Are cat cafés ethical?

The answer can be found by balancing and comparing the negatives of cat cafés in terms of cat welfare against the positives. The answer turns on cat welfare. It had nothing to do with the profitability of a cat café. It’s about whether it is ethical to build a business model using captive animals. And it depends!

Cat cafes are normally ethical

Cat cafes are normally ethical. Image: MikeB based on Pixabay ethics image by Rosy from Pixabay and a cat cafe image deemed to be in the public domain.


There’s quite a big discussion on this on the social media website. And when I think of this topic I think of the mantra of that very well-known animal advocacy organisation, PETA. They say that “ANIMALS ARE NOT OURS to experiment on, eat, wear, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way”. I agree with them.

They would disagree with cat cafés on the basis of their ethos as stated in that mantra. But perhaps they are flexible enough to realise that there are some benefits to cats at cat cafés.

It depends upon the cat café. Most of them work in association with cat and animal rescue organisations with the intention of presenting the cats at the café to paying customers in the hope and expectation that some of them will adopt a cat.

Cat cafés are cat rehoming organisations as well as straightforward cafés. They are involved in cat rescue by association.

That’s a big benefit which makes them ethical. But if a cat café does not seek to rehome rescue cats but simply adorn their business with purebred, decorative, cats then it is hard to deny the accusation that they are unethical.

This would be a minor abuse of domestic cats because they are being exploited and in the words of PETA “used for entertainment”.

Cat rescue shelters are pretty tough places for the rescue cats who live there for a while. Taking them out of there and into a cat café is beneficial to them. We don’t say that cat rescue shelters are unethical. If a cat café is beneficial in terms of health and welfare to a cat taken from a rescue center then it is impossible to describe that café as unethical in terms of animal welfare.

Another potential downside of cat cafés in terms of ethics is that they are forced to interact with a lot of strangers. This can be stressful. Although the same cats being residents of a cat shelter are also going to be stressed and perhaps more so because they are living in cages and also meeting strange people with plenty of noises.

In short, care cafés are better places than cat shelters provided they are rehomed at the café and well cared for.

It depends on how pure your objectives are. It might look uncomfortable to somebody with very pure objectives to see cats in a café surrounded by people. But you can’t, in this world, have objectives that are too pure. Everything is about compromise. You have to be pragmatic because there are too many competing interests.

On that basis, cat cafés are ethical on the balance of negatives and positives. But it does depend upon the individual café as mentioned and, in addition, the quality of care that they bestow upon the cats.

Precautions need to be taken to prevent a cat, for example, racing out onto the road via the front door. Cat cafés would seem to be slightly more dangerous places in terms of potential accidents for cats than cat shelters. Although cat shelters are very dangerous places because if they demonstrate, because of their stress, behaviour patterns which shelter workers deemed to be bad, they can end up being euthanised.

Conclusion: All in all, if a cat café seeks to rehome their rescue cats from an animal shelter and comply with all licences and have high standards of cat care, they are ethical. The last, highlighted, point is vital in this debate.

Please join the debate in a comment. I’d love to hear from visits on this.

La Maison du Chat closed after about 2 years

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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