What better way to retreat from the stresses of modern life than to cuddle up with a cuppa, a slice of cake and a warm, purring pet? The craze for cat cafés is taking the country by storm, and as the first one in Bristol is set to open its doors, we investigate the pros and cons for both the human guests and feline hosts.
Here at Food & Drink Guides HQ we love cats almost as much as we love food, so we were thrilled to hear that You&Meow, Bristol’s very first cat café, is opening this year. The long-awaited location is still a secret, but you can order vouchers from the online shop, including a Grand Opening VIP voucher allowing you to be among the first to step inside. As well as coffee and cake, You&Meow will be offering Zen-inspired meditation – accompanied by cats, of course.
The opening of You&Meow follows on from the success of other cat cafés around the UK, such as Kitty Café in Nottingham and Maison de Moggy in Edinburgh. The very first cat cafés appeared in Taiwan and Japan in the late 90s and early 2000s, when the benefits of pets for human health were already well documented. Scientific studies have found that spending time with furry friends can lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol, and that owning one can ward off allergies in children and help elderly people keep mobile.
Cat cafés are a great way for people who can’t or don’t own a pet to reap all of those benefits – and maybe even chat to some other cat-loving humans too. But what do the cats themselves get out of it?
Various animal welfare charities have raised fears that cat cafés may cause stress to the cats by keeping large numbers together in one place and allowing lots of different strangers to pet them. London has experimented with other kinds of animal eatery too, but its pop-up owl bar had to be relocated and then scaled down following a petition of nearly 30,000 signatures. There’s no doubt a reason why we don’t generally keep owls as pets, but cats, on the other hand, have been human companions for millennia. Café owners also argue that they know their animals well, only picking the most sociable to interact with guests, and would recognise any signs of unhappiness.
While the cafés have to adhere to national hygiene standards, at present they can set their own rules for animal welfare. You&Meow has house rules about how to behave around the cats, including no small children, no flash photography, no feeding the cats and no waking up sleeping cats. Many work closely with animal sanctuaries, helping find their moggies a good permanent home, and You&Meow is one of these, caring for cats from Holly Hedge Animal Sanctuary.
So it seems that the jury is still out on whether cat cafés are good or bad for cats, and, to throw in a feline pun, the questions over the cats’ wellbeing certainly give paws for thought. What’s certain is that we shall be following the fortunes of You&Meow through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
If you’re a dog devotee rather than a cat fan, then you’ll be delighted to hear that The Happiness of Hounds dog café will also be coming soon to London’s Shoreditch – watch this space.