Bordering on abuse
Some Chinese cat owners and vets call on people to treat their four-legged friends properly when shooting online videos
Xu Yilong, a 27- year-old medical worker who lives in Beijing, calls herself a “true cat lover.” She has four cats, two American Shorthair cats and two street cats she took in offff the street. She loves to take photos and videos of them and posts
clips on her WeChat Moments, Weibo and the recent popular short video platform Douyin.
“There is a saying that the internet belongs to cats,” Xu said, adding that cat videos are among the most popular videos online. Almost everyone loves to watch them to have a good laugh and relax, she asserts.
“However, some cat owners have started to abuse their cats for attention online, especially on Douyin,” Xu said. “Many cat owners, myself included, oppose such behavior because it may hurt the cats, mentally and physically.”
Last month, a woman nicknamed “Yanen” uploaded a short video on Douyin. In the video, she put her cat on the railing of an outdoor balcony on the 32nd floor. The cat looked rather scared and shivered continuously, but she only laughed and typed “I wanted to be viral online too” as the title of the video.
Later, it was found that the cat fell from the railing and died, which angered many cat lovers in China. They blamed attention-seeking cat owners who want to become popular online and Douyin for the cat’s death, claiming that the app encourages the behavior by making such videos hot online.
Zhang Meng, a 29-year-old cat owner in Shanghai, said he regrets making his cat imitate the so-called “cat dance” on Douyin. To make a cat dance, its owner holds its front paws and forces it to make different steps to music.
“There was a video of a man vigorously rubbing his cat’s head, and it was really funny. Also, numerous people were making their cats perform the Seaweed Dance (a popular Chinese song with a quick rhythm and rap),” he said. “So, I tried it with my cat and also made some videos.”
However, after making the video, his cat got angry, fought with him and scratched his hands. It also looked dizzy and scared and even fell out of its cat tree after it fled out of Zhang’s hands. Although it was not physically hurt, Zhang blamed himself for making it uncomfortable.
According to Liu Guanshun, a veterinarian at the Shanghai Guan’ai Pet Clinic, the physical structure of cats is best suited to forward and backward movement. So, if their legs are forced to turn around and swirl to make poses, their shoulder joints could get hurt.
“If a cat is frequently forced to do poses, when it grows older, the injury may be more serious, and it may give them arthritis,” Liu said.
Liu also warned that it is bad for cats’ health to put makeup on them, including lipstick, eye shadow and blush.
“Cosmetics for humans contain many chemicals which are toxic to animals and can even lead to permanent kidney damage and renal failure if they lick the makeup and eat the chemicals,” Liu said.
Xu agreed with Liu. She said she also watched many clips that make fun of cats, and it is very obvious that the cats were scared, depressed and at a loss.
Some cat owners put transparent adhesive tape across doorways and then trick their cat to walk into it with snacks. When the cats run toward their owners, they hit the tape and fall, Xu said.
In another clip, a cat owner punished her cat by stuffing it into a pair of stockings because it destroyed many pairs of new stockings.
“I will never do that to my cats because I can tell that the cats are not happy at all. You can see how sad they feel after their owners’ betrayal,” Xu said. “It is common among cat owners that when your cat does something bad, you catch them and teach them right where it happened, or they would feel confused and angry and not understand why you treated them like that.”
According to Liu, if a cat is scared, in pain or embarrassed for a long time, it may lose its appetite, and its spirits may drop, which will lead to a decrease in immunity.
“Almost every cat carries various kinds of viruses, like feline coronavirus,” Liu said. “When a cat’s immunity level is normal, the viruses do not affect their health, but if their immunity is low, the viruses may invade and cause many serious diseases like feline infectious peritonitis, which is an incurable disease.”
Xu and Liu both said they hope cat owners can be rational and not blindly imitate the Douyin videos.
“First, Douyin should ban accounts suspected of cat abuse and delete their videos and then cat owners should post videos showing the correct way to love one’s cat,” Xu said. “Do unto cats as you would like done unto you.”
Two women take a selfie with a cat.
Cat owners are encouraged to post videos that show them interacting with their pets in a more loving way, instead of sharing clips that make fun of them.