Vietnam's taste for cat leaves pets in peril

Jul 28, 2014 by Cat Barton
Diners enjoy a dish of cat meat while drinking beer at a restaurant in Hanoi on June 19, 2014

The enduring popularity of "little tiger" as a snack to accompany a beer in Vietnam means that cat owners live in constant fear of animal snatchers, despite an official ban.

At an unassuming restaurant next to a carwash in central Hanoi, a cat is prepared for hungry clients: drowned, shaved and burned to remove all fur before being cut up and fried with garlic.

"A lot of people eat cat meat. It's a novelty. They want to try it," said the establishment's manager To Van Dung, 35.

Vietnam has forbidden the consumption of in an effort to encourage their ownership and keep the capital's rat population under control.

But there are still dozens of restaurants serving cat in Hanoi and it is rare to see felines roaming the streets—most pet-owners keep them indoors or tied up out of fear of cat thieves.

Such is the demand from restaurants that cats are sometimes smuggled across the border from Thailand and Laos.

Dung said that he had never had problems with the law. He buys his cats from local breeders but also so-called cat traders, with few checks on their sourcing.

"Little tiger" is typically enjoyed at the start of each lunar month, unlike dog meat which is eaten at the end.

On a busy day, the restaurant can serve around 100 clients.

"I know in the United States and Britain they don't eat cat. But here we do," Nguyen Dinh Tue, 44, said as he chewed on a piece of fried cat meat.

"I don't kill the cat! But this place sells it so I like to eat it," he added.

A cook prepares a dish made with cat meat at a restaurant in Hanoi on May 13, 2014

'We ate everything'

Vietnam's penchant for eating animals that are considered pets in many other countries came about largely as a result of circumstance, said Hoang Ngoc Bau, one of Hanoi's few trained vets.

"The country was once very poor, and we had a long war. We ate everything we could to stay alive," he told AFP. "Insects, dogs, cats, even rats... It became a habit."

Bau decided to become a vet after his pet dog saved him from a poisonous snake when he was a child. "From that time, I had a debt to dogs," the 63-year-old said.

Dramatic changes to society and cultural attitudes in the once tightly-controlled communist country in recent decades mean that a growing number of Vietnamese now share his love of animals.

But old eating habits die hard and pet owners have a battle on their hands to protect their furry companions from the dinner pot.

"No one is breeding dogs and cats for slaughter. So nearly all the animals in restaurants are trapped and stolen," Bau said.

"For me and other pet lovers in Vietnam, they're our best friend," added the vet.

Yet some people manage to reconcile society's dual affection for cats.

A cook uses a torch to burn the fur off a slaughtered cat at a restaurant in Hanoi on May 12, 2014

Le Ngoc Thien, the chef at one Hanoi cat meat restaurant, keeps a cat as a pet—but when it is big enough he will cook it and get a new kitten to repeat the cycle.

"When my cats become old we kill them because according to our tradition when a cat gets old we need to change it and get a younger one," he said.

"When I first started working here, I was surprised so many people ate cat. But now, fine, they like it," he said, adding that demand appeared to be increasing each year.

"Eating cat meat is better than eating dog as the meat is more sweet, more tender than a dog," Thien said.

A cat sells for between $50 and $70 depending on how large it is and how it is prepared.

Many pet owners get fed up of the risks of letting their cats go outside.

Phuong Thanh Thuy owns a Hanoi restaurant and has cats to keep rats in check, but she has had to replace them regularly.

"My family is sad because we spend a lot of time and energy raising our cats. When we lose a cat we feel pain," she said as a newly purchased batch of kittens played at her feet.

Explore further: Britain: Two people catch tuberculosis from pet cat

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User comments : 26

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alfie_null
4.2 / 5 (5) Jul 28, 2014
Urgh. Revolting in many ways. These people who are eating the cats - can you get them to eat anything? Suggests another strategy for helping keep the rat population under control. Govt. would start by making it illegal to eat rats.
ab3a
5 / 5 (8) Jul 28, 2014
Those who run dairy farms will tell you that while a hamburger tastes good, the fact that it comes from the animals they feed and care for every day is not lost on them.

While some find this abhorrent, it is a fact of life that meat comes from animals. We detach ourselves from that reality by packaging everything up nice and neatly in a grocery store. But every so often, a story like this emerges to remind city folk about the reality of where their food comes from.

The scary part of this story is that someone could be so detached from reality as to be horrified that another culture might eat what they think of as a cute house pet.
ryggesogn2
2.7 / 5 (7) Jul 28, 2014
The US seems to have an excess number of cats. Export them to Vietnam.
Sinister1812
1 / 5 (4) Jul 28, 2014
I find the idea of eating cat or dog disgusting, myself. But these people eat anything. lol Muslims won't eat pork.
Pexeso
2 / 5 (6) Jul 28, 2014
A lot of people eat cat meat. It's a novelty. They want to try it
it's their form of presentation of social status. Albeit disgusting for Western people, it's still better than the consummation of bush meat and meat of endangered animals, I guess. The cats can be fed with widespread rats, which would be utilized in this indirect way. Albeit the eating of carnivore meat could be risky with respect to potential transfer of prion diseases (like the Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease - the simplest and most rudimentary mechanism of horizontal gene transfer) and various parasites.
Dr_toad
Jul 28, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Pexeso
1 / 5 (4) Jul 28, 2014
Some Western people eat toads as a sign of their social status instead...
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (9) Jul 28, 2014
Some find eating beef abhorrent (Hindus), some find eating pork abhorrent (Muslims), some find eating seafood abhorrent (christians...at least those that have read the Bible and take it for the word of god)....and some find eating cats abhorrent.

...Meh...whatever. Either we try to find a unifying/rational way to argue for/against certain types of meat (and apart from any disease issues I can't think of one) or we go for the vegetarian option. Anything else is just opinion.
Scottingham
5 / 5 (3) Jul 28, 2014
Meow I've seen everything!
cjn
5 / 5 (1) Jul 28, 2014
First: Not a science article.

Second: I have no love for cats, but I always find eating [other] carnivores strange and off-putting.
Jonseer
4 / 5 (4) Jul 28, 2014
Cats are terrible rat catchers especially domesticated ones who'd rather wait for a meal at home and kill wild birds.

A wild rat is not an easy kill as it fights back, and its incisors can cause deep puncture wounds that are primed for the worst sort of infections.

Cats know this, and avoid a full grown rat unless desperate.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (6) Jul 29, 2014
Finally, someone has found a use for cats.
Vietvet
3.7 / 5 (6) Jul 29, 2014
I had an uncle who as a teenager was a cook for a CCC camp. There was a lot of grumbling about not having enough meat. He took to killing feral cats and using the meat in stews. No one complained, though he didn't tell them they were eating cat.
MrVibrating
5 / 5 (3) Jul 29, 2014
@Jonseer - some of the rats round my way could probably take a cat, no problemo. 2-3 ft long, some of 'em..
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (4) Jul 29, 2014
In the early 70's, dog was a regular on Korean menu's...
Tasted like - well, not like chicken....
Had a little rat back then, too... If cooked well - it wasn't too bad...
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (3) Jul 29, 2014
@Jonseer - some of the rats round my way could probably take a cat, no problemo. 2-3 ft long, some of 'em..

I'm sure Vietvet can tell ya that some of the rats in Vietnam could have been used for pack animals. Big? Yeah.
Vietvet
4 / 5 (4) Jul 29, 2014
@Jonseer - some of the rats round my way could probably take a cat, no problemo. 2-3 ft long, some of 'em..

I'm sure Vietvet can tell ya that some of the rats in Vietnam could have been used for pack animals. Big? Yeah.


In the summer of '68 "King Rat" took up residence in our COC bunker. After many attempts he finally was trapped but it didn't kill him right away. He fought furiously to free himself before suffocating. It had a body length of 12 inches.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (3) Jul 30, 2014
In the summer of '68 "King Rat" took up residence in our COC bunker. After many attempts he finally was trapped but it didn't kill him right away. He fought furiously to free himself before suffocating. It had a body length of 12 inches.

an' the water rats were bigger....
antigoracle
1 / 5 (3) Jul 30, 2014
Hold on!!
You are saying, pussy is really on the menu.

Well, I've always said-
Big cats can be dangerous, but
a little pussy never hurt anyone.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (4) Jul 31, 2014
...but a little pussy never hurt anyone.

neither has a lot...
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (4) Jul 31, 2014
BTW... Anyone take a look at the author's name?
Now THAT is funny...:-)
Sinister1812
5 / 5 (1) Jul 31, 2014
Cats are terrible rat catchers especially domesticated ones who'd rather wait for a meal at home and kill wild birds.


I don't know, feral ones seem to have no trouble. And can grow to large sizes.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (5) Jul 31, 2014
Albeit the eating of carnivore meat could be risky with respect to potential transfer of prion diseases (like the Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease - the simplest and most rudimentary mechanism of horizontal gene transfer) and various parasites
@pexeso-Zephir
First of all, you are thinking of Kuru disease from human cannibalism http://en.wikiped...sease%29
which is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs).
Second, you do NOT get Creutzfeldt–Jakob by eating predatory species. When you eat predatory species it is the liver that you need to watch out for because Hypervitaminosis A.
https://en.wikipe...inosis_A

Mountain Lion/Painter/Panther/Cougar/Catamount was a delicacy to the Mountain Men of the US because its meat was so sweet. Explorers like De Veer and his men - part of Dutch explorer, Barentsz' search for the North West Passage - ate polar bear liver. some died.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (4) Jul 31, 2014
Cats are terrible rat catchers especially domesticated ones who'd rather wait for a meal at home and kill wild birds.
A wild rat is not an easy kill as it fights back, and its incisors can cause deep puncture wounds that are primed for the worst sort of infections.
Cats know this, and avoid a full grown rat unless desperate.
@Jonseer
this depends on the cat as well as the Rat, to tell the truth...
I had a smallish mouser here that killed and ate the wood-rats in the forest around us. She also ate a lot of birds... her main diet was birds, mice and rats.
There are larger cats that enjoy hunting rats as well

there are also very large rats that enjoy hunting cats, depending on where you live. I've seen some large aggressive rats near the water (especially around large shipping ports with fishing boats) that some people would catch fight against cats for money
Ulg
not rated yet Aug 02, 2014
I cant wait for lab grown meat.
SnowballSolarSystem _SSS_
not rated yet Aug 02, 2014
I hope there aren't any meat eaters here expressing disdain. None of us need to be eating animals or animal products for that matter.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (1) Aug 03, 2014
None of us need to be eating animals or animal products for that matter.
@SSSh
and why not? you are an apex predator... keep your unsupported personal bias to yourself... I enjoy eating meat and other animals.

the human mouth and teeth are designed for the ripping and tearing of flesh as well as the chewing of flesh and other material like veggies. humans are omnivorous

I aint designed to be a lawn mower... I eat them and I like it.