Veterinary organisations are calling for feline welfare to be the top priority at cat cafés.
Cat cafes, first popularised in Japan, are opening across Europe, with proposals for a new business in London recently reported in the media. The British Small Animal Veterinary Association and International Cat Care are calling for the welfare of cats involved to be the primary consideration.
Busy lives and limitations on rental agreements can make it impossible for some animal lovers to own a pet. In cat cafés patrons are able to pay to spend time with the cats on the premises – usually for an hourly fee or cover charge.
Research shows numerous health benefits associated with animal ownership, including reduced stress levels and lowered risk of heart disease. The human animal bond is what makes pet ownership so fulfilling. So it is not difficult to see the attraction of ‘pet rental’ to those who can’t have a cat at home. This does however bring up some important animal welfare issues.
Generally cats are not a social species, and naturally occurring groups of cats tend to be made up of related females and their offspring. Some cats are happy to interact with others, but grouping cats in a shared environment has to be done carefully - if the mix is not a success there is the potential for stress and aggression.
So 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. If people are paying to stroke cats there is an expectation that one will be available and amenable to this. Cats need to be able to get away if they wish and not interact if they wish. There are some cats and some breeds of cat that enjoy high levels of human interaction and would be more suited to this environment than others.
“While some cats appear content living in groups and interacting with human strangers, other cats can be very stressed in these circumstances” says Professor Michael Day, BSAVA President. “It isn’t always easy to identify whether a cat is suffering from stress – this is often missed or misinterpreted. For example, inactivity can be seen as contentment, but they are actually internalising their anxiety. The input of a veterinary behaviourist and appropriate staff training will be essential.”
Of course normal health and safety considerations must be complied with where there is food and animals but local authorities will consider this on inspection.
Dr Andrew Sparkes, veterinary director of International Cat Care commented "While there can be real challenges in setting up a cat café to ensure that the cats involved are not stressed and that proper consideration is given to their welfare, you can understand the attraction of enjoying a cappuccino while sitting next to a cat, as lucky cat owners are able to do at home. Cat owners will also recognise that their cats often have short interactions before wandering off to do something else – cats in cafes must have the same opportunity to get away from people and other cats".
“Animal welfare has to be the priority, and the health, physiological and psychological needs of each individual cat must always be met.” concludes Professor Day.
Notes to Editors
The British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) exists to promote excellence in small animal practice through education and science. It has a membership of more than 8000 vets and veterinary nurses working in practice, academia and industry. For more information email Kay Colquhoun – firstname.lastname@example.org
International Cat Care is a charity passionate about improving the care of all cats. For over 50 years we have been raising the standard of treatment and care provided to cats by veterinary surgeons, boarding cattery operators, those involved in rescue work, breeders and, of course, cat owners by providing the best information possible. For more information email Karen Bessant – email@example.com
Health and Safety Executive guide to preventing or controlling ill health from animal contact at visitor attractions: http://www.hse.gov.uk/aboutus/meetings/committees/acdp/080211/acdp_96_P6_Annex_1.pdf
Independent newspaper article about London cat café:
Guardian online film of a Tokyo cat café:
BBC News online film of Vienna cat café:
AAFP and ISFM Feline Environmental Needs Guidelines:
References to papers relating to this subject are available on request.