The Popular Trend of Cat Cafes Moves Westward

England is the latest country to open a cat cafe — is the U.S. next? Read on to find out how cat cafes work and why animal activists may oppose them.

A customer and a cat meet and greet at a Japanese cat cafe. By: Michael Turtle, Time Travel Turtle, used with permission.
A customer and a cat meet and greet at a Japanese cat cafe. Photos by: Michael Turtle, Time Travel Turtle, used with permission.

Countries ranging from Japan and South Korea to Hungary have them, and now London is getting one soon.

Are cat cafes the next trend coming to the United States?

What Is a Cat Cafe?

Just as the name suggests, these cafes serve coffees, assorted drinks, pastries, snacks or other consumables. But unlike other cafes, the staff may meow occasionally, as cats roam freely inside.

Much like renting a pet, people pay a surcharge to spend time with the cats. Rules may vary from cafe to cafe, but visitors are strongly encouraged not to wake sleeping cats or force cats to play when they are en route to another spot in the cafe.

Other restaurants and businesses have opened their doors to customers bringing their cats for lunch, dinner or shopping, but in the cat cafes, the cats are the business owners’ pets and live at the site.

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Cat cafes have grown in popularity in larger cities overseas, where owning a pet is either impossible because of work schedules, small living spaces or restrictions placed on residences. After paying a fee, people can visit the cafes and spend time petting and playing with cats.

And with more than 100 cat cafes reportedly in Tokyo, there are plenty to choose from at various hours of the day and night. Many fans report the cats sleeping in the daytime, so more people frequent the cafes in the evenings. It sure gives the neko nightlife an interesting twist (“neko” is the Japanese word for cat).

Watch these folks interact with some of the feline staff at a cat cafe in Japan:

The cat cafe concept began in Taiwan in 1998. Osaka, Japan followed shortly after, and the trend kept growing. Cat cafes have spread to Tokyo, Budapest, Seoul and Vienna — the latest one, Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, will open in London soon as a result of a crowdsourcing project.

Kitty Times and Rates

Each cafe has its own menu, so time with the cats and the cost will vary. Some cafes charge more for their drinks and snacks while allowing free roaming among the felines while others price play time out separately. There may be additional items for sale or rent, such as cat treats and toys.

A common price found in some Japanese cat cafes is around $12 for 30 minutes of kitty time. This includes a drink and can be extended if you want to stay longer. The optional treats and toys run between $1 to $2, depending on the item.

Cats abound in this Japanese cat cafe. By: Michael Turtle, Time Travel Turtle, used with permission.
Cats abound in this Japanese cat cafe.

Breeds Versus Strays

Every cafe has different assortments of cats. While some proudly boast about their shelter cats that are given a new lease on life, others take pride in showing various breeds of purebred cats. The London cafe (slated to open in May) will feature shelter cats; some international cafes feature a variety of purebreds and mixed breeds, like Cat Cafe Nekorobi. Their website shows pictures of the cats with additional information on their breeds and temperaments.

Other cat cafes offer a binder, chock-full of information about their kitties (helpful if you want to stay away from a cat that bites, although most should be friendly). The cafe owners decide on the cats they house, so if you’re looking for something specific, view their website or call before heading over.

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What’s Wrong With a Cat Cafe?

Several things, according to animal activists. The main concerns expressed by people opposing cat cafes include mishandling of the cats, stress on the cats by interacting with so many people and the lack of monitoring the cats’ food intake, as customers can freely feed them if they pay for food and treats.

Some cafes provide higher platforms or cat doors to other rooms to allow the felines to retreat when needed, but not all offer these amenities. Most cafes will instruct customers to not pick up the cats, but a lack of monitoring can lead to injuries.

Customers feel differently for many reasons. A majority of customers stop by in the evening after work as a way to de-stress. Others, such as ex-pat Ginnymk, commented that the cafes are also about time, money and saving pets from shelters: “They are a wonderful way to spend time with a cat when you do not have the time or money to have one of your own. This also helps reduce the number of people getting an animal and dumping it when the cuteness and newness wears off.”

Would you support or oppose cat cafes in your area?

Kristine Lacoste

View posts by Kristine Lacoste
Kristine Lacoste, editor in chief of Petful, is an author, poet and pet lover from Louisiana. She is the author of an award-nominated book, One Unforgettable Journey, and was host of a weekly pet news segment on the National K-9 Academy Radio Show. She was the New Orleans coordinator for Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit that helps military members and their pets, for 3 years. She is also employed as chief operating officer for a large mental health practice in Louisiana. Kristine has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Business Administration degree.

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