They have millions of followers. They have the cutest faces. And are they four-legged and furry?
That’s right, we are talking about influential pets.
From Grumpy Cat to Noodle the Pug (may he rest in peace), social media celebrity felines and other furry friends are commanding online audiences.
Why are they some of our favorite influencers to follow? We spoke to the human companions of some famous pets to find out why these unexpected celebs draw such a following, and it’s not just their boop-able snouts and hilarious personalities.
Why are we following so many cats and dogs?
- They don’t judge or make comparisons to the perfect, curated lives on many Instagram accounts.
- We are spending more time with our pets than in the last two decades. The American Time Use Survey shows that 20% of Americans reported spending time with pets in 2021.
- Studies have shown that watching pets virtually can have positive impacts.
Pet owners explain the popularity
Courtney Budzyn, mom to Tucker of the Instagram account @TuckerBudzyn, says she never expected her goofy golden retriever to make such an impact.
Since he started his Instagram in 2018, Tucker’s following has skyrocketed to more than 3.3 million and he is nominated for Influential Pet of the Year at this year’s American Influencer Awards after winning the category last year.
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What is the appeal of your puppies (Tucker’s son Todd also has his own page) and others online? Budzyn describes them as “therapy dogs on the move.”
“It really relieves people’s anxiety and depression. Some people have said that when they have a panic attack they go to watch Tucker’s videos and it really helps.”
Social media is full of toxic consumption and comparisons, especially with the perfect posts from human influencers. But with pets, there is no pressure.
“When you look at other people’s stuff, you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m not good enough.’ With a dog, you don’t feel that way. You just see them living their lives rolling around in the grass, feeling free and just being a happy dog.”
Chris Equali, human and voice behind corgi duo Hamilton and Olivia from @hammyandolivia, also nominated, started his fluff account in 2020 when the onset of the pandemic kept him at home. Now with 706,000 followers, he’s heard that fans love the pup account because he provided emotional support during a dark time, especially for those without pets.
Can watching pet videos make you happier?
“It allows people to escape. We can be the North Star for a lot of viewers (who) need to disconnect a bit from reality and just have a feel-good moment,” says Equali. “Whether they’re in front of you or you’re looking at them through a phone, pets are great catalysts for emotional support for a reason: they’re great at calming people down.”
Science agrees. Similar to how pets and emotional support animals can help/positively impact people in person, studies have shown that observing pets virtually can have a similar effect.
A 2020 study conducted by the University of Leeds in the UK found that looking at cute animals can contribute to positive mental health by reducing stress and anxiety. The study examined how watching images and videos of cute animals—kittens, puppies, and even quokkas and baby gorillas—for 30 minutes affects blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety.
In 2021, researchers from the Department of Psychology at Ryerson University in Toronto focused specifically on the impact of dog videos on stress. The results? Dog videos can decrease anxiety and increase happiness.
Pets can connect, raise awareness, and even advocate
For fans of Equali and Budzyn, the impact goes beyond the laughs as they both share stories they heard from fans about how their posts helped save lives.
Some pet influencers are not only the “goodest guy” but their humans are doing well too.
Lauren and Harrison Makofsky began sharing photos of their cute cat Maya who has a genetic abnormality in 2017 through the @meetmayacat account. His page (which now also includes dog brother Mordecai, who is deaf, and cat brother Dragon, who is paralyzed) is a community of 527,000 followers and counting.
The money they earn through social media goes to their nonprofit organization AllWorthy, which teaches kids (and adults!) to accept others’ differences.
“It’s been really cool to see how many people’s perspectives are changing or the conversations that took place in the comments. One person will now be like, ‘oh, what’s wrong with him?’ and someone else will say, ‘Hey, he’s actually super-abled. Here’s why.’ And it’s great to see that we’ve been able to help make that happen,” says Lauren.
Nominated for the Influential Pet of the Year category, the couple hopes to expand their impact with the help of their furry family, who have inspired others to adopt disabled animals and learn about disability through Maya’s children’s book.
“It’s been great to see that we can make a positive impact in the disability community,” says Lauren. “People all over the world are using her children’s book to teach kids about their disabled siblings or to teach kids with disabilities how being different is wonderful.”
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