HANGZHOU - Zhou Shuaibo loves sniffing his orange tabby cat and spends hours playing with it every day.
Burying his face in the fluffy body of his cat and inhaling deeply while stroking its tummy, Zhou is one of China’s many "cat sniffers," a term coined for those who obsessively smell and cuddle their cats, often multiple times a day, Xinhua reported.
As a veteran cat sniffer, if I don’t get my fix I feel absolutely terrible.I have a serious cat addiction, says another cat-lover on Zhihu, China’s version of Quora.
From clothes to mobile phone covers designed with cat pictures, Zhou’s life is all about cats.
My wife and I are not ready to have a child, so we give all our love to our cat, says Zhou, 30, who works for a film company in east China’s Zhejiang province.
He added that he will buy anything related to cats.
My cat has supreme status at home, Zhou says.
In addition to raising a real cat at home, Zhou also pores over photographs and videos of cats shared by other cat owners online.
According to Xinhua, the online phenomenon is known as "cloud cats", where avid cat fans constantly check their social media throughout the day.
Sometimes their passion is so strong that they even come to see other people’s cats as their own.
On Zhihu, there are about 180,000 followers of posts on cats, double the number of people who follow posts about dogs, Xinhua said.
Raising cats reflects a bigger trend in China, where it is a lifestyle that is heavily focused on China’s "empty nest youth", the term used to describe single or unmarried people who live alone in major cities.
Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao sold nearly 10 billion yuan (S$2.06 billion) of cat-related products in 2017, Xinhua said, citing a report released by Alibaba.
About 17,000 cat-related products are found on the website and some of those include cat food, clothes and accessories.
For example, more than 250,000 cat hair removal gloves were sold on Taobao last year.
Du Fang, who works in a financial firm in Shanghai, spends almost 10,000 yuan - about one-fifth of his monthly salary - on his American shorthair cat every month.
My cat eats salmon and vitamins every day, Du says.
A bag of cat food imported from Canada is 760 yuan, and the cat litter is made of tofu.
I do not care how much I spend.I want my cat to be happy, Du added.
According to Xinhua, Alibaba’s report said China’s youth were more willing to spend on novel products for their cats, such as automatic cat toilets and intelligent water dispensers.
The popularity of cats has even spilled over into cat-themed cafes.
The coffee may taste bad in these shops where many cats are raised, but they are popular among Chinese youth and have become good places to make friends, says Zhang Xuechen, who recently spent 15,000 yuan buying a cat.
China’s "empty nest youth" form a large part of the growing population obsessed with cats, many of whom, while working in China’s big cities far away from their families, find companionship in both virtual and real pets, Xinhua said.
For the time being at least, many youth have gone cat crazy.