dog meat festival
Many dogs were friendly and wore dog collars, suggesting they were family pets not strays  Humane Society International

This year's Yulin dog meat festival has been held early in order to avoid activists calling for the summer solstice feast to be banned.

Reports suggests some residents of Yulin gathered last weekend to eat dog hotpot and lychees after animal rights groups, lawyers and health experts said the festival should not go ahead.

According to the Associated Press, locals were pictured tucking into meat, while other images showed skinned dogs, hung from hooks and cooked at street stalls.

Last year's festival saw around 10,000 dogs killed and eaten and resulted in widespread condemnation. Locals held the feast ahead of the summer solstice, on 21 June, in order to avoid protesters.

The Yulin government said the dog meat festival was not an official event and told restaurants to remove references to dog meat from their signboards and menus.

yulin dog meat festival
Campaigners protesting the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in 2013 Getty Images

This year's event has been targeted over health concerns surrounding dog meat, as well as animal cruelty concerns – it is believed many of the dogs eaten are family pets that have been abducted from the street.

Health experts say the dogs are not quarantined or inspected – as per government regulation – leading to the risk of infected meat. Animal rights lawyer An Ziang said there are no dog farms or legal slaughter houses in existence.

The Humane Society International said dogs are kept in tiny cages before being bludgeoned to death, skinned and gutted.

Deng Yidan, an activist with Animals Asia, said the public backlash hurt the image of China: "Negative coverage is growing – dog theft, criminal activities, food hygiene issues and rabies fears – not to mention the division in society between those for and against the festival – together these have brought significantly more negative publicity to Yulin than economic benefits."