Nose prints offer the purr-fect way to ID your pets

Lu Feiran
Nose prints of dogs and cats are required if owners want to buy pet insurance. The canine and feline nose prints resemble human fingerprints. Each is unique.
Lu Feiran

Facial recognition scans used to verify human IDs are now being adapted to pets. Nose prints of dogs and cats are required if owners want to buy pet insurance.

Alipay, a third-party, mobile-payment platform developed by the Alibaba Group, is offering the service to people wanting to buy pet policies sold by ZhongAn Insurance.

The Alipay application allows users to scan and record their pets’ nose prints with the cameras on their mobile devices.

The canine and feline nose prints resemble human fingerprints. Each is unique.

The technology is expected to eventually replace the current pet identification system of chip implants that record both pet and owner information.

Insurance aside, nose print recording is gaining some popularity. Louisa Wang, who has five cats and volunteers at a stray pet rescue group, says the system is quite convenient.

“It was like shooting a mugshot of your pet,” she says. “If you can get someone to help you hold the cat, the whole process can be completed in seconds. It’s definitely easier than bathing a cat.”

According to Alipay and ZhongAn, the new technique is expected to increase the purchase of pet insurance. Such policies first appeared in the Chinese market about a decade ago but didn’t really catch on, largely due to the difficulties related to chip implants.

“No matter how little the pain is involved, chip implants harm pets’ bodies,” Wang says. “The process of implanting is very likely to cause stress in more sensitive animals, and owners’ personal information, such as address and phone numbers, recorded on the chips could be easily abused. The nose print scan is safer.”

Wang, however, is still hesitant about buying pet insurance.

The policies cover cats and dogs between the ages of 3 months and 10 years, Owners have to take their pets to designated veterinary hospitals to get higher policy payouts and sometimes compensation is limited.

For example, if you buy a 399 yuan (US$56) plan, you are entitled to coverage up to 10,000 yuan a year, but the limit for each veterinary visit is 1,200 yuan.

“Most of my cats are older than 10 years old or will soon be,” Wang says. “Just like humans, the older a pet is, the more it may need health care.”

Before the Alipay application was developed, some pet owners tried to make prints of their pets’ noses using plasticine or oil to make impressions on cardboard or paper. The nose prints were largely made as mementoes, but they did prove useful as ID if a pet wandered from home.

Sun Jinrong, a professional lost-pet “detective,” says the new nose-print technology might put people like him out of business.

“The nose print is like an ID, and most people could easily find lost pets if they set out to look for them soon enough,” Sun says.

Pet ownership is growing in China, spurring a burgeoning market in related products. According to an industry report issued by Goumin, a major Chinese pet website, there were more than 99 million pet cats and dogs in Chinese cities last year, up about 8 percent from the previous year.

Pet owners spent 202 billion yuan on their cats and dogs, rising 18.5 percent from 2018.

The growing market has its negative side, however. “Mailing” living pets to buyers, for instance, is a problem that has never been resolved.

On e-commerce websites such as Taobao and Pinduoduo, online pet shops deliver animals to buyers by common express services, guaranteeing that any animal that dies en route will be replaced.

On Taobao, Zeyan Pet & Appliance sells living rabbits and hamsters. According to its sales records, the shop sells more than 300 rabbits a month, but buyers reviews reveal the cruel side of the business. At least a quarter of the online comments involved complaints about rabbits that died soon after delivery.

“I bought two rabbits,” writes an anonymous buyer. “One died on the day it arrived, and the other one died three days later. That’s not what I expected.”

Delivery of living animals is against China’s postal laws, but there are no specified penalties for violators. Hardly anyone has ever been fined or jailed for breaking the law.

“I think consumers should boycott online pet sales, and e-commerce platforms should shut down such shops,” says Wang.

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