The announcement today from China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs came as a final Directory of Genetic Resources of Livestock and Poultry was published and omitted dogs from the long list of animals allowed to be commercially bred, raised and traded.
A government spokesperson said that the majority of people who took part in a public consultation process opposed including dogs as livestock, adding that dogs have long been domesticated as "companions" and "pets" who guard the family home; act as search and rescue animals for police and assist those with visual impairment.
The spokesperson said that with the changing times, "some traditional customs about dogs will change too". He added that more policies regarding dogs would follow but did not elaborate, the Daily Mail reported.
The announcement is in line with draft guidelines drawn up by China in April to reclassify dogs as pets rather than livestock.
The decision comes ahead of the Yulin dog meat festival next month, where thousands of dogs are butchered, skinned and cooked with blow-torches. It is scheduled to run for nine days from 21 June in the city, located in the Guangxi province.
Humane Society International (HSI) estimates that 10m dogs are slaughtered in China annually and said that many are stolen from homes and taken off the streets ahead of the Yulin festival.
The World Health Organisation has warned that the dog trade spreads rabies and increases the risk of cholera.
A 2017 survey revealed that in Yulin, nearly three-quarters of people don’t regularly eat dog meat despite efforts by traders to promote it. A 2016 nationwide survey found that 64 per cent of Chinese citizens wanted the Yulin festival shut down and 69.5 per cent have never eaten dog meat.
Dr Peter Li, HSI's China policy specialist, said that the Yulin festival was a "bloody spectacle [which] does not reflect the mood or eating habits of the majority of the Chinese people".
He said: “Now that the Chinese government has officially recognised dogs as companions and not livestock, we are hopeful that China will take stronger steps to hasten the end of the dog and cat meat trade for which millions of animals continue to suffer every year.
"The announcement presents cities across China with the perfect opportunity to act upon the government’s words by protecting dogs and cats from the meat trade thieves and slaughterhouses."
China's ministry of agriculture noted that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation's livestock list does not include dogs and said that internationally, dogs are not treated as livestock.
In April, the cities of Shenzhen and Zhuhai, were the first in China to officially ban the consumption of cat and dog meat.
The finalised livestock list did officially declare a number of wild animals as “livestock” including several deer species, alpaca, guinea-fowl and the three most commonly farmed wild species for China’s fur trade - racoon dog, silver fox and mink.
The coronavirus outbreak started in Wuhan, China late last year. Covid-19 is thought to have originated in horseshoe bats and passed to humans via an intermediary species.
In response to the outbreak, China issued a temporary ban on all trade and consumption of wild animals and is considering revising legislation to make the ban permanent.
Last week authorities in Wuhan officially banned the eating of all wild animals and said the city would become a “wildlife sanctuary”. Currently, the ban lasts for five years.