Have a cute pet and a smartphone? You could potentially be sitting on a mountain of cash.

People around the world are turning their four-legged friends into social media stars – and cashing in on their online popularity with advertising partners and merchandise.

Nicole Lenhardt has collected 54,000 Instagram followers with the help of Milo, her fuzzy wolfhound, who helps her convert cuteness to cash.

Nicole Lenhardt looks for likes for posts of her wolfhound, Milo. The German influencer was able to quit her job thanks to Milo’s online popularity. (Photos: dpa)

With some help from advertising partners, Lenhardt has become so successful with her daily photos and videos on social media that she was recently able to quit her job.

The world of “petfluencers” includes not only adorable dogs and cats but even horses, bunnies, hedgehogs and insects, garnering millions of followers from around the world.

It might be a terrier with a new deworming treatment, a cute sleeping cat with a designer pet bed or a pug with organic treats. “People want to see something positive; they want a nice diversion,” says Jonas Wolf of Pulse, an influencer marketing agency in Hamburg. Instagram’s efforts to make sponsored posts more transparent has only further fueled the trend.

Famous dogs from across Germany descended on Cologne for the country’s first petfluencer awards in September 2019.

Influencers and agencies say if the animal is popular enough, it can be further monetized by using its image to sell books, stickers, phone covers and T-shirts.

You can imagine Lenhardt and Milo really living the way they are portrayed on Instagram, but some petfluencers make animal rights activists concerned.

“There’s a line when you’re humanizing animals, when you dress them up to laugh at them,” says veterinarian Moira Gerlach of the German Animal Welfare Federation. Inbred or ugly animals are sometimes especially successful on Instagram.

“These animals are suffering from protruding teeth or bulging eyes — they might not be able to breathe properly or chew normally.”

Ethical or not, the public’s demand for more cute and creepy pets on social media has created a hot market that funds an entire industry of agencies and consultants.

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