Imagine you walk into the bar and you order a beer. Something brushes up against your leg. You hear a meow. No, you’re not in Mardi Gras. You are in one of many cat cafés around the world.

Yes, this is a real thing. Cat cafés are magical places where you can enjoy your lunch or coffee with furry friends surrounding you.

Before we talk about the glory of the cat café, let’s first dive into how today’s culture made such a business viable.

By 1DEurovisionGag. Own work. CC BY-SA 4.0, Link
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How the pet industry grew to the $100 billion behemoth it is today

The pet industry has grown by a whopping 11.6% year over year. For comparison, in 2009, the pet industry was just $45.4 billion. The projections for 2021, on the other hand, put this industry at $109.6 billion.

Who is leading the pack in monetary contributions? The United States, with 2 in every 3 American households having at least one pet. To put that into perspective, that’s the size of Turkey – the 17th largest country in the world by population.

The rise of millennial buying power & pets on social media 

As of 2019, Millennials have officially overtaken Boomers as America’s largest generation. What does that have to do with the pet industry? That’s a whole lot of new income that can be funneled directly into their furry friends; namely, pet pampering.

YPluse’s survey found that half of 16 to 34-year-old pet owners say that pampering their pets makes them happy. And this lines up perfectly with the fact that pet care has grown at an annualized rate of 4.3%, totaling $9.2 billion from 2015-2020.

If you own a pet, you know it takes a lot more than free belly rubs to keep your furbaby in peak shape. We love our pets and want the best for them, but they sure can become expensive additions to the family (albeit perfect Instagram subjects). 

So how do Millennials go about growing and caring for their furry families? Why, the internet, of course. A quick search on Google Trends shows a sharp uptick in the interest of cats and dogs. Both search terms roughly doubled in popularity between 2004 and 2020.

Think about this for a moment. How many times have you searched for pet stuff, pet food, pet influencers (we’ll get to them later) since you got a pet? I bet you the box of Milk-Bones that it’s increased significantly. 

Data from Google Trends. Whether you filter by “United States” or “Worldwide”, you see similar results.
Rise of Pet Parenthood

That’s right – we’re going to start having pets instead of babies!

You might scoff at this notion, but an interesting discovery happened in Taiwan in 2020 where the pet population outnumbered children 14 or younger. This change in ranking is more than likely due to the decline in birth rates in the country. But even American birth rates have fallen 4%, so don’t be surprised when you see pets in strollers, being pampered and looked after. Perhaps furbabies really are the new human babies? 

As you can see the rise of the industry has had a meteoric rise. With the pet industry at such a high point, and constantly growing with Millennials pampering their pets, it was only a matter of time before the cats got their spotlight. And that started, as many things do these days, with internet memes.

How a Cheeseburger and Grumpy Cat catapulted cat culture

The cat industry boomed with the internet. There is zero doubt about that. It is almost impossible to go a day without seeing a cute animal on your social media feeds. After all, no longer are social media influencers required to be human!

In 2020, the top 10 pet influencers amassed a total of 35.9 million followers, which is roughly the population of Canada. I personally only had heard of only one of these influencers, but let us know if you follow any of them.

But we need to go back in time to where cats took their place, the year 2007. This was the year that I can haz cheeseburger’s fluffy paws took over the internet with the image below. This website spawned the origin of cat memes and doomed us all for many years to come. 

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Back in 2007, YouTube was the social media platform to be on (also, Instagram didn’t exist yet) so some might go so far as to say it was the birthplace of feline fame. After all, 2008 brought us the Mean Kitty Song by Cory Williams (which you can watch in its glorious 240P, you’re welcome).

Sparta’s viral sensation tune has been on the internet for 13 years and amassed 91 million views. Yea, that’s 2.5 times more than the combined follower count of the entire top 10 Instagram Pet-Influencers. However greatness cannot live forever, as Sparta did move on to greener catnip pastures last year, but we will always have Mean Kitty. 

Another iconic cat celebrity is none other than Tardar Sauce. You probably know her by her celebrity name, Grumpy Cat. Tardar Sauce’s underbite and feline dwarfism hid her sweet demeanor with a look that could…well…judge you to your very core.

When owner Tabatha Bundesen posted a photo of her very grumpy-looking cat on Reddit, the internet world went wild. As of August 23, 2020, Grumpy Cat had 8.3 million total likes on Facebook, 2.6 million followers on Instagram, 1.5 million followers on Twitter, and 283,000 subscribers on YouTube. That is social media alone.

During Grumpy Cat’s 7 glorious years on earth, she managed to outrank Elon Musk at South by Southwest Interactive, star in a Honey Nut Cheerios TV commercial, and steal the hearts of celebrities and normies alike. But don’t worry, I’m sure she’s staying true to her brand and remaining grumpy in the sky. 

As you can see from the boom of cat memes in 2007 to social media superstar Grumpy Cat, people love animals and can’t go a day without seeing their fluffy friends (regardless if they’ve ever actually met). Pets have truly become a core component of our culture and lives.

One Small Step For Meowkind One Giant Leap into Cat Cafés

So if Americans are the leading contributors to the pet industry, then clearly they had to be the ones that started the first cat café, right? Well, actually, no.

The first cat café opened 25 years ago in none other than Taiwan, 1998, and it is still running all these years later. Tourist Tip: if you decide to pay them a visit, then you should brush up on your Taiwanese as their website has no English. Taiwan is definitely a cat lover’s catnip as they even have an island completely dedicated to cats called Houtong (for those who need something more than a cat café).

The First American Cat Café

Seven years after I can haz cheeseburger and 4 years after the creation of Instagram in 2010, Oakland Cat Town launched the first cat café in the United States. Founder Ann Dunn opened up the café with a mission, from their website:

Cat Town’s mission is to transform the approach to saving shelter cats, reducing euthanasia nationwide. Our focus is to find great homes for cats who are considered unadoptable in the traditional rescue model.

And according to meowaround.com, there are 141 cat cafés in the United States; their website has a great system to show you if you can adopt the cats, have food or have some drinks with the cats.

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What’s the appeal and why do people go to them?

Anyone who has a pet and made the transition to work-from-home due to the pandemic knows the appeal of a furry coworker. But for those unfortunate people who are unable to own a pet (renting, finances) – the cat café is a great middle ground.

We all know that work can get you stressed, with the boss sending you deadlines and the phone ringing nonstop. Well, the solution is to work or take a break in a cat café. According to the ADAA, the pet effect relieves stress, anxiety, and depression.

A survey of 2000 people further backs up the pet effect. Seventy-four percent of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership. And it’s not just Millenials.

Eighty-three percent of surveyed Baby Boomers and 82% of surveyed Silent Generation members (born 1925-1944) reported more personal experience with mental health improvements from pets than Millennials (62%). 

Not only do places like cat cafés help with our stress, anxiety, and depression, but they are a great out-of-the-box place for meetings! Is there anything better to reduce your anxiety while improving work relationships when you’re got a furry little creature purring away on your lap?

That’s what I thought. But if your boss isn’t so keen on relocating your weekly team meeting, try instilling “bring your pet to work day” as a daily corporate policy. 

Finally, without any need for statistics, they are a place to not feel lonely in this world. A lot of us suffer from a lack of friends, exposure to constant political tension, school troubles, and other mental health issues. Animals and these cat cafés help with that.

Consider going to your local cat café the next time you’re feeling down. There are some that even act as a large foster home/adoption center for local shelters, such as our own local Chattanoogan café, Naughty Cat Café

Beyond Cats: The Exotic Cafes

The appeal of cats meant only one thing – an expansion on what other animals we can pair with a café. That has led to exotic animal cafés, a space to eat and drink with otters, raccoons, and more. While these sound exciting at first, they are, in practice, a perfect example of how too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.

To put it lightly, exotic animal cafés are ethical question marks.

Scientific American researchers did online keyword searches, using in 10 regions in Asia. Of the 406 shops they turned up, 27 percent advertised having exotic animals encompassing 252 species of mammals, reptiles and birds. The IUCN classifies 234 of these as threatened—including potential threat from the wildlife trade—or as declining in wild populations.

Exotic animal cafes are increasingly home to threatened biodiversity

Now considering that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies 234 of these as threatened is concerning. If you read the whole study, then you would see it concluded that as the demand for wildlife increases, so too does the pressure on wild populations.

Of particular importance is understanding how cafés may influence the public’s desire and demand for exotic pets, as well as the drivers of café visitation and popularity including the choice of species housed. 

Exotic animal cafes are increasingly home to threatened biodiversity

I only mention this side of animal cafés to point out that while many animal cafés have positive motivations, such as increasing pet adoptions; others put profits first, such as for-profit exotic animal cafés.

Not all animal cafés are bad, domestic and exotic alike, but should you choose to visit one, make sure you research how they treat their animals. You may have seen this happy-looking video of a raccoon café in Seoul. However, doing one search on Tripadvisor has a long list of 1 star with some depressing reviews like “The most action within the entire enclosure was arguably the female staff watching videos on her phone or the obese corgi trying to eat dropped kibble.” 

Lessons learned from the meteoric rise of cat cafés 

The pet industry has had constant growth over the past 12 years, and I don’t see it coming to an end any time soon. People will always have pets in their lives. I expect America to continue to be the leading contributor to the pet industry, and perhaps even shift it from a 100 billion dollar industry to a 200 billion dollar industry within the next 10 years. Although if that happens, then I guess we’ll have to become a pet blog.

Animals are our best friends and our loyal companions. They have important jobs ranging from guiding the blind to guarding the vulnerable, to herding sheep or simply being a loveable family pet. And it is from this love and care for animals that we’ve seen the growth of adoption centers, shelters, and even cat cafés.

Despite the constant shifting of our environment, the appeal of these cat cafés will stand the test of time. We all need a furry friend in our life to keep us company when we’re feeling lonely. And these places are not just for us to feel good, but for cats to have luxury accommodation while waiting for their furever home.

And without a doubt, we will 100% keep filling up our social media with the cutest of cute animals. With the top 10 influencers amassing 35.9 million followers in total and with more pets constantly cropping up on the scene, there’s no way this industry – and the culture around it – are stopping. 

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