Demand for dog meat is driving an illegal trade in stolen dogs, especially in rural areas, experts said, and causing a human health hazard.
"Consumers risk their health if they eat dog meat, as none of the dogs (stolen from villages) had undergone quarantine procedures before they went missing," said Guo Peng, a professor at the School of Philosophy and Social Development of Shandong University.
According to a survey by Guo 's research group conducted in May 2011, more than 80 percent of households in three villages on the outskirts of Jinan, Shandong province, have experienced dogs being stolen in recent years.
In Yaodian village, of 105 households, 88 percent said they had a dog presumably stolen. The village reported only one dog went missing in 2006, but 40 dogs went missing in the first five months of 2011.
"Rural households always keep dogs to guard their homes. Thieves prefer the bigger dogs as they have more meat," Guo said at a recent animal protection seminar in Beijing organized by Northwest University of Politics and Law.
The stolen dogs are often sent to nearby meat markets and restaurants, while some are shipped to other parts of the country, such as Jiangsu and Jilin provinces, the survey found.
A 40-year-old man surnamed Liu in Changchun, capital of Northeast China 's Jilin, said he loves to eat dog meat especially in winter because he believes it is a good source of nutrition.
"I do have concerns where the dogs come from and whether dog meat is safe," he said. "But I only select clean and higher-class restaurants."
A branch manager of Hanzhuang, a well-known dog meat restaurant chain in Changchun, said about seven to eight dogs are eaten by diners in his restaurant every day.
"Diners are always over 30 years old. It 's rare to see young people visit as they generally think it 's cruel to kill dogs," said the branch manager surnamed Zhang.
He claimed that the dog meat served in his restaurant posed no risk to human health.
"All the dogs are kept by the restaurant and they are sent to qualified slaughterhouses," he said.
But animal lovers are working to stop the trade.
In January, more than 1,100 dogs were saved from the slaughterhouse by a blogger in Chongqing, who attracted the help of hundreds of pet lovers and animal activists.
In October 2011, two animal protection organizations paid about 83,000 yuan ($13,311) to a dog trader in Zigong, a city in Southwest China 's Sichuan province to rescue nearly 1,000 dogs that were to be delivered to restaurants in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.