The tiny cages are packed full of domesticated cats, just like the beloved pets you would see laying in a sunbeam or curled up on a warm lap. Thousands are jammed onto trucks for a torturous ride to restaurants, slaughterhouses and markets. Upon arrival, dozens have already died. Many who have survived are boiled alive before being skinned and butchered. Most have days to wait in unthinkable conditions before meeting their ends. The cat meat trade in China and other Asian countries may get less attention than the dog meat trade, but sale and consumption of cat has been increasing and a new movement to stop it is emerging.

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Some believe cat meat will bring them strength; others don’t even know they are eating cat. The animals so many have called pets and friends are now slated for the dinner plate.

Post Magazine reports flourishing cat meat consumption in Vietnam. Though it is technically illegal to consume cat, extensive trade in live cats for meat has developed in recent years. Apparently cat meat, along with dog meat, is becoming more and more popular with the middle class as an exotic delicacy. Professionals, police, and even tourists can be seen frequenting cat meat establishments. The most heartbreaking part: it is suspected that most cats that end up on the plate were pets, stolen from their owners in Vietnamese neighborhoods and nearby China and Laos. Others are raised in villages, tied or caged their entire lives with the minimum amount of care to keep them profitable.

In China the consumption of cat is also growing. There is even a famous dish, “Tiger, Phoenix, Dragon,” where “Tiger” is cat meat. Purchased at markets, the cats are grabbed around the neck and placed in bags to be taken away. At restaurants, customers choose their meal from a cage out front, then the chef takes it away to be slaughtered and prepared.

Though said to produce health benefits, ironically the trade actually puts people at risk of disease. Due to the unknown origin of most of the animals and the illegal trade across borders, diseases such as rabies and cholera are much more likely spread than with other livestock. The threat to human health is very real.

Change is coming, though slowly

Awareness and activism are beginning to catch on, but it will be a long road ahead and countless cats will still have to suffer. According to the BBC, most Chinese consider cat meet a taboo. And now many people with cats as pets are pushing back. In China, social media has been used to call out this practice. The popular social media site Weibo featured a flurry of people posting photos of their pet cats in a plea to end the killing of cats for food. Roadside markets were also called out for disguising cat meat as something else with the hashtag #CatMeatUsedForHamAndKebobs.

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Animal rights activists are emerging in these countries and starting to have an impact. Websites, blogs, and social media help to spread awareness and a different view of how to treat animals. Other organizations work internationally to expose brutal practices, appeal to governments, and do what they can for individual animals. But the real change will have to come from within. As more and more people experience the love and fulfillment from having a dog or cat as part of their lives, attitudes will shift and hopefully and end will come soon.