28/01/2016 5:41 AM AEDT

Your Faux Fur Could Have Come From An Animal Just Like Tanu The Raccoon Dog

You'll never look at fake fur the same way again.

Tanu, an adorable tanuki or “raccoon dog,” set the hearts of the Internet on fire this week.

It’s pretty easy to see why. Tanu, who lives as a pet in Japan, is really adorable.

But many stories about Tanu gloss over, or just don’t mention, a pretty upsetting fact. You might unknowingly be wearing an animal just like Tanu -- even if you bought something labeled “faux fur.”

“Raccoon dogs” are a canid species -- meaning they’re in the same family as domestic dogs, wolves and foxes -- native to East Asia, though they can now be found in Europe as well. The “raccoon” in their name just refers to their stripes and markings -- they aren’t closely related to raccoons. They’re hunted and farmed for their fur in several countries, though China and Finland supply most of the raccoon dog fur that hits the shelves, according to an August report by the Humane Society of the United States.

Stefan Huwiler via Getty Images
Portrait of a raccoon dog.

The conditions of these fur farms are horrific, according to the report. Raccoon dogs are kept in tiny metal cages and are often skinned alive after crude slaughter methods fail to work.

And if you’ve bought or worn raccoon dog fur, you probably don’t even know. Under U.S. law, the fur is officially labeled “Asiatic raccoon” (not that the fur being from an actual raccoon would make it better, since raccoonsareawesome), though a 2008 Humane Society investigation found raccoon dog fur has been mislabeled as rabbit, coyote, Finni Raccon, “ecological fur” and, most disturbingly, faux fur.

Raimund Linke via Getty Images
A mother raccoon dog in the wild with her pup.

That's right -- big-name retailers like Macy’s, Kohl’s and Neiman Marcus have all landed themselves in hot water after their “faux fur” products were alleged to actually be fur from the raccoon dog. In other instances, various companies have been caught selling alleged “faux fur” that comes from other real animals, like rabbits or coyotes.

A line on the label in this jacket, photographed in Farmers Branch, Texas, Jan. 11, 2007, has been marked out where it purported that the fur trim on this jacket was from a raccoon. J.C. Penney Co. removed some of the coats after activists complained about mislabeling, but put them back after asking employees to blot out the "raccoon fur" label. (AP Photo/Ron Heflin)

Under federal law, it’s illegal to sell real animal fur as fake fur, and companies caught doing so can face civil fines, not to mention lawsuits from animal rights groups. But the thought that this mislabeling has happened so often in the past still makes us more than a little wary about buying that coat with the faux fur-trimmed hood.

Photo gallery Raccoon Dogs See Gallery