Why do we love cats so much? It comes down to science, professor says

If it seems there are more cat photos appearing on your social media feeds lately, you’re probably not imagining it. With cat yoga, cat cafés and even a cat-themed city promotional campaign, you could say Edmonton’s gone a little cat crazy.

From cat cafés to yoga with cats, the feline frenzy is strong in Edmonton

"City of Cats" is what Edmonton is calling their recent cat-themed ad campaign, and that might not be too far off, considering the amount of cat-related events this summer. (Supplied)

If it seems more cat photos are appearing on your social media feeds lately, you're probably not imagining it.

Edmonton seems to have gone a little cat crazy.

Events like cat yoga, and coffee with cats, have many warming up to the idea of hanging out with feisty felines — and maybe even adopting one.

Dale Gienow manages the Edmonton Humane Society's education programs, including the popular Cats on Your Mats yoga classes.

"We get people pausing in the middle of their yoga session," said Gienow. "They're doing downward dog and a cat's sitting on top of their back or lying between their legs on the mat and rolling over, and they're petting that cat and totally forgetting about the yoga."

In using yoga to make friends with felines, it turns out the humane society might be on to something.

'People will look if there are cats'

University of Alberta psychology professor Connie Varnhagen said convincing people to like cats comes down to science — particularly a theory about associating something you already see in a positive light with something you're indifferent to.

"So you like yoga. You go to hot yoga, you go to whatever yoga, and there's cats there," Varnhagen said. "You go to yoga enough times and there's cats there enough times that you start to associate this great experience of yoga with cats."

And that can go both ways — those who love cats but aren't sure about yoga might learn to like yoga, if there are cats around.

For those not into yoga, the Edmonton Humane Society also hosts a paint night with, you guessed it, cats.

Earlier this summer, a sold-out pop-up cat cafe had participants warming up to purring kittens while sipping cups of hot brew.

Even the City of Edmonton has recognized the cat craze. It's latest video advertising downtown as a place to work and live features a grey cat named Winston, and some interesting facts — did you know Edmonton's downtown has 248 licensed cats living among 13,000 residents?

Mary Ann Debrinksi, director of urban renewal, said the city did its research about what would grab attention. It seems to have worked — the video has been viewed thousands of times online.

"It's basically people will look if there are cats," Debrinski said.

Cats are the stars of a recent City of Edmonton ad campaign. (Supplied)

Can't get enough of cats? Blame science

Winston, the star of that video, lives downtown with owner Charlotte Delaet.

She got him eight years ago, when he was a kitten. It's been a love affair ever since.

"He knows what time I come home at, so he'll be curled up by the door and usually goes and walks over to the carpet and expects to be petted or brushed," Delaet said. "So we usually go and do that, and he just chills out with me for a bit."

She said she has noticed the growing popularity of cats, and thinks it might be because cats are a "great companion" for an independent person.

Varnhagen said cats work well as "surrogate family members" as family composition changes over time.

But it all comes back to science, really.

"One idea is we're evolutionarily adapted to adore little round faces," Varnhagen said. "Through evolution, we're primed to like baby-like things. That's built right into our genetic material, our makeup.

"So what does a cat have? A little round face."

Winston the cat is a bit of a celebrity. He stars in a City of Edmonton ad campaign. (Roberta Bell/CBC)