Confined space bad for cats
Cats should not be put to work in interactive environments. Period.
Putting many cats in the same enclosed setting is detrimental to their mental well-being, let alone their physical health, say experts.
Says cat behaviourist Rebecca Ho, 29: "They are solitary by nature. Yes, they have adapted to our environment and are more tolerant to human contact and living with other cats. But the best form of interaction should be cat-initiated, which typically doesn't last long."
Ms Ho, who has 15 years of experience rescuing more than 1,000 street cats, says cats are naturally active at dawn and dusk, and spend 16 to 18 hours resting.
"The main attraction of cat cafes are obviously the cats. So this consideration isn't in place," she says.
Agreeing, veterinarian Frederic Chua of Allpets & Aqualife Clinic, 51, says: "Each cat needs its own space. It is, therefore, important to move them away from each other."
Cats also prefer familiarity.
"This explains why some pet cats go into hiding when people visit, and visiting new environments can be scary for them," adds Ms Ho.
On its part, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority, which licensed the four cat cafes here, says that it considers "the implications of animal welfare, animal health, public health and public safety in assessing animal exhibition licence applications".
There are caps on the number of animals, depending on the space of the business. Applicants need to show that the pets involved are properly housed, managed and handled in the premises; and they will not be stressed, it said.
It did not address how the situation at Cuddles Cat Cafe could have developed, but said it was not renewing the cafe's licence.
It did not address queries about whether the new-style cat therapy centres like the Cat Safari or Lion City Kitty were more appropriate.
The Cat Welfare Society, which is using space in Lion City Kitty to display some potential adoptee cats, and has allowed two cat cafes to advertise on its website, does not write off these businesses entirely - as long as they do thorough research, says its chief executive Joanne Ng.
She says the onus is on business owners to ensure the cats have their own territories and to mitigate stress. The owners should have a lengthy period to observe how their cats are interacting.
She also says the new "cat therapy" centres need observing as the concept is novel.
If it is true that the human observers are not allowed to approach the cats, "it does eliminate one source of stress, but other issues may arise".
Shorter hours and staff supervision could help manage these potential challenges, she said.