Before we start, I’m going to preface by saying I love Vietnam. This is my second time living here and Hoi An, and I honestly feel so lucky to be here. Vietnam is a beautiful country with great weather, lovely people, tasty food, and awesome beaches. The cost of living is fantastic for digital nomads, and I have a great quality of life here.
However, the longer I live in Vietnam the more I learn about something very culturally interesting (and disturbing): Vietnam’s cat (and dog) meat trade, and Vietnam’s view of cats in general.
I’m Not a Vegetarian So I Won’t Tell You What to Eat
Here’s the thing, I’m not a vegetarian, and I’m never going to tell people what they can and can’t eat (unless it’s endangered). To some cultures, eating pigs or cows is horrifying, but many of us eat them anyway. Other cultures survive off horse meat, which would upset most Americans. It’s the same with cats and dogs.
While I don’t have a big issue theoretically about the consumption of cats and dogs, what I do take issue with is animal cruelty, factory farms, and people STEALING PETS to eat them.
Also, the international affairs and anthropology major in me finds this all really culturally interesting, so I couldn’t help but share.
People Steal Cats and Dogs to Sell for Meat
I knew that some (emphasis on some) people in Vietnam ate cat and dog, but I had no idea that people actually STEAL pet cats and dogs in Hoi An to sell to meat vendors. There are so many posts on expat forums here from people who’ve had their dogs stolen from backyards or the beach. Jack’s Cat Cafe even has a massive wall around the property to keep the cats in and the thieves out.
While this is definitely a thing in Vietnam, especially in Hoi An, it’s important to note that many of the locals are just as upset about these pet thieves, and would never dream of eating cat or dog.
Stray Cats Are Bad Luck…
This is a new one I discovered, and I have to say it really shocked me. As many of you may know from Instagram and Facebook, Chris and I are now fostering 3 little kittens through Vietnam Cat Welfare and Jack’s Cat Cafe. We cleared everything with our landlord beforehand, however, when we brought the kittens home, our landlord double checked to make sure our kittens weren’t from the street, otherwise, they’d bring bad luck. Ummm… what?
Okay, so I’m going to start by saying our landlord is a young, cosmopolitan, Vietnamese businesswoman who speaks perfect English. So it definitely came as a bit of a shock when she said that stray kittens would bring bad luck, sort of like when my Chinese friend told me that shaving your underarms gives you breast cancer.
Now, I can understand if she was worried about fleas, worms, and other bugs, but no- she was worried about bad luck. Obviously, we didn’t want to lie to her, and technically they’re from Jack’s Cat Cafe… so… we’re good?
So Many Injured and Abandoned Kitties
While this was a big shock to us, it does sort of make sense. No one in Vietnam seems to really want to help stray cats or kittens, which is why you’ll often see them dumped or abandoned. My old foster cat Moggie was found as a kitten with a broken leg after being hit by a motorbike and was rescued by our friends’ Vietnamese landlord. However, his neighbor wasn’t a big fan and tried to convince the landlord to toss Moggie in a bag with some rocks and drop her in the ocean. Ouch.
I’m very glad this kind Vietnamese man decided against throwing her in the ocean because now she’s a very happy tripod kitty living with our friend in Danang. All it took was a solid month of diarrhea after some hefty worm medication and she was fine! (I’ve never cleaned up so much poop in my life. Now I know what having a baby is like.)
Eating Cats for Good Luck
This whole conversation made Chris and I really curious, so we did some research. Apparently stray cats in Vietnam are considered “unlucky” which is why some Vietnamese families will eat cat meat at the start of every month to ward off bad luck.
Stray cats are bad luck… so let’s eat them? I guess that makes sense.
Some Vietnamese people view cats as evil because of their power over bad luck. A Vietnamese cat butcher also told the interviewer that eating a cat’s spine will give you agility, while Vietnam Cat Welfare stated that cat urine drops into the ear has been prescribed for deafness and hearing problems.
I guess Vietnam is kind of like Ancient Egypt, except rather than worshiping cats, the Vietnamese culturally fear (and eat) them.
Vietnam’s Fight Against the Cat and Dog Meat Trade
Hanoi has been cracking down on the cat meat trade for a myriad of reasons. According to PAWS For Compassion, officials in Hanoi are “urging residents to stop eating dog meat as it could hurt the city’s reputation and lead to diseases like rabies. The Hanoi People’s Committee said the practice could tarnish the city’s image as a ‘civilised and modern capital.'”
While it’s great the government has begun cracking down on this, there are still over 1,000 cat and dog meat sellers in Hanoi alone. Many cultural practices have firm roots in society, and the cat and dog meat trade is no different.
Most People in Vietnam Don’t Eat Cats
I just want to reiterate that not everyone in Vietnam eats cats or dogs, and I’d probably venture to say that most people (especially in developed cities) do not torture or eat cats. However, this animosity towards cats is pretty prevalent here in Hoi An, which is why places like Vietnam Cat Welfare (also known as Jack’s Cat Cafe) have so much work to do.
Thankfully these places do exist (PAWS For Compassion in Danang is another great organization), and they are making a huge impact here in Central Vietnam. Vietnam Cat Welfare and Paws For Compassion have actually begun a process of educating locals on how to properly care for their cats and kittens with nutritious food and worm medication. PAWS for Compassion also works with children to teach them to be kind to animals and the environment.
However, there is still a TON of work to be done, and Jack’s still gets bags of kittens dumped on their doorstep every few days.
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Found tied up in a bag in the old town of Hoi An and brought to our gate. Look at Rory, Lady and Beanie today! Two days of hissing, two weeks of loving and now such beautiful girls These three are now looking for their forever home. Send us a message to meet them and see how cute they are.❤️
My little babies found in a bag in Old Town
What to Do If You Find Abandoned Kittens in Vietnam
Vietnam Cat Welfare actually has some incredible information about what to do if you find a stray kitten in Vietnam. But for the sake of having everything in one place, I’ll summarize it here.
If you find a stray kitten (or kittens) in Vietnam, first you need to decide if they need rescuing.
- Is it genuinely abandoned, or is there a chance its mom is still around somewhere getting food?
- Is it sick or injured?
- Does the kitten look healthy or malnourished?
- Is the kitten being abused?
- Does it have a home nearby? Ask around.
Overall, unless a kitten or cat is sick, injured, malnourished or being abused, it’s better to leave it be. If your kitten is truly abandoned and you know for SURE that the mother isn’t coming back (give it some space and time to see if the mother comes back with food), then you can take it.
That said, raising a kitten under three weeks old is extremely hard without its mother’s milk. If you see a very, very young kitten, do not take it unless you’re 100% sure that it is abandoned, and be prepared for the fact that your kitten may not survive. You can learn more about how to age a kitten here.
It’s important to remember that many Vietnamese people keep cats and kittens in their shops and restaurants, so there’s a chance that the kitten you just found actually belongs to someone! Please be sure to ask around before you take a person’s pet!
What to Do If Your Vietnamese Cat or Kitten Needs Rescuing
If you find a cat or kitten that obviously needs help, there are a few things you can do.
1. Is Your Cat Injured?
If you find a cat or kitten that has been hit by a motorbike or looks like it’s near death, you should take her to a local vet. Hoi An and Danang have a few really good places, but if you live somewhere else you can always ask on the local expat Facebook groups.
Veterinary care is actually pretty cheap in Vietnam, and many times people will often pitch in to help you pay for emergency medical care if you ask and provide photos. I’ve seen a few people pitch in to help someone pay for surgery for a cat who was hit by a motorbike. Some vets might even give you a discount or do it for free if the cat isn’t yours.
If your kitten is extremely sick and is not eating or drinking, you will definitely want to take them to the vet right away. Most cats and kittens in Vietnam have worms and need de-worming medication, but some are healthier than others. When we got Moggie, she was an absolute mess, and the worming medication gave her diarrhea for a few weeks (which meant taking her to the vet again).
2. Can You Care For the Kittens?
Many cat rescue programs are bursting with cats. I mean, Jack’s Cat Cafe has SEVENTY CATS AND KITTENS. So please don’t assume you can just drop your kittens there without asking. Jack’s keeps unvaccinated kittens in cages if they can’t find a foster home (this is why I’m fostering!), and they only have so many cages available.
If you can keep the cat or kittens for a month or two, I would recommend doing this while you work on getting them vaccinated. You can then work on posting around in expat groups to see if anyone wants to help you adopt. Many cat rescue places may also help you work to find homes for them as well, but they do have their hands a bit full with the cats and kittens they already have.
3. Contact Vietnam Cat Welfare (or a Local Equivalent)
If you really need help, you can always contact your local cat shelter. Let’s say you just don’t have the money for the medical treatment, or you are in a guesthouse and have nowhere to keep them, this would be a good time to reach out for help. Even if these shelters don’t have room, they might know of someone who can help you, or they can set the kittens up with a foster family.
Just please do not drop off cats or kittens without asking because these places may not have room right away for an unvaccinated animal. The fastest way to get in touch is through Facebook at Jack’s Cat Cafe.
How to Help Vietnam’s Stray Cats
If you’re like me and you have the biggest softest spot in your heart for cats and kittens, reading this article probably makes you want to help. Well, thankfully there are a TON of ways you can help Vietnam’s cats and kittens!
1. Adopt a New Forever Friend!
The #1 best way to help the stray cats and kittens in Vietnam is to adopt one (or several). This is only ideal if you plan to keep your new fluffball forever. This means you either plan on staying in Vietnam forever, or you are prepared for the process of bringing a cat with you when you leave Vietnam.
Vietnam Cat Welfare has a ton of cats and kittens that need adoption, so you can always contact them. Meanwhile, PAWS For Compassion has a list of available kitties here.
2. Foster a Kitten in Vietnam
If you aren’t stable enough to adopt your own cat or kitten in Vietnam, you can always help out by fostering. At Vietnam Cat Welfare, they’re always looking for new fosters. If you want to foster, you’ll need to be available for at least 2 months. You’ll be responsible for food, toys and looking after the kittens, along with taking them to the vet for their vaccines. However, Vietnam Cat Welfare will pay for their medical treatment and vaccinations.
While fostering, you will also need to take tons of photos of your kittens (not a problem for me, obviously) and report back to Vietnam Cat Welfare about their personalities so they can help get your kittens adopted. You should also do your part to help look for someone to adopt them too!
PS- If anyone in Vietnam wants to adopt Rory, Beanie, or Lady please let me know!
3. Volunteer and Jack’s Cat Cafe
Vietnam Cat Welfare/ Jack’s Cat Cafe in Hoi An and PAWS for Compassion in Danang are always looking for new volunteers. If you plan to be in the area for a few weeks (at least 3 weeks in the case of Hoi An), you can volunteer full or part-time!
I chatted with the owner of Vietnam Cat Welfare/ Jack’s Cat Cafe and she said that full-time volunteers will be given a free place to stay if it’s available, otherwise, they’ll work to find you a room in a nice guesthouse for a very steep discount (we’re talking $5 a night).
Volunteers will help feed and care for the cats, work in the cat cafe, and can also help with social media and outreach. Jack’s has a very active Facebook and Instagram, and they’ve even been working on local outreach in the Hoi An community to educate people on how to care for cats and kittens.
If you really want to have a meaningful experience while traveling, I highly suggest volunteering full time with Jack’s Cat Cafe or PAWS For Compassion in Danang. If you live in Hoi An or Danang and want to volunteer a few days a week, both are open to part-time long-term volunteers too!
4. Donate Money For Food and Vaccines!
If you don’t live in Vietnam or can’t help in person, Vietnam Cat Welfare and Paws For Compassion are always looking for donations of food or money. A donation of just $10 feeds one cat for an entire month, while $30 would cover all the costs of deworming and vaccinations for a single kitten. (I told you Vietnam is crazy cheap!)
PAWS for Compassion also suggests holding a fundraiser for the cats in Vietnam! This can be done by running a marathon, holding a bake sale, including it as part of your wedding registry, or asking for donations as a birthday present.
Jack’s Cat Cafe recently featured a young girl who asked for donations as a birthday gift!
Things Are Changing Slowly But Surely in Vietnam
While the treatment of stray cats in Vietnam sure isn’t ideal, things are changing slowly but surely with the help of organizations like Vietnam Cat Welfare and PAWS for Compassion. The government is now cracking down on the cat and dog meat trade, which will also hopefully lower the theft of household pets.
Many locals are also slowly coming around to the idea of cats and kittens. I know so many Vietnamese people who welcome stay kittens into their homes and restaurants and take great care of them. From Taco Ngon’s little kitten to our maid who took in a batch of stray kittens last year.
For now, the best thing we can do is educate, adopt, and donate, whether its time or money. Hopefully, we can start making these kittens a little more ‘lucky’ one rescue mission at a time.