Tuesday , July 16 2024

Vietnamese youth pamper pets like royalty

Mai Anh confessed that since she began caring for two Scottish Fold cats, she might skip a meal or two and even delay a visit to the doctor, but she never neglects her pets’ “needs.”

The 25-year-old from Hoang Mai District, Hanoi, spent over VND5 million (US$197) building two wooden houses equipped with blankets, pillows, mattresses, and high-quality cuddle toys for her cats. Additionally, the pets have their own wardrobe filled with hundreds of outfits categorized into sleepwear and outdoor wear, seasonally arranged in a collection that Anh said is worth a total of several million Vietnamese dong.

Caring for cats helps Anh cope with loneliness and gives her a sense of motherhood as she trains them to use the litter box, avoid damaging furniture, and she manages their diet, sleep and health, including regular veterinary check-ups. If one of her cats refuses food or suddenly vomits, she promptly takes it to the vet. Meanwhile, despite suffering from chronic gastritis and frequent acid reflux, Anh has not sought medical attention for herself, considering it unnecessary.

Furthermore, Anh takes her cats out weekly for socializing at parks and cafes to keep them joyful and content. Whenever she travels, she spends extra on train tickets, bus fares, or private car hire to ensure her cats can accompany her. This practice began after she left the cats at home once, and they were “stressed and aloof,” when she got back, she said.

The clothes and gifts Mai Anh prepared for her two cats for Christmas 2023 at her home in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of Anh

The clothes and gifts Mai Anh prepared for her two cats for Christmas 2023 at her home in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of Anh

Anh embodies a shift among Vietnamese youth who have moved from keeping cats to catch mice and using dogs as watchdogs, to treating them as equal companions. As material living standards rise, so does the need for mental health care, leading to this increased interest in pet ownership.

Dr. Le Thi Thuy Hang from Hanoi’s Central Psychiatric Hospital I explained that pet ownership is psychologically beneficial and helps reduce the feelings of stress and anxiety that come alongside societal pressures.

“Pets provide comfort to lonely people, such as those who are unmarried or lack emotional support, fostering a sense of security and responsibility,” she said.

She also observed that pet owners are usually economically capable individuals seeking emotional relief, and she noted that they were primarily young people.

Her observation was backed by a 2021 survey by Pety, a Vietnamese pet lovers app, which revealed that 86% of pet owners are aged 18-35.

Experts note that the shift in pet-keeping has driven significant growth in the Vietnamese pet market. According to Pet Fair Asia, Vietnam’s pet service industry is flourishing, with local domestic customers spending approximately US$500 million on pet care, representing 13% of the Southeast Asian market.

Anh spends over VND10 million monthly on cat food and cat spa treatments, which include grooming and bathing, not including what she spends on cat birthday celebrations, cat travel, and new cat clothing.

What’s more is that medical visits can triple all these costs combined. Occasionally, Anh’s pet care expenses consume a full month of her salary.

But the young woman calls the expenditure “rewarding” as her cats provide lifelong companionship.

Bich Ha, a content creator from Thanh Xuan District, spent VND20 million (US$787) on a hairless Sphynx cat early last year. Now she finds caring for the animal much more difficult and demanding than caring for herself.

The hairless Sphynx cat that Bich Ha bought at the beginning of 2023. Photo courtesy of Ha

The hairless Sphynx cat that Bich Ha bought at the beginning of 2023. Photo courtesy of Ha

Initially believing a hairless cat would require less maintenance, the 23-year-old now bathes the pet daily, regularly clips its nails and administers vitamins to bolster its immune system.

The breed also requires meticulous skin care to prevent perspiration (hairless cats lack a natural barrier to absorb sweat: this can result in their skin becoming oily and dirty more quickly) and inflammation in hot weather and fur growth in cold weather. This means Ha must keep a fan or air conditioner running all day at a constant temperature of 27 degrees Celsius.

Yet the expenses don’t even end there.

Ha said her electricity bill has doubled since acquiring her cat thanks to the constant use of the air conditioner. Additionally, when she travels for work, she boards the cat in a pet hotel for about VND400,000 per day. She must also provide a detailed list of food and drink, and a feeding schedule, to the hotel staff to prevent the cat from becoming anxious, withdrawing and losing weight.

Thuy Duong, 29, from Ho Chi Minh City’s District 7, adopted a local stray cat years ago and named it Vi. She now treats it like a family member, spending nearly VND3 million monthly on a diverse diet of pate, dried chicken, duck, salmon, tuna, and various seeds and vitamins to keep it healthy.

“I strive to provide my cat a nutrition-rich diet that varies to keep it healthy and engaged,” Duong shared.

She also spends two-thirds of her monthly salary on pet-related shopping, not hesitating to spend millions of dong on essentials like a bottle of essential oil for her cat’s hair. Every year, she invites friends to celebrate Vi’s birthday, hires a photographer for the occasion, and decorates her home with photos of the cat.

Thuy Duong and her cat, Vi, at a studio in Ho Chi Minh City for a 2024 Tet Lunar New Year photo shoot. Photo courtesy of Duong

Thuy Duong and her cat, Vi, at a studio in Ho Chi Minh City for a 2024 Tet Lunar New Year photo shoot. Photo courtesy of Duong

Le Anh Tu, a lecturer at Van Lang University in Ho Chi Minh City, has advised against excessive spending on pets to the detriment of personal responsibilities or finances. He emphasized that pet care should be balanced with one’s financial capabilities and lifestyle needs. Pet owners must also ensure their pets are fully vaccinated to avoid conflicts with neighbors, he added.

Duong meticulously cares for her pets, installing cameras at home to monitor them. However, her incessant watching of the footage has prompted her boss to reprimand her for being distracted by her pet during work hours.

She has even avoided romantic relationships, feeling no need for a boyfriend as she is fully committed to caring for her cat.

My Quyen, 35, from the northern city of Hai Phong, once borrowed over VND50 million to acquire a French Bulldog. She recounts spending over VND10 million monthly on daycare for “socialization,” and other necessary pet care, including “therapeutic trips” to release the stress and anxiety the dog suffered after sterilization.

But after a year, due to unemployment and financial constraints, she gifted the dog to a friend.

“I can barely take care of myself now,” Quyen admitted. “I didn’t want my pet to suffer, so I had to let it go.”

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