Popularity of Cat Cafes Prompts Animal Welfare Concerns

September 28, 2016
Jenina Pellegren

Cat Cafés are establishments that allow patrons to engage and interact with cats while drinking their coffee. Some animal welfare organizations are concerned the cafés are not in the best interest of the cat.

The ASPCA estimates there are approximately 3.4 million cats entering shelters every year, and in Britain, RSPCA says its shelters are full to capacity.

Cat Cafés are establishments that allow patrons to engage and interact with cats while drinking their coffee. Some businesses use this platform as a way to help rescue cats find adoptive homes. Other places adopt their cats and allow them to live in the café and become part of the business. While the concept seems simple enough, some animal welfare organizations are concerned the cafés are not in the best interest of the cats.

The Derby and District Branch of Cats Protection, in the UK, has released a statement through their website in response saying, “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.”

The greatest concern is that the cats will become stressed and eventually aggressive in such a confined and constantly changing environment. The cat protection group cites recent research that showed the prevalence of behavioral problems in cat populations and the instances of aggression between unrelated cats living in larger groups.

The International Cat Care — formerly the Feline Advisory Bureau – also in the UK, agrees, calling for cat café owners and patrons to put the welfare of the cat first. They also emphasize that cats are not social creatures and naturally occurring groups of cats tend to be related. They argue, “selecting individual cats that will form a successful social group is incredibly difficult and will be a particular challenge for a cat café, where consideration must also be given to the cats’ sociability towards people.”

The ASPCA says, “aggression is the second most common feline behavioral problem.” Aggressive confrontations with cats can lead to serious infections including, cat scratch fever.

According to BBC News, a café in Leicester was shut down recently due to animal welfare and hygiene concerns. In that case, a tweet from vice chancellor of De Montfort University, Dominic Shellard, said he was disturbed by an, “overpowering smell of cat feces,” also noting that, “the cats looked very sad.”

For some, however, cat café establishments can assist shelter cats in finding their forever homes. One café owner in Nottingham has rehomed approximately 60 cats since opening last year. She said, “the café allows the cats to interact and show off their personality, which they can’t do in a cage.”

Currently, there are more than 20 cat cafés in the United States and in the UK there are approximately nine. Those numbers are expected to increase in the next few years. Taiwan, where cat cafés first began, has seen more than 100 cafés opened since 1998. Cafés are scheduled to open in Paris as well, with consumers getting on one to two month long waiting lists to visit.