Cat cafés are bad for the cats in them because cats are still essentially unsuited to communal living and unsuited to living in the city where you’ll find cat cafés. The cat café is a mistake because it is a business built around a misunderstanding of the needs of the domestic cat of today who is still not fully domesticated. The domestic cat is on a journey of domestication which is yet to be completed whereas the dog was domesticated thousands of years before the cat and is therefore better suited to living with people in often overcrowded environments.
In short: the inherited presence of the wild cat ancestor in domestic cats makes him/her unsuited to cat café life.
These are the counter arguments to the positives associated with cat cafés which are springing up in major cities. There is a trend towards creating more of them.
The answer as to whether cats are suited or unsuited to cat café life depends on how sociable the domestic cat has become over the 9,500 since domestication. There are many multi-cat households in which the owner would probably report that their cats are very content. Does this point to the fact that cats have shed their desire for a solitary lifestyle, the lifestyle of their North African wildcat ancestor?
Also feral cats often live in colonies near food sources. They get along alright within a stable hierarchy. Once again this supports the view that domestic cats are able to be sociable because feral cats are closer to the wild cat. If they can get along in colonies surely domestic cats can too?
However, even the best cat experts, veterinarians and behaviourists (and even experienced cat lovers/caretakers) don’t fully understand what is going on in the head of the domestic cat. There is quite a lot of guesswork regarding domestic cat psychology. Cats don’t make it easy for us; they are good at presenting a normal face to the world. This is instinctive for survival. It can be hard to know if a cat is stressed and if stress is a contributing factor to illness.
Most ‘cat experts’ (how expert are cat experts?) concur that the domestic cat is not yet fully domesticated and we know that the African wildcat is solitary by nature so it seems that the truth lies between the two extremes.
Some individual domestic cats will be accepting and even like living in a group while others won’t. This is a case of individual domestic cat personality overcoming the inherent unsociability of cats.
Therefore cat cafés can work successfully for the cats who populate them provided the cats are chosen carefully and managed sensitively. There is a question mark over whether this actually happens.
An aspect of cat cafés that I have always liked is that they improve the public profile of the cat. Conversely, a doubt I have about them is that they are businesses at heart. They are not charities even if the cats are rescues from shelters.
It is doubtful if you can blend business with cat welfare. Excellent cat welfare can be expensive while business likes to keep overheads down to a minimum. Can cat cafés always provide the best cat care? Add that issue to the one mentioned in the first part of this article and the jury is still out on the success or otherwise of the cat café.
Photo by MsSaraKelly on Flickr under creative commons license.