As a quick disclaimer, I will not be discussing pet cafes as a whole, only cat cafes. I simply do not agree that all pets can be used for pet cafes Rabbit cafes for example are terrible ideas simply due to the very delicate nature of rabbits, and I imagine a dog cafe could get very out of control very quickly because of how excited dogs can get. This little article will only look at cat cafes, although I may look at other types of pet cafes in the future.
What is a cat cafe?
Exactly what it sounds like. It is a coffee shop, where you can enjoy numerous hot beverages and tasty pastries and cakes, while also cuddling the cats that live in the cafe. Many cat cafes also work closely with re-homing centres (or act as a re-homing centre themselves) so that the cats you see in the cafe with you can be adopted out into the community.
Now anyone who loves cats would obviously want to attend one because is there anything better in this world than a hot mug of coffee and a purring cat asleep on your lap? Absolutely not. However I have seen a lot of conflicting articles and comments about whether or not a cat cafe is humane, ethical and by default, vegan. Are the cats being exploited so the owner can sell more coffee? Is the welfare of the cats really the paramount importance?
I grew up with cats. I have photos of me as a two year old literally climbing into the cat bed so I could snuggle with my childhood tabby and black cat, Mog and Dale. When they both crossed the rainbow bridge, we then got Jinx. In fact the only time I lived in a home without a cat was when I moved into my own property – and even then we filled our home with the gerbils and our bunnies. Having spent at least 25 years of my life living with cats, I feel an overwhelming sense of comfort when I am around cats – they really are like home to me – so naturally cat cafes are absolutely my cup of tea!
I have been to a few cat cafes, and in my experience they have always been very cat centred. Each place has had very strict rules about how you act while in the cafe, to make sure that the cats are never disturbed or scared by the people around them. All of them also had rules about how many people were allowed in the shop at any one time, and as well as limiting how many can come in per group and not allowing any children under the age of 12 into them. The cafes that do allow younger children in though also make it a strict rule that the children should be supervised at all times and should not be allowed to approach the cats without adult supervision with them.
That being said I have also looked at other cat cafes which I didn’t feel were cat focused: I have looked into the window of them and seen young children running around the cafe floor, barely any hidey holes for the cats to shelter in and even from the outside could tell it was far too noisy inside. You also know it probably isn’t cat focused when you can’t even see the cats when you look inside.
As to whether or not the cafe itself is ‘vegan friendly’ regarding the food, every place I went to had a decent selection of vegan foods and drinks. So in that sense I think you’d be hard pushed to find a cat cafe that doesn’t cater towards vegans: if it doesn’t have even one plant based milk to offer or even a basic vegan cookie, then it’s probably just a bad coffee shop anyway.
The pros of a cat cafe
It is common knowledge now that spending time with animals is good for us: It lowers our blood pressure, slows our breathing and decreases our feelings of loneliness. As with most medical treatments though,animal therapy is very rarely something that can be offered to everyone and if you live in rented property or a house share or in a busy city, you may not even be able to have pets of your own. Places like cat cafes allow people to come and go as they please and spend as much time as they wish with their kitty companions.
I also believe that cat cafes are frequented by people who already love cats, so will already be doing their utmost to make sure that cats in the cafe are happy. They are people who won’t care about getting cat fur all over their trousers, or mind having a cat sit next to them while they eat and drink. Therefore while each cat cafe will have it’s own set of rules, I imagine the majority (if not all) of the patrons would adhere to the rules even if they weren’t told to.
I also believe that this method of re-homing is far more beneficial for the cats than being in a shelter. While shelters do amazing work (and I will always advocate and support my local shelters) they can be very sad places. I’m sure we have all seen the videos of cats in small little bunkers as they watch person after person walk past their window and not even stop to say hello. It’s heartbreaking to see and I can’t even think what must be going through the cats’ mind when this is all they see everyday until someone decides to take them home. But with the cat cafes, the cats have far more freedom to wander around the people and to actually show off their personalities. They can run and play and sleep wherever and however they like, and are also socialised to be used to being around people: they become used to the noise and the bustle of people coming and going and getting multiple cuddles a day in the process. Now I for one, would injure myself in a rescue shelter – I would take a look at the very first cat and I would end up trying to take the entire shelter home with me. At least in a cat cafe I know that the cats have a warm and safe home until their forever family comes along. Not that I wouldn’t take them all home with me if I had half the chance….
I have always found the staff in these cafes to be amazing: They are always professional and attentive, and you can tell immediately that they love each and every one of their kitty cohorts. They have always been very knowledgeable about the cats and about their needs and personalities. I have also seen the staff politely showing guests how to correctly play with the cats, from which toys work best with which cat and the best way to use the toy to bring out their natural hunter instincts. For example, if you have a rug or a blanket, use a stick underneath it to play with your cat – something about it being ‘underground’ drives cats wild and they absolutely love trying to catch it. The thinner the stick too the more likely it is to slip through their little toe beans, which just makes them even more determined to catch this evil stick!
The cons of cat cafes
It is common knowledge that cats are very territorial creatures and are also very high maintenance. If they are not happy with something, they will definitely tell you about it!
One of the main issues with cat cafes is the concern that large numbers of cats should not b e kept together. Both Cats Protection and the RSPCA have stated that cat cafes are not the most suitable environment for cats to live in, especially when they have to deal with multiple groups of people coming and going contunously throughout the day. They also have to deal with a lot of petting and playing, and since cats mostly sleep for between 12-16 hours a day they are not the most social of creatures.
The RSPCA also raised concerns around the stability of the cats’ environment. As with most animals, routine is key. They can be sensitive to smells and temperature changes which may be an issue in a cafe. Cat cafes are very popular and see a lot of traffic so I can see why having too much change could potential cause stress to the cats who live in the cafe. Cats also require a lot of space and opportunity to exercise and climb, which is why many charities recommend having at least some sort of garden available if you wish to adopt a cat. Naturally though this is very unlikely in cat cafes, as most are in very built up and urban areas, with no more than a small concrete foyer around the back and a busy main high street out front.
Despite how cats may appear, they can be scared very easily by loud noises. As such it is also recommended to have lots of hidey-holes for cats so that they can get away and hide from any situation which they deem to be scary. This could range from fireworks outside, to children to simply too many people in a room.
There is also the issue of cat personalities. Every single cat is different and not every cat is suited to life in a cat cafe. Territorial, overly skittish or short tempered cats are more likely to get easily stressed in a busy and changing environment, and when cats are scared, annoyed or threatened that is when the claws come out. Which would be terrible for all involved: As someone who has been around cats my whole life, I know that if my cat takes a swipe at my hand it’s because I have annoyed them in some way, however if you have never spent time with cats or you’re a young child, you may think this is a mean kitty and get very upset. To combat this, I have seen some cat cafes who have a ‘revolving door’ system with their cats, where the cat can come and go from the main floor as much as they please to a completely private area that is shut off from guests. Most cafes also seem to make a point of only hosting cats that do meet the personality requirements to ensure that they can live with other cats and also won’t find the constant traffic stressful or annoying.
The other concern I see raised most often is the issue of regulation. Yes cat cafes are held to the same health and safety and food standards of other cafes, but the issue is that cat cafes are not like regular cafes. The cats welfare is largely left up to the cafe owners and with so much going on at any one time during a busy day, it is no doubt hard for the staff to ensure every single customer is adhering to the rules when it comes to interacting with the cats. There are talks that stricter policies and standards will be needed as the popularity of cat cafes grows, but again this itself is a slow process.
In short ALWAYS do your research. I personally would be very hesitant to visit a cat cafe if they allowed large groups or young children to visit them. I also always check their house rules, and if I cannot find them easily on their website I am even less inclined to visit them. I also like to look at the interior of the cafe to see how many climbing shelves there are, how many hidey-holes I can see, how many sleeping spots are available and to see what other enrichment they have for the cats. I believe there is one in London which has a giant cat wheel where the cats can run (like a hamster wheel, but cat sized) as well as lots of interconnecting tunnels around the cafe so that the cats can move about freely without needing to interact with people if they do not wish to.