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Should you visit a cat cafe? Is it cruel?

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Visiting a cat cafe is a novel and unique experience. But should you visit? Whilst some cat cafes are charitable ventures, others may demonstrate less philanthropic behaviour. Furthermore, there is an ethical argument to suggest that keeping cats enclosed in a cafe where they are constantly petted by visitors, which often includes loud and boisterous children, is not fair treatment. In this article I have reviewed the concept of the cat cafe and analysed the pros and cons of visiting…. read on to find out exactly what a cat cafe is, what you do when you visit and whether you should even visit at all!

What is a cat cafe?

cat cafe
Cat cafes have grown in popularity in recent years.

As the name suggests, a cat cafe is a cafe you can visit that is themed all around cats – with cats in-store for you to see, too.

Cat cafes exist across the world, often in city centres, and are hugely popular with cat-lovers and animal enthusiasts everywhere. In some ways, they are seen as short-term, in-store ‘pet rental’.

The history of cat cafes

The very first cat cafe appeared in Taiwan in 1998. Located in Taipei, it was called Cat Flower Garden. It is actually still open, though now named Kitten Coffee Garden, and it is located next door to Zhishan MRT Station in the city. You can read about the world’s first cat cafe here.

With the popularity of Cat Flower Garden at the time, Japan hopped onto the trend. Neko no Jikan, which translates to “Cat’s Time”, opened Oska in 2004. And by 2010, there was over 80 cat cafes across the country.

Japan is densely populated, meaning people tend to live in small apartments that generally don’t allow (or make the best/safest home for) pets such as cats or dogs. This aided the popularity of cat cafes, as it meant people could spend time in the company of cats while working or socialising.

Cat cafes have grown in popularity ever since, and the capital city, Tokyo, now has at least 58 cat cafes, with many more scattered across the country.

The trend of cat cafes rapidly caught on around the world and by 2020 there were hundreds. Asia remains home to the largest amount of cat cafes, but they are also becoming more popular in the USA, Canada, Europe and Australia.

What do you do at a cat cafe?

cat cafe
Many people find it relaxing to spend time in a cat cafe.

Realistically, a cat cafe is much the same as any other cafe. You can eat and drink, chat with friends, take your laptop to get some work done, read a book or simply sit back and relax.

When visiting a cat cafe you have the opportunity to around many different cats. These are often rescue cats. You are usually allowed to pet them and have them sit on your lap. Some people found this very relaxing.

How much does it cost to go to a cat cafe?

Most of the time, cat cafes charge a cover fee – also known as an entrance fee . This is sometimes charged hourly or it can be a fixed rate, depending on the cat cafe in question.

The entrance fee is on top of whatever you pay for food and drink (although some combine a higher cover fee with unlimited food and drink).

This money goes to ensuring the cats are well cared for. It is also a way of encouraging a better standard of visitors.

Can you bring your own cat to a cat cafe?

There are very few cat cafes that will allow you bring your own cat with you, and for good reason.

Firstly, for the cats who live there, it is their home. They do not need other cats coming into their home. This could easily lead to physical fighting, or mental distress for the cats. And your own cat doesn’t need to be taken into a space full of other cats who are used to being there. Many cats get stressed just visiting the vet if there are other animals there, so it would be unfair to bring them into a situation where there are lots of other cats taking up space and attention. 

Cats at cat cafes know each other, are used to each other and are used to the space they are in. There is a certain dynamic. They will have particular spaces that they enjoy sitting in, for example. The cafe is their home, hence why you are unable to bring your own cat with you when you visit!

Are cat cafes for-profit businesses?

cat cafe
Some cat cafes provide the opportunity for visitors to adopt a cat.

Many cat cafes are run on a for-profit basis, as with most standard cafes.

Most cat cafes are a business, and don’t advertise themselves as charities or sanctuaries. However, this is not to say that cat cafe companies don’t do great things for cats and cat welfare. Cat Café, a UK company with stores in Liverpool and Manchester, have this statement on the website in response to the question “are you helping cats?”

‘Although we do not directly operate as a rescue or rehoming centre, Cat Cafe support local animal charities by running special events to raise money and awareness. Our strong social media presence is used to advertise local rescue cats and kittens who desperately need a forever home. We also take in donations for our local charities such as food, litter and toys.

At Cat Cafe we are also passionate about promoting owner and breeder awareness about cat related health issues and we are working on campaigns to help abolish hereditary disorders such as Progressive Retinal Atrophy, Polycystic Kidney Disease and Cardio Myopathy.

Non-profit cat cafes

There are also some not-for-profit cat cafes around the world such as Cat Cafe Lounge in Los Angeles, USA.

At this cat cafe guests can visit for 90 minutes and receive a complimentary drink from the on-site cafe; there are around 35-40 cats here, with comfortable seating and a great vibe. There is no loud music, and the cafe works with a cat behaviourist called Cristin Coll, or The Cat Counselor. Cats from here can be adopted. It is basically somewhere for the cats to live a fun and happy life while they wait to find their forever home.

Founder Kristi Labrenz Galvan says, “We are nonprofit – there are only 5 nonprofit cat cafe’s in the US, out of 40+ cat cafes. Being nonprofit is very important to us. It sends the message that we are not profiting on the cats. Being that the cat cafe model is to pay to visit, I didn’t want to risk people thinking we were profiting from a life or a cat experience. I also wanted people to feel good about spending $25 to visit our kittos. Plus, the contribution is tax-deductible, so guests can write off the donation on their taxes”.

Are cat cafes cruel?

The question of ethics is always going to come into play when animals are involved. There are many cat cafes around the world. All will differ in their treatment towards the cats they have living with them. Generally, these cafes are run by cat lovers who do their utmost to protect, look after and adore the cats in their care.

UK charity Cats Protection have this to say regarding cat cafes: As the UK’s largest cat charity, we are concerned about the welfare implications of having a number of cats in a limited space with groups of people unknown to them coming and going throughout the day. We believe this kind of environment is not suitable for domestic cats because they have evolved as solitary animals and generally do not choose to live in social groups – unlike dogs which are a social species.

It is very likely that some or all of the cats involved will become stressed as a result of being in a confined space with a continually changing group of people. This is because domestic cats have shared ancestry with the Africa wildcat so we still see a lot of these behaviours in our pet cats today. 

But owners do take great care. The aforementioned Cat Cafe Lounge in LA, for example, limits the amount of people they can have in so as not to overwhelm the cats. There tend to be double doors between the outside and the room where any cats are, regardless of which cat cafe you visit. This is to ensure there is no risk of cats escaping. Cats are well-fed and enjoy the fuss.

Whilst there are some great examples of cat cafes, where the cats are provided with good living conditions, there are without doubt some organisations that offer a less-than-favourable life. There is no global regulation of cat cafes and thus it is difficult to ascertain just how ‘cat friendly’ they are or not.

Another thing to consider is the ethics of having cats on show for tourists, where they are petted all day every day. Many wildlife tourism attractions, such as zoos and farms, have banned physical animal encounters because this can have harmful and negative psychological effects on the animals. So we can’t cuddle a panda in Chengdu or hug a lion cub in South Africa anymore, but we can pet a non-domesticated cat in a cafe? Something doesn’t seem quite right there…

Another important point is that cat cafes should be carefully managed. Children, for example, can accidentally hurt or scare the cats. Some cat cafes do not allow children to enter for this reason. Likewise, loud music should be avoided in cat cafes. Cats that are not domesticated should be kept away from large amounts of people and visitors should be monitored to ensure that they are not upsetting the animals in any way.

cat cafe
Children should be carefully monitored at cat cafes.

Famous cat cafes around the world

There are so many cat cafes around the world now. From the UK to Japan to the USA with various other places in between. Here are some of the most famous examples of cat cafes around the world:

Cats Republic, St. Petersburg, Russia

Home to the celebrated Hermitage cats, St. Petersburg is the ideal location for a cat cafe. The whole concept of this particular cafe is brilliant. The cats here are retired Hermitage cats, having lived their life protecting the incredible art collection in the city from rats.

These cats are given the title of special citizen at Cats Republic, and customers must apply for a “visa”, which is the cafe’s way of collecting the entrance fee (equivalent to around $7). Visitors are then led by a cat ambassador into the area of the cafe which is filled with cats – though you do have to meow three times before you can enter.

The whole thing is a lot of fun. It is definitely worth factoring in to any visit to this part of Russia.

Neko no Jikan, Osaka, Japan

Being Japan’s first cat cafe, Neko no Jikan is world famous and well worth visiting if you are in Osaka.

With a calm and quiet atmosphere, friendly cats and a perfect level of cleanliness, head here for a taste of the original cat cafe life! A drink is included in your entrance fee, too.

Kitten Coffee Garden, Taipei

The reincarnation of the world’s first cat cafe in Taiwan should always be included in the list of famous cat cafes. It may have a different name than it did in the 90s but one thing is the same: the obvious love of cats here.

They also have some very chilled out dogs living here, if that’s more your thing!

While there is no entrance fee here, the minimum purchase fee here is NT$140 – which is the price of the cheapest drink, so it’s really easy. You can purchase food to give to the animals too!

Cat Cafe Macskakavezo, Budapest, Hungary

Open since 2014, you’ll pay an entrance fee here but it’s well worth it. This includes unlimited drinks as well as a slice of cake, access to board games and plenty of kitty cuddles.

Should you visit a cat cafe? The verdict

There is no straight answer to the question ‘should you visit a cat cafe’? Unlike many other wildlife attractions around the world, cat cafes have not been subjected to wide-scale negative reviews and attention. BUT this doesn’t mean that they are perfect. If you are considering a visit to a cat cafe I would suggest that you do a little bit of research on the business first to check that there is no evidence of unethical practice.

Further reading

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