On a brisk morning this spring, Undine Frömming gently pushes a kayak through the backwaters of Germany. Her Maine Coon cat, Louis, is at the helm.
Frömming posted a Facebook video of their kayaking adventure, in which Frömming cleans up trash from the river while Louis looks on approvingly. More than 500,000 eager viewers from around the globe have watched this journey with Louis.
Louis is a “petfluencer.” In fact, Frömming’s cat is among a few creatures pushing sustainability on Instagram and Facebook with as much reach as a human influencer might push soft-lit interior design. He’s part of a growing movement of pets — and their humans — that are trying to promote animal welfare and save the environment, one no-filter selfie at a time.
“I was surprised about the reach that videos and photos about Louis can have on social media,” Frömming, a cultural anthropologist and environmental scientist, tells Inverse.
The rapid rise of “petfluencers”
Petfluencers, aka “pet influencers,” are technically humans who post pet-related content — photos and videos of their cats and dogs — on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook. Just as with regular influencers, every post is aimed at a specific audience and is designed to elicit a response.
The parallels with human influencers abound. An entire industry is rising around petfluencers, and firms tout their services to pet owners to help boost the views on their pet’s pics and even make them go viral.
“Social media has the power to bring everyone together for the common good.”
The algorithms that govern these social sites and apps are seemingly well aware of our endless desire for cat and dog pics. The most popular petfluencers have as many as, or even more than, 1 million followers on Instagram. Dogs generally do better metrics-wise than cats on Instagram. The ultimate petfluencer on that platform seems to be Pomeranian Spitz @jiffprom — the pooch has more than 10 million followers. For reference, supermodel Naomi Campbell has 10.6 million followers.
The majority of these petfluencers though are smaller-scale “microfluencers,” and they tend to command the attention of between 1,000 and 100,000 followers. The humans running the accounts tend to skew female, reflecting the larger, human trend of women dominating the influencer industry.
Pets turn a profit
Human influencers can turn a profit from their efforts, and pets can, too. Some owners receive money from brands in exchange for promoting pet-related products on social media. Perhaps through a picture or video of their cute animal friend eating a particular brand of chow, or modelling a quirky collar and harness get-up.
In 2020, the aforementioned pooch, @jiffprom, earned an average of £16,934 — about $23,900 U.S. dollars — per video on Tiktok. On that platform, the pup has a staggering 20 million-plus followers. (For context: influencer Logan Paul has 12.2 million TikTok followers.)
The amount of money petfluencers make can depend on a few factors:
- The platform they use (i.e., Instagram or TikTok, etc)
- The brand they work with
- The cost of content production
- The audience for each post (i.e., how many people view or click on the post)
- The number of followers (seemingly the most important factor)
According to blog HypeAuditor, pet influencers earn money on a sliding scale, with accounts in the lowest tier of 1,000 to 5,000 followers making anywhere between $10 and $60 per post. Meanwhile, accounts with more than a million followers have start rates of $2,500 per post.
If its videos you’re posting, then they don’t need to be very long, either. A 30-second TikTok video can net up to $4,000 by some reports’ measure. Humans can earn a serious side income, or even full-time living, from their pets.
A force for good
Some petfluencers are motivated by factors beyond making hard cash out of their cat’s frantic antics.
In 2017, TikTok launched a campaign to raise money for the U.K.-based pet nonprofit Blue Cross. TikTok asked users to post videos of their pets with the hashtag #PetBFF. For every 10,000 videos that UK TikTok users posted, the company donated £1 (about $1.35) to Blue Cross.
“TikTok is the perfect place to recruit the next generation of animal rescuers.”
“Social media is the easiest way to connect an animal in need with a community that can help it,” Julie DeCaro, who runs the popular @kittiesinthetwincities accounts on TikTok and Instagram, tells Inverse. “From monetary donations, to supplies, to sharing to help find adopters for special-needs pets, social media has the power to bring everyone together for the common good.”
For example, the Catskill Animal Sanctuary in New York, which rescues and rehabilitates farm animals, raises money by posting TikTok videos of rambunctious rabbits and other adorable fauna.
TikTok has become so helpful for certain causes that the ASPCA offers tips on how animal shelters can use the platform to their advantage, including instructions on how to take photos of animals from the best angles.
DeCaro, for her part, posts about her experiences as a foster cat mom and animal shelter volunteer on TikTok and Instagram. She began using Instagram in 2019 to connect with prospective pet owners.
“At the time I was fostering a senior cat who had a ridiculously grumpy (and adorable) face with a spicy personality to match; I just felt like she needed to be shared. But as I began to understand how to use it, it became a fun way for me to find potential adopters for my foster cats.”
She joined TikTok soon after and she has never looked back.
“Educational content is big on TikTok, so it’s the perfect place to recruit the next generation of animal rescuers,” DeCaro says.
But there’s perhaps one place where petfluencers are making the biggest impact: The fight to protect the environment.
Petfluencers can save the world
On Earth Day in 2020, the Oregon Zoo posted an evocative TikTok video of an elephant splashing underwater, set to Natalie Taylor’s song “Surrender.” The video garnered more than 4 million views and 800,000 likes.
That video’s viral success speaks to the way that digitally savvy content creators can tap into our desire to connect with and appreciate nature — through images of adorable animals.
Instagram account National Pet Paws — not officially affiliated with the National Park System — uses pictures of dogs to inspire us to have a greater appreciation for National Parks and monuments. A recent post, for example, educates viewers about Montezuma Castle, a national monument that holds cultural significance for Native Americans.
Other Instagram accounts, like You Did What With Your Wiener, also encourage responsible exploration of nature with your pup. Some outdoorsy petfluencers, like The Northwest Dog, also use their platform to champion diversity by promoting Black-owned pet businesses and animal rescues.
Switching to sustainable pet products is one of the easiest things pet owners can do to help out the environment. Cycle Dog is one such sustainable pet company that promotes its upcycled products through Instagram.
“By sharing posts of Earth-friendly products and highlighting the sustainable attributes and benefits of using better products, [it] builds awareness of the many alternatives people have when purchasing products for their pets,” Lanette Fidrych, one of the team members at Cycle Dog, tells Inverse.
Perhaps no one recognizes the power of pets to promote green causes more than Frömming, who has built a pro-environment social media platform around her cat, Louis. She describes him on her website as a “campaigner for environmental conservation.”
- Pesticide-free gardening
- Bee-friendly trees and plants
- “Slow” gardening
- The dangers of microplastics
- Respecting local wildlife
- Protecting wetlands and rivers
Frömming was initially surprised by the interest strangers took in Louis. But she quickly realized she had a prime opportunity on her hands.
Frömming explains how she “decided to use his channels to spread simple environmental messages about wildlife, wetlands conservation and climate change impacts to his international followers.”
Her experience has connected her to other environmental advocates around the world, she says, speaking to the power of petfluencers to create a unique community within the larger sustainability movement.
“It is very interesting for an environmental and social scientist to have the ability to interact and talk to a group of people from all over the world,” Frömming says. “The cats are our bonding.”