Yes, a cat cafe is exactly as it sounds. Only it isn't run by cats, but merely contains them... in abundance. You show up, you order a drink and some food, and you get to cuddle (or be ignored by) a variety of mogs. With the first cat cafe opening its doors in Taiwan in 1998, it wasn’t long before the concept spread to Japan. Taking the island nation by storm, cat cafes began appearing throughout the country as a way of combating the loneliness of urban life for the growing number of apartment dwellers who were unable to own a pet.
While it took some time for the trend to catch on elsewhere in the world, in 2013 and 2014 the first cat cafes opened in the United Kingdom and the United States, and the concept has since gone from strength to strength with cat cafes popping up everywhere from Sweden to Slovakia.
So, with cat cafes becoming more popular should you visit one, or is this just another gimmick that needs to be given a wide berth?
Paws up or paws down?
Who would have thought that cafes featuring cats as the star attraction could stir up so much support and controversy all at once? And yet that’s exactly what’s happened: the polarizing concept of the cat cafe has as many devotees as it does detractors.
Animal welfare charities, including the RSPCA, have criticized cat cafes because (even more so than dogs) cats require stable living environments. As largely solitary creatures, being confined to small spaces with other cats and exposed to large numbers of people wanting to stroke and interact with them has the potential to cause stress, agitation, and undue distress.
Cat cafe owners have a different story to tell. While they acknowledge the concerns raised by animal welfare charities as being valid, and openly admit that not all cats will be suited to such an environment, they feel the benefits outweigh the risks with cat cafes providing a safe home for felines that would otherwise be living on the streets. Not to mention the therapeutic benefits to the humans who visit them.
But, before you panic that the ultimate catfight is about to break out, rest assured that there are two things that the warring sides can agree on; cat cafes need to be properly regulated to ensure they’re safe and meet animal welfare standards. While that is challenging, cat cafes have the potential to be successful, if done well.
It’s clear there is some controversy surrounding the ethics of these kinds of establishments, but there’s also a growing body of research that highlights the fact that cats, coffee and cake are a winning combination when it comes to improving the mental health and wellbeing of humans.
So, if you decide to head to a cat cafe near you, what exactly can you expect?
Coffee and cuddles
Unlike a dog-friendly cafe that lets you show up and indulge in your daily macchiato while your mutt sits happily beside you, think of a cat cafe as being a less painful form of speed dating.
You pay a cover fee to watch, and interact with, a variety of potential feline friends. If you happen to strike up a connection with any one moggie in particular then, bingo, you’ve got yourself a cappuccino companion for life without any of the responsibilities of being a full-time pet parent.
While it may seem slightly strange to pay a cover charge to enter a cafe, think of it as a donation that helps cat cafe owners with operational costs and ensures that all the cats in their care are spayed or neutered, microchipped, and vaccinated.
And just like coffee comes in different varieties, so too do cat cafes. Some operate as adoption centers, allowing humans and cats to interact with the goal of pairing them up so that the cats can be rehomed. Others operate purely on a therapeutic basis, serving as the permanent residence for rescued cats who play a role in reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation in those who come to visit.
Not wanting to adopt and don’t feel lonely? No worries. You don’t have to be feeling low to pay a visit to a cat cafe. If you love cats then the simple joy they can spark in you from being in their presence is all the excuse you need to walk through the door.
Whatever your reason, when you visit a cat cafe you’ll be free to pet and play with the cats, to take photos, minus the flash of course, to get your fill of coffee and cuddle,s or just to sit and watch the world (and the cats) go by.
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Kathryn is a freelance writer who has spent the past three years dividing her writing time between her two great loves - pets and health and wellness. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with a very mischievous Cocker Spaniel and a super sassy cat, drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.