Photo: CHRoss|Unsplash

Beijing, China: China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, announced in early April that dogs would no longer be considered livestock, but instead, as loyal companions.

The change of policy means dogs cannot be bred for food, milk, fur, fibre, medicine, or for military or sports purposes. The ministry said the "progress of human civilisation" and the "public's concern" for animal welfare were reasons for reclassifying dogs as companion animals.

The ministry is finalising draft guidelines to the draft. But given the clear classification of dogs as companion animals by the ministry, local governments in China could follow suit to ban the consumption of wildlife and pets.

Shenzhen, the southern Chinese city bordering Hong Kong, became the first city in the country to ban the eating of cats and dogs in early February this year.

Around 10 million dogs and four million cats are estimated to be slaughtered and eaten in China every year, according to Hong Kong-based animal welfare group Animals Asia, but the practice is coming under increasing criticism from the country’s growing ranks of pet lovers.