged sword for pets,” she said. “It draws attention to unusual animals but also opens the door to potential harm. There will always be irresponsible pet owners.”

Specialized pets can be very cute, but your home environment can kill them
Le Vieran / IS
Containers of gecko lizards and corn snakes at Lanling Flower & Bird Market – a popular place to buy specialty pets.

This is correct. Irresponsible pet owners are a persistent problem in Shanghai.

Last year, several arctic foxes were spotted in the city. Someone snuck into the subway. All were caught and sent to the Shanghai Zoo, where officials said they suspected foxes were abandoned pets.

“Most of the arctic foxes in our zoo are abandoned pets,” the zoo said on its official WeChat account. “Foxes are nocturnal animals and love to dig, so they are not ideal pets in the city. We always advise people not to keep animals with impulse. And if you already have one, don’t give it up.”

Specialized pets can be very cute, but your home environment can kill them
An abandoned pet polar fox found its way to a subway station last year.

Q&A with Jin Shen, Long Term Pet Specialist

Q: Where can owners turn if a professional pet gets sick?

A: Shanghai has one or two pet clinics that serve reptiles, amphibians, rodents, and other pets that are not cats or dogs. But it is not certain that all types of animals can be cured.

1) Above all exotic pet hospital

Address: 10 Hongzhong Road.

No. 10 Hong Chung Road

2) Pethos Animal Hospital

Address: 331 Guangfu Road W.L.

No. 331 West Guangfu Road

Q: Is it illegal to raise specialized pets?

A: It is illegal for individuals to keep wild or protected animals, but animals from licensed breeders do not have such a concern.

Q: Can professional pets pose a threat to human health or the natural environment?

A: Legal pets do not tend to present any health risks, unless one is allergic to them. However, the invasion of the species is a potential threat. The Brazilian tortoise is a good example of an invasive species. Turtles do not usually run away from homes, unless breeders deliberately release them, which is illegal.

We invite pet owners to act responsibly and not abandon their animals.

I feel lonely? When people do this, they often acquire pets

People who live alone often get a pet for companionship. A survey found that as individual lifestyles increase among young and old alike, the local pet market is booming.

A recent survey by iiMedia Research found that the pet market has quadrupled in the past few years, rising from 97.8 billion yuan in 2015 to 394.2 billion yuan in 2021.

The study indicates that the upward trend is expected to continue, with the market value jumping to 493.6 billion yuan by the end of this year and to 811.4 billion yuan in 2025.

The main consumers in this market are singles and elderly people whose children have left home.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs reported that China’s single population reached 240 million in 2018, which means roughly one in six people were single and 77 million live alone.

The ministry expected the number to rise to 92 million this year, amid the decline in marriage registrations, which reached an all-time low of 7.6 couples in 2021.

At the same time, the data shows an estimated 100 million older “empty nests” in China, including nearly a third of the country’s population aged 60 or older.

Living alone or feeling lonely is an incentive to get a pet, according to a iiMedia Research survey.

Compared with developed countries, China’s pet industry is still in its infancy. However, its rapid expansion in recent times has created new niche markets, such as pet foods, the survey found.

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