Pet cats being stolen from the street to meet demand in restaurants  Heikki Siltala/Creative Commons

Cats are being drowned, shaved, burned then fried with garlic at restaurants across Vietnam, despite an official ban that makes it illegal to eat the creatures.

Known as "little tiger", cat meat is served as an accompaniment to beer in Vietnam, with dozens of restaurants in Hanoi having it on their menu.

A report by AFP found that cat owners live in fear or their pets being snatched from the street. Most keep their pets indoors or tied up to prevent them being stolen.

Van Dung, a manager of a restaurant serving cat meat, said he buys them from local breeders and 'cat traders', where their source is unknown. Demand is so high that cats are also being smuggled in from Thailand and Laos.

"A lot of people eat cat meat. It's a novelty. They want to try it," Dung said, adding he has never had problems with authorities and serves up to 100 clients on busy days.

Vietnam banned the consumption of cats to encourage ownership and keep the rat population under control. However, decades of eating cats and dogs has meant the habit is hard to break.

Le Ngoc Thien, the chef at one of Hanoi's cat meat restaurants, said demand appears to be increasing: "When I first started working here, I was surprised so many people ate cat. But now, fine, they like it.

"Eating cat meat is better than eating dog as the meat is more sweet, more tender than a dog."

Cat is normally eaten at the start of each lunar month, while dog is eaten at the end. Each cat is normally sold for between £30 and £40.

Vet Hoang Ngoc Bau told the news agency that most of the animals served in restaurants are family pets that have been abducted: "No one is breeding dogs and cats for slaughter. So nearly all the animals in restaurants are trapped and stolen."