Why We Can’t Stop Watching Cat Videos


Cat videos have become an internet phenomenon, with some estimates suggesting that cat-related content makes up anywhere from 5-10% of all content watched online. Their popularity seems to defy logic or reason. Why do these fuzzy felines entrance millions of viewers? What is it about cats that makes them the undisputed kings and queens of the internet? This article will explore the historical origins, psychological appeal, viral nature, and pop culture status of cat videos in an attempt to understand why they have taken over our screens.

Historical Origins

The first known cat video dates back to the 1890s, when Thomas Edison filmed two cats boxing as part of an experiment with early motion picture cameras. This 35mm short film called “The Boxing Cats”, also known as “Prof. Welton’s Boxing Cats”, is considered the very first cat video ever made according to historian Andrew Egan (https://historianandrew.medium.com/how-thomas-edison-made-the-worlds-first-ever-cat-video-2d7ebc219906). Edison was testing out his new Kinetograph camera and filmed the boxing cats at his Black Maria studio in New Jersey. The grainy black-and-white footage shows two cats squaring off inside a small boxing ring, controlled by strings.

Later, in the 1980s and 1990s, early cat videos began circulating on America Online and Usenet newsgroups as digital video started going mainstream. But cat videos didn’t truly take off in popularity until YouTube launched in 2005. YouTube provided an easy platform for sharing home cat videos, which could now reach a massive audience. Early viral cat videos like Keyboard Cat (2007) and Maru the Cat (2008) paved the way for the cat video phenomenon we know today.

Psychological Appeal

Cat videos appeal to us on a psychological level for several reasons. Watching cute, playful kittens activates our nurturing instincts and gives us a sense of joy. As social creatures, humans are drawn to baby animals since caring for offspring is an innate behavior (Source 1). Kittens and cats also exhibit childlike behaviors like curiosity, playfulness, and clumsiness that we find adorable.

Additionally, the relaxing, repetitive motions of felines grooming themselves or chasing toys has a calming effect on our minds. Studies show that watching cat videos lowers stress, anxiety, and depression by producing feel-good hormones like oxytocin and dopamine in our brains (Source 2). The soothing nature of observing cats in their natural state provides a sort of “digital pet therapy” that appeals to our basic need for relaxation and comfort.

Personality and Behavior

Cats often exhibit playful, affectionate, and curious behaviors that humans find highly amusing and entertaining to observe. For example, cats will playfully stalk, pounce, and chase after toys, reflecting their natural hunting instincts. Their attention becomes intensely focused when tracking and hunting prey, even if it is just a toy mouse or feather wand. According to nidirect.gov.uk, most cats are playful animals and enjoy socializing with people through play. Interactive play sessions allow cats to express their natural behaviors in a safe way.

Cats also show their affection for people through actions like rubbing, kneading, head-butting, and circling around owners’ feet. As described by The Spruce Pets, cats display happiness and love through purring, grooming behaviors, slow blinking, and bringing “gifts” like toys or prey. Their curious nature leads them to explore new objects and environments in amusing ways, poking their heads into bags and boxes. These endearing cat mannerisms and social behaviors provide entertainment and bonding opportunities for human caretakers.

Emotional Connection

Cat videos allow viewers to form emotional connections and bonds with the cats, fulfilling an innate human need for companionship and attachment (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10000229/). Watching cat videos activates the same neural regions associated with emotional engagement and empathy. This provides opportunities for social simulation and perspective-taking from an animal’s point of view. Simple behaviors and expressions of cats are easily recognizable and relatable to humans.

According to attachment theory, bonds don’t require physical proximity and can be facilitated through virtual interactions (https://petsofthehomeless.org/human-animal-bond-why-it-is-important-to-keep-pets-and-people-together/). Cat videos allow people to experience the human-animal bond and satisfy the basic need for interpersonal closeness. Just seeing images of cute cats stimulates the brain’s reward system and the “love hormone” oxytocin associated with bonding. This helps explain the intense draw people feel to cat videos.

Viral Potential

Cat videos have an innate viral potential thanks to their highly sharable nature. As the Fast Company article points out, cat videos often feature “relatable moments” that viewers want to share with others (https://www.fastcompany.com/1672967/why-cat-videos-rule-the-internet). The fact that cats frequently do silly, cute, or unexpected things makes their videos highly entertaining and worth passing on. Cat videos also lend themselves well to remixes and memes. Iconic images or scenes from popular cat videos are often repurposed with funny captions or incorporated into viral memes. For example, the ubiquitous “I Can Has Cheezburger?” meme originated from a funny photo of a cat that was shared online. The shareability and remixability of cat videos help them spread rapidly across the internet.

Pop Culture Status

Many cat videos and famous felines have reached celebrity status on the internet, gaining widespread fame and notoriety for their cute antics and hilarious memes. Cats like Lil Bub, Colonel Meow, and Grumpy Cat became instantly recognizable pop culture icons after their videos and images went viral online.

According to Time Magazine’s ranking of the most famous internet cats, Smudge the Cat tops the list for his viral “woman yelling at a cat” meme (Time). Lil Bub ranks second for her unique appearance and inspirational story of being a polydactyl cat surviving feline dwarfism. Other cats like Maru, famous for his love of boxes, and keyboard cat, known for “playing” music, also made the top 10 list.

These celebrity felines demonstrate the incredible influence a viral cat video can have. Millions of people have watched clips of Grumpy Cat scowling or Nyan Cat flying through space set to catchy music. The most popular cats end up starring in movies, TV shows, books, merchandise, and more. Their fame and pop culture status stems from the innate appeal and shareability of funny cat videos online.


Cat videos have spawned vibrant online communities where people who love cats can connect, share, and bond over their mutual interest. Sites like Yummypets, DogForum.com, and BarkleyAndPaws provide forums, social features, and content focused specifically around cat and pet lovers. These communities allow people to come together regardless of geography or demographics. Members can share stories, photos, videos, advice, and more about their beloved felines. The shared cat obsession fosters a sense of belonging. According to psychology, humans have a fundamental need for a sense of community and shared identity. Cat videos and online cat communities satisfy this need for connection for many people. Having a digital space to share in the joys, stresses, and quirks of feline companionship with a supportive group who understands can be tremendously rewarding. It validates and normalizes people’s passion for cats. The availability of these thriving cat-centric social spaces online has contributed to the popularity and spread of cat videos. They provide the infrastructure for cat video creators to find an enthusiastic audience, and for cat video viewers to share in the collective experience.

Marketing Potential

Cats have become an extremely popular tool for viral marketing and social media campaigns. Their cute and quirky nature makes them ideal for grabbing attention online. As this article discusses, companies like GoDaddy have used cats in ads to generate buzz and increase brand awareness. The article notes that “Our new campaign is inspired by that ‘against all odds faith.'” Cats can thus be used as a symbol of resilience and determination in marketing. Their wide appeal also helps increase the reach of campaigns. According to this analysis, memes and cat videos are “some of the most powerful tools” for viral marketing success. Companies can leverage the preexisting popularity of cat content to make their own ads and social posts go viral.


In summary, there are numerous compelling reasons behind why cat videos became immensely popular and remain a staple of internet culture today. From the psychological appeal of watching cute cats and their relatable personalities, to the emotional connections people form with their feline pets and online cat communities, cat videos clearly strike a chord with viewers. Their viral potential across social media platforms, integration into pop culture through memes and celebrity interest, and effectiveness for brands to connect with audiences have also fueled the rise of cat videos. Looking ahead, as long as cats continue to amuse and delight us with their antics, and technology allows us to easily capture and share moments with our furry friends, the future looks bright for cat videos continuing to capture our hearts.

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