When Ms Zhang Meiqiao took her cat to the vet to try to relieve its runny eyes, she was asked to consider a nose job for her kitty instead.
Ms Zhang said her nearly seven- month-old Scottish fold's nose gets congested easily, making breathing difficult, so the veterinarian suggested a procedure to widen its nostrils.
"I thought, why not try? Now my cat can breathe better and it looks better too, with a perkier nose," said the 20-year-old, who moved to Seoul from China late last year for her university studies.
Ms Zhang is among a growing group of people in South Korea who are opting for plastic surgery for their pets - for both health and cosmetic reasons.
The trend first made headlines in the Chosun Ilbo newspaper early last month and quickly went viral online, drawing flak on social media while animal rights groups decried it as abuse.
Plastic surgery for animals is nothing new, however.
In the United States, dog owners spent US$62 million (S$88 million) on plastic surgery for their pets in 2011, according to Petplan insurer. The more popular treatments include eye and nose jobs, ear lifts, tummy tucks and Botox injections to remove wrinkles.
In South Korea too, plastic surgery for pets has become popular, according to local news reports.
In an article headlined "From botox to eye enhancement surgery, dog plastic surgery gaining popularity", Chosun Ilbo cited a vet as saying that plastic surgery for pets used to be for medical reasons, but now there are "many pet owners who want their pets to undergo surgery for cosmetic purposes".
It ran photos of a dog that had surgery to correct inward-pointing eyelids, adding that the procedure is now popular as it also gives the pet bigger eyes.
The Korea Times said more dog owners have opted for plastic surgery to improve their pets' appearance, but did not give figures. It also cited a vet who said the most popular procedures are to widen the eyes and shorten the tail.
Pet ownership has been rising with growing affluence. There are about 10 million families with animal companions, the Nonghyup Economics Research Facility said.
Vets insist the procedures, which can range from eye and nose enhancement to tail shortening, ear clipping and wrinkle removal, are safe and within the limits of the law.
Dr Yoon Shin Geun, who has been a vet for more than 40 years, started doing cosmetic procedures a decade ago. He said the increase in popularity has been gradual, and that he now handles 20 to 30 cases a month, mainly eye and nose jobs for dogs and cats. He is also able to surgically remove wrinkles and sagging skin and treat excessive drooling, among other problems.
"Some people think plastic surgery is akin to torturing animals, but that's because they don't understand the rationale behind it," he said, referring to the Internet backlash after the Chosun Ilbo article went viral online.
"They think it's only for vanity reasons but it's not. Some animals need surgery primarily for health and hygiene reasons, but if you can enhance the looks at the same time, why not? It's like killing two birds with one stone, and the owner will feel happier taking the pet around."
But Dr Yoon is not trumpeting his plastic surgery services. When he places advertisements in newspapers, the services are only mentioned in fine print. Fees range from as low as 300,000 won (S$355) for an eye procedure to 700,000 won for fat removal.
Animal advocates, however, are not amused.
Korea Animal Rights Advocates has publicly objected to plastic surgery for pets, saying it is a form of animal abuse "for the owner's satisfaction".
Dog lover Kim Sung Ae, who is in her 60s, said: "Plastic surgery for dogs is a crazy idea. Humans are able to judge beauty but what do dogs know?"
Vets in Singapore whom The Sunday Times spoke to said they perform reconstructive surgery for pets but only for health reasons.
Procedures include removing excess skin from tails or removing excessive skin folds on the face for certain breeds, like bulldogs or pugs, to prevent infection and dermatitis.
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore has a code of ethics for vets when it comes to cosmetic procedures. It states, for instance, that tail docking for cosmetic reasons is not to be encouraged.
This article was first published on September 6, 2015.
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