Ethics of Animal Cafes and the Rise of Cruelty-free Animal Cafes
Leina Pham-The (Matsuoka)

Have you ever wished for a magical place where you can bond with pet animals? Somewhere you can both relax and have a therapeutic experience with furry friends? Well, if that is the case, animal cafés are your answer. From owls and hedgehogs to capibaras, micropigs, dogs and cats—list any animals you can think of, and you will (probably) find an animal café dedicated to that animal—and of course, drink coffee at the same time. But paws for a minute: are animal cafés really ethical? Is it really a place full of adorable pets or a place full of exploited animals? Discover the dark side of animal cafes through this article. 

Have you ever wished for a magical place where you can bond with pet animals? Somewhere you can both relax and have a therapeutic experience with furry friends? Well, if that is the case, animal cafés are your answer. From owls and hedgehogs to capibaras, micropigs, dogs and cats—list any animals you can think of, and you will (probably) find an animal café dedicated to that animal—and of course, drink coffee at the same time. But paws for a minute: are animal cafés really ethical? Is it really a place full of adorable pets or a place full of exploited animals? Discover the dark side of animal cafes through this article. 

Although animal cafes may be a popular concept to several individuals, there are multiple problems with these places that are ethically wrong, for both animals and humans. Firstly, several animals including wild ones such as owls, rabbits, hedgehogs, etc are being exploited in an environment where they are not used. Even though animals like dogs and cats can adapt to animal cafes, it is difficult for wild animals to adapt, as the environment itself is not suitable for them. Furthermore, wild animals require several small yet important requirements addressing their diet and habitat. For instance, hedgehogs require a high-protein and low-fat diet, a warm and dry environment, a hiding place, and exercise space. Another example is owls, which require a lot of space so they can fly and exercise their wings, a diet of fresh meat and clean water, as well as a quiet and calm environment that avoids stress. Secondly, because animal cafes are usually cramped places so that customers can interact closely with animals, the environment can be stressful, especially for animals who are not used to humans. Also, since animals have sensitive ears, the noise levels in animal cafes can be highly stressful for animals too. There are some cafes in Japan where people show animals’ resting time as entertainment as well, which does not give them enough time to relax. Moreover, most wild animals are usually active during the night, and since the artificial light confuses the animals, their sleep patterns get affected, creating a stressful environment for animals. Finally, animals can hold a variety of diseases, which can be transmitted to both other animals and us humans. Since there is close contact between humans and animals in animal cafes, there can be several transmissions of diseases including the flu, coronavirus, bacterial infections, etc. 

While many animal cafes are ethically questionable, there are many cafes and shopowners who take a different approach that puts animals’ welfare into priority. Here are some of the cafes around Tokyo you can go to enjoy the company of animals without having to worry about ethical issues: 

1. Rescue Cat Cafe Meoow!  

Image credit: (animal cafes.com)

Rescue Cat Cafe Meoow! is a cat café located in the Shinagawa ward, where the shopowner provides a shelter for stray cats especially those with disabilities. Another pawsome fact is that all cats in the cafe are up for adoption, which customers can contribute to creating a safe environment for the cats. If customers are just visiting to interact with the cats, the shopowner ensures that cats are not forced to engage with customers and provides the cats hiding places when they feel uncomfortable or tired. 

2. Tokyo Snake Center

Image credit: (shibukei.com)


When hearing the word “snakes” you might think of giant, venomous snakes with slithering tongues. But do not fret—Tokyo’s first pet cafe for snakes offers a unique bonding experience with snakes and gets you off the hook from worrying about the mistreatment of the animals. Tokyo Snake Island prioritizes the animals’ health by making sure that snakes are not displayed every day so that each snake get a turn to rest. Furthermore, the cafe meets the condition of snakes’ usual habitat, such as the temperature. 

3. Hogoneko Rafu Space 

Image credit: (hogoneko-chofu.jimdosite.com)

Hogoneko Rafu Space is a space founded by a Japanese organization called the “Animal Protection Information Center” (保護犬猫情報発信センター) that rescues neglected cats who have been mistreated in numerous occasions, such as cats who were exploited for animal testing, or breeding. To ensure the boundary between the cats and visitors is maintained, they ask visitors to acknowledge strict guidelines, as well as sanitation protocols to establish a clean environment for the cats. Although everyone can enter the space without charge, Hogoneko Rafu Space encourages visitors to donate money ranging from ~1000 yen per hour, which is all used for funding neglected cats and dogs. Like Rescue Cat Cafe Meeow!, all cats are available for adoption. 

While more animal cafes that prioritize animal welfare and ensure that their practices are ethical and sustainable are becoming prevalent in the Tokyo area, we can tell straight away that cruelty-free cafes ensure the health of animals first, rather than profit from the examples above. All in all, even though animal cafes may be wonderful places where we can bond with animals, there are several unethical factors that must be addressed: exploitation, unsuitable environments, and diseases. The above-mentioned factors are just some of the many reasons that need to be taken into consideration. But most importantly, what can you do to ensure that animals are treated ethically in cafes? Here are some things you can check to determine whether the cafes are exploiting animals for their own financial benefit: 

  1. Are there hiding places for animals so that they can rest? 
  2. Are shop owners forcing animals to interact with customers? 
  3. Are there strict guidelines for customers when interacting with animals? If so, are people following them? 
  4. Are visitors asked to sanitize their hands before entering? 
  5. Are visitors asked to wear socks when entering? 
  6. Are visitors asked to wear gloves when interacting with animals? 
  7. Ask the owners how they ensure animals’ health. 
  8. Ask them about the conditions of the environment the animal need in order to live. Are they being met in the cafe (e.g. Are the lighting too bright for them? Is the room temperature right for them?)  
  9. Ask them if the animals are nocturnal (active in night time)  or diurnal (active in the daytime). Are they forced to be active during the time when they are not usually active? 


Furthermore, this 5-point framework made by the Japanese Ministry of Environment can be used in order to ensure a safe and comfortable living environment for animals. 

  1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst 
  2. Freedom from Pain, injury or disease
  3. Freedom from Discomfort 
  4. Freedom for behaving normally 
  5. Freedom from Fear and Distress 

Image credit: (@kankyo_Jpn on Twitter) 

If you also want more insights into this topic and an exhaustive list in the Tokyo area that is animal cruelty-free cafes, check out these resources below! 

Questioning if animal cafes are ethical 

Ethical animal cafes 


 Works cited page

Animal Cafes. "Meooow!: Shinagawa-ku." Animal Cafes. 3 Jan. 2020. Web. 17 Apr. 2023. 
<https://animalcafes.com/v/25672.html>

Baggett, Aaron. “Why You Shouldn’t Go to an Animal Cafe in Japan.” GaijinPot Blog, 6 May 2020, 
blog.gaijinpot.com/why-you-shouldnt-go-to-an-animal-cafe-in-japan/. Accessed 16 Apr. 2023.

Carey Finn. "Animal Cafes in Tokyo: Cruelty-Free Options | Tokyo Cheapo." Tokyo Cheapo. Tokyo Cheapo, 
n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2023. 
<https://tokyocheapo.com/entertainment/animal-cafes-in-tokyo-alternatives/> 

Hogoneko-chofu. "施設のご利用について | hogoneko-chofu." hogoneko-chofu. n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2023. 
<https://hogoneko-chofu.jimdosite.com/%E6%96%BD%E8%A8%AD%E3%81%AE%E3%81%94
%E5%88%A9%E7%94%A8%E3%81%AB%E3%81%A4%E3%81%84%E3%81%A6/>

Miko F. “The Ethics of Animal Cafes in Tokyo.” The International, 2020, 
isshinternational.org/5943/features/the-ethics-of-animal-cafes-in-tokyo/. Accessed 16 Apr. 2023. 

Stacia. "Are Animal Cafés Ethical? A Guide to Choosing the Best Café." Stumble Safari. 16 Sept. 2022. 
Web. 17 Apr. 2023. 
<https://stumblesafari.com/animal-cafes-a-guide-to-choosing-an-ethical-cafe-to-visit/>

Twitter. "環境省 on Twitter." Twitter. n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2023. 
<https://twitter.com/Kankyo_Jpn/status/907893415731273728> 

シブヤ経済新聞. "東京スネークセンター." シブヤ経済新聞. n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2023. 
<https://www.shibukei.com/photoflash/4369/>

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