China's capital will institute a "one dog" policy for each household in nine areas, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Wednesday.

Xinhua said: "Only one pet dog is allowed per household in the zones, and dangerous and large dogs will be banned. Anyone keeping an unlicensed dog will face prosecution."

According to the same source, the dog limit was announced by Beijing police and the city agencies for agriculture and commerce.

China has limited most urban couples to one child and those in the countryside to two since the 1970s in an effort to limit population growth and ease the strain on resources.

Killer dogs

Such measures are seen as a clampdown on rabies, which has been on the rise in China. At least 318 people were killed by the disease nationwide in September said Xinhua.

There were 2,651 reported deaths from the disease in 2004, the last year for which data was available.

Only 3 per cent of China's dogs are vaccinated against rabies, which attacks the nervous system and can be fatal.

Many people have supported the move, saying it is the only way to contain the disease.

Animal harmony

A notice on the police department's website did not refer to a "one dog" policy but said a clampdown on stray and large dogs would be implemented.

It called on dog owners to create a harmonious society and be a civilised dog raiser.

Harmonious society is the term for the campaign by Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, to share the gains of China's rapid economic growth more fairly across all levels of society.

Authorities prompted an outcry in July and August when they launched several mass-slaughters of dogs to curb outbreaks of rabies.

In one county in the southwestern province of Yunnan where three people had died of rabies, authorities killed thousands of dogs, many of them beaten to death in front of their owners.