American Dogs in China

 

Getting Into China

A lot of contradictory information about bringing a pet dog to China from the US is available on the web.  Most of it is crap and should be ignored.  The best thing to do is call your state vet, your local Chinese embassy, and the customs department in the city you are travelling to.

The following story is what happened when my (ex) girlfriend Yang and I took our Bichon to Shen Zhen.  We didn't want to ship him as cargo, so we flew Korean Air (more on that later).  At no point was the fact that he had wandered around Incheon with us an issue for getting him through customs.  One week before we left the US, our vet filled out form 7001, the standard travel health certificate.  The only difference in the health certificate was that it had to be stamped by the state vet.  We also needed a rabies certificate signed by our vet and stamped by the state vet, with the rabies vaccination no less than 30 days but no more than one year old.  The vet in our home state of PA, Dr. Brown, was very helpful and friendly throughout the process.  The official requirements also state that we need to have the dog reinspected 24 hours before export, which we did.  Rather than filling out the entire form again, our vet wrote a brief statement saying the dog was in good health within one day of our journey, and Chinese customs accepted this.

When we got to Chinese customs, we waited a long time while they sorted through the paperwork.  Apparently, not many people fly directly to Shen Zhen with a dog, and on top of that, there were many, many forms to go through.  There were no real problems, though, and soon enough we had our dog on the way to Yang's parents home.

A little less than three weeks later, we got a call from the customs department.  Apparently, our dog was actually supposed to be under house arrest for 30 days after arrival, but no one had informed us of this when coming through customs.  They also wanted us to bring him to the customs office so their own vet could take a look at him.  Happily, the inspection was not onerous.  While we were there, they also arranged for a home inspection the following week.  Theoretically, they could show up at any time to do this inspection, but they arranged the date and time with us.

The home inspection was very brief.  The vets came over and looked at the dog, saw he was healthy, saw we had a cage in which to lock him when we left the apartment, and decided we were doing a good job.  Thanks for coming, and thanks for coming an hour late.

Aside from the minor inconvenience of the customs department calling a few weeks after we arrived, we had no real problems with bringing him here.  One important detail about this story is that one of the owners of the dog is a citizen and permanent resident of the city we went to.  It is entirely possible that home quarantine will not be available for those who are touring and staying in hotels, or for those without citizenship.  If you fit into that category, you must check with the customs department of the city you are going to before you plan your trip to make sure there won't any problems.

Another caveat is it is very difficult to get a dog into Hong Kong.  If you are traveling from the airport to the mainland, it is possible, but you will have to hire a driver to take you from the airport to customs and guarantee that you don't stop anywhere along the way.

One recommendation is that if you plan on bringing your dog back to the US, you should bring two copies of the rabies certificate.  Customs let us keep our only copy on the way in, but it is possible they will want to keep the original on your trip.  When you return, it will be much more convenient to have proof of rabies vaccination from a US vet, rather than having to get such proof from a Chinese vet who didn't personally administer the vaccine.

Summary:

  • Contact officials from your state vet, your Chinese embassy, and the airport you are flying to in both directions
  • Get two copies of the rabies certificate
  • You need to inspect the dog twice before leaving for China, once one week before leaving and once the day before 
  • Prepare for having to keep the dog at home for up to 30 days while in China

Hotels

Good luck.  Very few hotels allow dogs.  Make lots of calls and don't go anywhere without first knowing what you will do with your pet.  Most of our time was in Shen Zhen or Nanning, and in both places my girlfriend's family could accommodate the dog, so we don't have any recommendations. 

Leaving China

China actually imposes some requirements on leaving the country.  Fortunately, they are no more difficult than those for getting in to the country.  If you have your rabies certificate and the documents they gave you when you entered China, you should have no trouble getting out of the country.  Similary, a dog born in China should not have any trouble getting out as long as you have a rabies shot and a health certificate.  However, although the requirements for leaving are minimal, be prepared to spend a little extra time checking in to your flight because of them.

The US also imposes very few restrictions on getting a dog into the country.  Technically, all he needs is proof of a current rabies vaccination.  In theory, you can even bring an unvaccinated puppy into the US if you agree to quarantine him until he gets his vaccine, but I don't know the details and I haven't tried this.  Actually, when we brought our dog back through JFK, they didn't even check his paperwork.  I put "dog" on the list of declared articles, and when I got to the inspection point, they just looked at the list and let me go through.

Getting to and from China

No US carriers allow dogs in the cabin on the way to China, and Cathay Pacific doesn't either.  The one airline we found that does is Korean Air.  In some ways, this is more convenient.  The only direct flights from the US via other airlines are to Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai.  By stopping in Seoul, you have a much bigger list of choices.  For example, we were able to fly directly to our final destination, Shen Zhen, saving us the effort of going through Hong Kong.

Korean Air requires that the dog plus the dog carrier weigh less than 5 kg.  This limits you to just the tiniest of breeds as carry-on pets.  Our Bichon is 4.6 kg, and his carrier is 1 kg, bringing the total to slightly over the limit.  We correctly guessed that if we bought business class tickets and showed up with a small dog, no one would object or even ask us to weigh the dog.  I have no idea how they would react if they found out at the airport you had a 5.6 kg dog+carrier, but my guess is they wouldn't be bastards about it.

They were sticklers about keeping him in the carrier the entire time, though.  In a couple different places we took him out and kept him on our lap.  Each time, a member of the KA staff would eventually find out and ask us to put him back in.  Other airlines usually don't care if you take out a small, well behaved dog, even in the airplane, but KA would ask us to put him away even in private places like the business lounge.

A suggestion for making the trip more comfortable for your dog is to find something your dog is willing to pee on regardless of the circumstances.  We tried some puppy housetraining pads.  They were useless; not only would he not pee on them, but also he would refuse to even stand on them.  In fact, we had housetrained him so well regarding #1 that he would refuse to pee anywhere indoors with us watching.  (#2 is still a problem sometimes.)  We tried the plane bathroom, airport bathrooms, and an empty stairwell in Seoul.  Finally, after a 13 hour flight and about 5 hours of waiting in an airport, he went in the aforementioned empty stairwell.  Of course, we cleaned it up.

Dogs in Restaurants

As far as we know, there are no laws restricting dogs from restaurants in southern cities we took him to: Shen Zhen, Nanning, Beihai, Guangzhou or Zhuhai.  Other parts of China may vary.  Even though it isn't strictly prohibited, though, we haven't had a lot of success getting our dog into restaurants in SZ or GZ.  He's a ten pound Bichon, very cute and very calm when one of his family are holding him.  I doubt any restaurant that refuses him would allow any exceptions.  When we have been successful, it is with one of the following two methods:

1) Call ahead and ask the manager.  The drawback to this is some restaurants would have allowed you in if you just walked right in, but when you call ahead they feel more confident they can refuse you politely.  On the other hand, sometimes a manager will make an exception for you.  This is more likely if go before a restaurant is busy or if you call a restaurant that has private rooms and you book one of those rooms.  You might want to save this method for if you have already tried and failed to ....

2) Bluff your way in.  Put the dog in the hands - literally - of whoever looks least likely to speak Chinese.  For added effect, hopefully that person is also the biggest member of the party.  If the dog is cute and quiet, and you don't mention him, maybe the restaurant won't mention him either.

One or the other method has worked for a few different restaurants in SZ.  We were only in GZ once, and we had to call many different restaurants to find one that allowed us to bring him in.

In the smaller cities I mentioned, we actually had no problems at all.  We went to several different restaurants and none of them said anything.  Sometimes, we got strange looks from some of the waitresses, but none of them seemed to want to make us leave.  The worst welcome we got was at a restaurant in Nanning, where the greeters outside were so surprised they just stared at us without going through the traditional "Come in honored guest" greeting.  One of them managed a very quiet "Come ... in ...", but that was as far as she got.  We still didn't have any problems, though.  My theory is that there are very few white people and very few dogs in these cities, and no white person has ever tried to carry a small dog into these restaurants before.  Since they had no laws prohibiting us and no previous negative experiences regarding this situation, they had no reason to stop us.  If you happen to have a dog that you know will misbehave, don't screw it up for the rest of us.

In any case, I have never seen another (uncooked) dog in any of these restaurants, and I doubt a big dog or any dog that walks itself in will have any success.

Chinese Fruits and Vegetables

Our dog loves to eat anything, and in the US I feed him many fruits and vegetables as treats or rewards.  In China, or in Chinese markets in the US, there is a very different selection available.  There's very little information available on the web concerning which Chinese foods are good for dogs and which make them sick.  Listed here are the things I've fed our dog and how he reacted to them.  Please remember that dogs, just like people, react to different foods differently.  What is healthy for my dog may make yours very sick.  None of this information is scientifically tested; it is just our observations of my dog's reactions.

Large quantities

  • Angled Luffa / si gua
  • Bitter Melon / ku gua
  • Bok Choi and its many relatives: xiao bai cai, da bai cai, etc.
  • Red Dragonfruit: caused him to pee and poo red.  Only feed this to housetrained dogs.
  • White Dragonfruit aka Pitaya
  • Hollow stem / kong xin cai
  • Litchi / lychee: remove the center seed first 
  • Longan: remove the seed
  • Lotus root 
  • Mango
  • Papaya
  • Watermelon
  • Yang Mei

Small quantities

  • Red Amaranth / hong han cai
  • Bitter lettuce / ku ma cai
  • Durian / liu lian: he went absolutely crazy for the smell
  • Night flowers / ye xiang hua
  • Pumpkin sprouts
  • Tapioca pearls
  • Watercress

Cheat Eat, who wrote a webpage about feeding durian to dogs, says this about durian:

My dog is around 9kg. He has a pretty tolerant stomach so I feed him up to 1 seed worth of durian flesh. Dogs go crazy over durians and I think it is safe to feed in moderation. It is the durian seeds that can be fatal to dogs. I have heard of too many cases of dogs ending up at the vet after swallowing durian seeds which cause intestinal blockage. So make sure your dog stays away from the durian seeds and dispose of the seeds properly.

May cause problems

  • Pineapple: once in a while, our dog would throw up a very unusual object that looked vaguely like a piece of sponge or tough tofu.  Eventually we realized it was a partially digested pineapple slice.  I've heard of other dogs that love pineapple and have no problems, though.
  • Xiang gua: this was surprising, since the melon looks just like a baby honeydew and our dog has eaten huge amounts of honeydew.  A few hours after eating some of the melon, though, he puked up the seeds from the center of the melon.

Avoid

  • Chives: these are related to onions, which are poisonous.  I don't know if chives are also poisonous, but I don't want to risk it.  He has eaten a couple leaves without problem, though.
  • Chrysanthemum sprouts: These taste like crap.  If you happen to get them anyway, you should keep them from your dog.  Some dogs are allergic to mums.
  • Garlic sprouts: These taste good, with a taste similar to chives.  The bulbs are poisonous to dogs in large quantities, and there's no reason to find out the hard way if the sprouts are too. 

Rejected

  • Lychee in the US:  They don't taste as good as Chinese lychee, but that still doesn't excuse spitting the lychee out and glaring at me.
  • Pummelo / Youzi: Like a giant grapefruit, but not at all juicy.  It only has a taste if you chew on the pulp, and he wasn't willing to do that.  He just sniffed it and ignored it. 
  • Starfruit: Very sour.  The first time we offered him this, he put it on the ground.  From then on, he wouldn't even take it in his mouth.