It began, as most good ideas do, with a lot of wine.
My best friend, Aubree, had just made an Instagram for her blind cocker spaniel, William, and he — the dog, I mean — began commenting on my Instagram pictures. William had nearly four hundred followers at this point, which is more than my personal account has to this day. It was impressive how many people commented on his pictures, saying how cute he was and wishing him goodnight and all of the weird things people on the internet might do for a small, curly-haired dog (pictured below, evidence obvious).
It gave me an idea. Well, it plus the wine gave me an idea.
My girlfriend, Maddie, and I had recently adopted the cutest cat in the entire world. My Instagram had basically become an homage to Cowboy, our tiny tortoiseshell lady, and I was beginning to worry that my friends were getting tired of seeing her cute, checkerboard face forty times a day on my social media. I’m a worrier. It’s is what I do best.
And so, between drinking nearly an entirely bottle of wine and texting Aubree (“Just add like a thousand people, like a literal thousand animal accounts” she advised) I started @cowboy_kitten. I filled out the bio and promptly closed the app, a little embarrassed.
The next morning, after confessing to Maddie that I had made Cowboy an Instagram account, which she thought was hilarious, I gave her the password and we agreed on the first picture of Cowboy. Cowboy’s face was completely in shadow, but she was lying in her favorite sunny spot, our kitchen window. We slapped a few hashtags on it and called it good.
That was last October. We’ve updated her instagram nearly every day since, and as of writing this post, she had nearly 400 photos and over 3000 followers. Are we basically obsessed with our cat? Hell yes. But what we found on Instagram has proven to be worth any embarrassment I feel admitting I run mildly successful Instagram account for my cat.
There’s a huge, supportive, inclusive community of pet owners on Instagram. We comment on each other’s posts as our pets, and it’s fucking cute. People take it so seriously that they worry when we don’t post for a day. When Marriage Equality passed, people I’ve never met in real life genuinely congratulated us. When Cowboy was sick and at the vet, people offered support and advice.
So, if you want to start one for your own cat, dog, bunny, bird or lizard (yes, there are lizards), you should. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Brand Your Pet
You think Grumpy Cat would be as successful as she is if she was just portrayed as cute? Now, I know that Grumpy Cat didn’t brand herself, but this shows that when people can associate a certain type of behavior or look with your cat, they like it.
For example, Cowboy’s brand centers around her very unique markings on her face, which looks like a checkerboard, and her personality as mischievous, young, playful and sometimes cuddly. You know your pet best: figure out what makes them special and make sure to show this side to the Insta world.
Learn InstaPet Vocabulary & Use Pet Puns Always
There are certain things that all Instagram pet accounts say. For example, the most important day of the week is Caturday. Or when your cat curls up on the floor with their feet tucked in, it’s called a loaf or loafing. Shrimping is when your cat curls its head in and sticks its feet out, like a little shrimp. There’s a lot of silly little things like this that you’ll find. Don’t worry, you’ll learn. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Everypawdy is so nice.
There’s also certain things for each day of the week, like Tongue Out Tuesday. @OliverTaco, a popular cat account, branded Taco Tongue Tuesday, so some accounts do both. There’s not really politics regarding which you should do, though, don’t worry.
Engage With Other Accounts
Aubree gave me great advice to add a ton of accounts in the beginning. The trick is to actually add accounts you like and want to engage with. Don’t just follow hundreds of accounts of pets you’ll never look at. Go to their page, like a few photos, and add them. Many will follow back any pet account. I’m a snob and I only follow back pet accounts that like some of my photos first instead of just randomly following me for the numbers. So, add a bunch of accounts, and you’ll see your numbers go up pretty quickly for awhile as people add you back and you get more known in the community.
Cowboy follows nearly a thousand accounts, and I wish I could keep up with them even more than I do now, but a thousand is a lot, you know?
Commenting and Liking on other accounts is basically the whole point of the game. Go wild with the emojis. Pets really like heart emojis, you’ll notice.
When you follow someone and never comment or like their pictures, it’s called ghosting, and some intense Instagrammers notice this.
You can even download apps to keep up with who likes the most posts and all of that if that’s your cup of tea. I can’t speak to these, but some people post on Cowboy’s pictures mentioning we haven’t liked their posts in awhile (which I find a little too intense), so I’m sure they’re pretty popular.
Engage with the Community At Large
The cat community is really, really intense. It’s wonderful.
A lot of cat activity centers around @Daily_CATegory. Daily CATegory began when four cat friends (early supporters of Cowboy and the best three cat moms!) wanted to throw a fun weekend party online. This was early on in Cowboy’s Insta career, and Maddie and I basically had no clue what we were doing, but we joined #PAWpalooza regardless.
A virtual party just means you hashtag your posts with that specific tag, and then you look at other posts and comment on them. Does this sound weird out of context? Yes. But it also resulted in jokes about tunatinis and nip cookies and a lot of inside jokes, randomly enough. A lot of parties celebrate a certain animal’s birthday, so everyone makes posts about being at the beach or whatever with that animal. Sometimes they photoshop stuff, like Cowboy with lions. Sometimes it involves posing Cowboy in tissue paper for a Valentine’s Day theme. There is no shame in having thousands of pictures of your cat.
@Daily_CATegory also runs daily category contests that center around a theme, like “”#Aint_It_Furry” or “#MeowBadFurDay.” So, depending on the theme, you’d post a funny picture of your cat laughing or looking a little rough after a bath or something that fits with the tag. These are super fun and it’s hilarious to see what people come up with. I’m sure there are dog-versions of @Daily_CATegory, too.
Quick side note: @Daily_CATegory is also releasing a CATlendar later this year featuring the cream of the crop of the cat crowd and Cowboy is going to be in it, just so you know. All proceeds are going towards Best Friends LA. You can check out more info on that on their Tumblr.
Entering contests is also a fun way to engage with the community. The Cats of Instagram community is full of talented and kind people who want to give you things. For example, our friends @OliveAndRye (pictured below, and all over in the most amazing Instagram portraits you can imagine) have an amazing artist Mom who offers customized cat portraits in giveaways, and she also runs a shop where you can buy portraits and other goodies!
Hashtags Are Important
This may seem really silly, but what you hashtag your photo with matters almost as much as how good the photo is. I tag Cowboy’s with descriptors of her (#Tortoiseshell, #YoungCat, etc), groups of friends she has (#PeanutButterFootSisterhood, no joke), some politics (#PawProject, #AdoptDontShop, all that good stuff), and feature accounts (#PetBox, #CatsRequest, #Instacat, and, of course, #CatsOfInstagram). Also, as a total joke, I use #CowboysOfInstagram just to mess with all of the ten gallon hats on the internet.
Aubree says that #ILoveMyDog and #DogsofInstagram are two of the most popular hashtags that she uses, as well as #ILMyCockerSpaniel, which brings me to my next point.
Hashtags are also great for you to find other animals that you like. If you have an affinity for Lop Eared Bunnies, there’s a tag for that. What about three legged dogs? There’s a tag for that.
To learn what hashtags work best, I periodically go through photos of popular animals that are similar to your pet, and check out what they have.
A good trick for hashtags is to keep them copied into a note on your phone for easy copying and pasting. Pro tip: if you paste them into your own comment on your photo, it hides the hashtags but they still work.
Keep Up With It
I will admit to you that I check up on Cowboy’s account more than once a day. Sometimes way more than that. Sometimes I forget about it for a day and I legitimately feel guilty. I recommend posting once or twice a day to maintain followers.
I like to go through Cowboy’s close friends and check up on them and make sure I like all of their photos to show my support. When I explain that Cowboy has friends and a tight crew she runs in, I mean that. Like seriously, she has a Valentine named Sweep (pictured above with his adorable sister Teeny–also they now have a brand new kitten named Lukey, just so you know) and best friends and a Tortie crew and all of that stuff, it’s so silly and great. Having kitties who comment regularly on Cowboy’s posts makes me feel so special and loved I can’t even.
It’s easy to get sucked into the Instagram pet community because the community is full of inspiring people who love their animals like you love your animals. What started out as something a little embarrassing turned into something that honestly brightens my day and has been a huge stress reliever from my real world.
Let’s be honest, even if you don’t want to be as intense as I am about your pet’s Instagram, you’ll still have a wonderful community waiting for you whenever you want. And that’s the best part.
Also, let’s be real, it’s funny to comment on your real life friend’s comments with things your cat would say. Heart Eyes Cat Face Emoji, indeed.
This has been the one-hundred-thirty-sixth installment of Queer Your Tech with Fun, Autostraddle’s nerdy tech column. Not everything we cover is queer per se, but we talk about customizing this awesome technology you’ve got. Having it our way, expressing our appy selves just like we do with our identities. Here we can talk about anything from app recommendations to choosing a wireless printer to websites you have to bookmark to any other fun shit we can do with technology. Header by Rory Midhani.
Damn, I wish my cats were this photogenic. Cowboy is so cute I can’t even handle it right now!!
I feel this way on a daily basis and then I smoosh my face into her belly. She is not my biggest fan in these moments.
I guarantee you that your cats are super photogenic. It’s all about the angles/opportunities.
wow. this has been very enlightening and cute!
I need a pet so badly.
I agree: You do need a pet very badly. You should check out your local shelters, or if now isn’t the right time, you can always volunteer! Then you get all the snuggles and none of the hairballs in the middle of the night.
I follow cowboy religiously and like all her pictures.
If I could emoji heart reply as Cowboy to this, I would, Vivian.
<3 <3 <3
(But we're gonna have to settle for that!)
Gd I wish I could have a pet. But alas our building doesn’t allow them and I am allergic. But still! My girlfriend gave me the go-ahead today to name a someday cat “Lil Fluffers” and I just can’t even.
Oh no, it’s too bad you’re allergic! My girlfriend is also mildly allergic, and having a short hair cat makes a big difference.
You could always look into sphynx or rex cats when the time is right (though I recommend trying to adopt one instead of buying through a breeder since these cats are so novel that people tend to surrender them quite frequently after the novelty wears off). Then the name “Lil Fluffers” would be 20x more hilarious.
Thats the greatest name.
This is fantastic.
I have just sent it to my BFF whose Instagram is 80% pics of her cat.
Now she can level up in coolness appropriately with your help!
Thanks for writing this!
Like, seriously, I do not have a cat and I do not want a cat, but this was such an entertaining read and I am so fascinated by the existence of the Instagram cat community.
Happy Caturday! <3
Haha, thank you! I also had no idea the instagram cat community existed before making Cowboy’s account, either, and it’s pretty interesting!
I hope your friend makes an account for her cat so that her cat and my cat can be cat friends! Cats cats cats!
‘That seems so time consuming I don’t know if I could do it, but I love it and I am following Cowboy now – she’s so cute!’
I have a feeling she’ll give in eventually. :)
Hansen, the following is a sincere compliment, do not engage in any worrying. I just realized you put more effort into cowboys fan base than I do at my job.
When I play Cat Instagram, I play to win.
This is why the internet was invented. To share our blessed critters.
100% agree with you!
If I had a pet, I totally would get an Instagram for it.
Two of my favorite accounts are grown ups posing stuffed animals in cute ways, fwiw.
make one for your pet rock. Give it sunglasses. Use the sunglasses emoji a lot.
This is amazing and I’m so happy this article exists.
Aw, thank you for reading!
I am really inspired to make an Instagram for my girlfriends dog when they come home from camp at the end of the summer.
Do it and make that cute spotty face be Cowboy’s friend!
Macie likes cats a lot. She shows her love by trying to eat them. But an Instagram friendship is probably safe.
Girlfriend came home for the weekend and I made her read your article and she made @Macie_BarkBark an Instagram and she’s searching @Cowboy_kitten as we speak
I LOVE this article. Thank you Hansen and thank you Cowboy.
Awww thank YOU, Mey! Cowboy is the true hero here. And she knows it.
It sounds like the Cats of Instagram community is similar in awesomeness to the Rabbits of Instagram community. Not that I obsessively follow tons of rabbits on Instagram or anything. (A total lie, obvi.)
Rabbits on insta is one of my favorite communities! They’re SO cute!
i’m not really into cats (ahem) and i’m ambivalent re instagram but somehow i did end up following cowboy…
Cowboy as the one account you followed for awhile remains one of my favorite running jokes of all time.
This is intense, impressive, and yeah that checkerface is rad.
I was just weighing the pros and cons of starting an instagram for my cat this morning with my spouse. WHAT A PERFECT TIME FOR YOUR PIECE TO COME INTO MY LIFE. I think it’s a sign from the universe that I must act now.
P.S. Cowboy is adorable.
DO IT, oh my gosh, KaeLyn, can our cats be friends.
what if i started an instagram for the cats that live outside my building? what if??
I would totally follow a random cats I meet on the street account.
YASSSSS do ittttt
Aww, Cowboy is adorable. I am a huge cat person, so I will dust off my old Instagram account and get following. <3
I’m always delighted when I find out about neat little communities like this I didn’t know existed, ESPECIALLY when they pertain to cats. I’ve just been scrolling through Cowboy’s instagram and cooing insanely (OHMIGOSH THOSE CATS ARE ON A DATE!!!). I’m like seriously tempted to make an instagram for my fatcat Minnie. I HAVE DINKLY LITTLE COLLAGES PREMADE AND EVERYTHING.
Okay, actually, I don’t need my catpic addiction to be enabled. I’ll just continue looking at other people’s cats peeking through objects they aren’t supposed to be.
this is amazing and it needs to be on instagram for the world to delight in, okay?
Wow, I had no idea this sort of community existed, very cool!
It is a true gift to be able to Instagram animals with the perfect caption.
Noted: If you are having a bad day just go to these Instagrams and you will instantly feel better.
Your cat is so cute!! If I had instagram or the desire to make on I would definitely follow your cat
I totally want to do this. My pets have awesome personalities and flair (even if a little embellished by me)
It also goes without saying that cowboy is such a cutie!!!
You should join in!
I feel like this definitely puts you in the next level of Gay.
This is actually SO relevant to my interests.
I tried to get an instagram started for my cat, but sort of got stuck after I registered her wonderful username of @honeyfoufou.
Honey Fou Fou omg that’s amazing
This is both informative and adorable, if only my birds would sit still enough for pictures!
Wow, this was edu-cat-tional!
This is the first time I have had any desire to join Instagram despite being asked if I have it constantly. So many kittehs!
Really not a cat person/don’t have an instagram but am now seriously considering getting an account and finding a charismatic cat to take pictures of.
Picturing you stalking random catz in the neighbourhood, attempting to photograph.
Well now that you’ve given me the idea…
Now THIS is the content I want to see. YAS 10/10 would recommend. Also, the best thing I got out of this article is the sentence, “the most important day of the week is Caturday”. I wholeheartedly agree.
Hahah this is Autostraddle running at peak levels of catering to your interests
Wow, this was informative
As a kid, there was a girl in my grade at school who told me I’d be funnier if I didn’t laugh at my own jokes. Instead of taking on that advice when making an Instaccount for our grumpy moodle @montdoginbags, my partner and I laughed so much at the pictures of our dog in large, unflattering bags, that I’ve just realised we totally forgot to give him a personality. I think we have managed to create the account of a personality-void white male sitting in modes of luxury. Now I’m terrified we are going to be terrible parents.
So I’ve definitely been stalking your dog being held in bags and I think you should continue with it because it’s hilarious.
#would get instagram just to document my cat
Unfortunately I don’t have a great phone camera, so no easy photos.
But I’m still inspired nonetheless…what to do now with my inspiration?
My father recently retired, we now get daily updates on the dietary habits of all the local felines, they’re still training him. What’s the male version of a cat lady, a cat lord? This would up his game significantly, to share or not to share…
Education is a life long process #catsquire
* Clearly you meant Catpurrday ;) Fur me, the days of the week are:
Moonday (one of my cats is called Moo fur short)
Moosday / Mewsday
Fursday (Purrsday is a pussible alterncative)
Catpunday – because meta cat pun puns are the BEST!
Lacking both mammalian pets and Instagram, I still found this an adorable and funny read.
my personal instagram is becoming overrun with my cat pictures and I’ve been thinking about making one just for them…this was all the inspiration i needed.
aaaaaand now you can follow my cats on instagram at @tworussiansandavampurr
Oh that’s YOU! I followed you this morning without even knowing it!
I am def not indifferent re: Cowboy.
Good because she and I take these things very purrsonally.
Oh man, how great is this though!? Clearly I’m going to have to convert my barely used but aptly named Instagram account into my dog’s instead.
In the event anyone’s interested in my cowardly GSD (and occasional appearances from my camera shy whippet) then Moggy’s Instagram is @moggywai! ;P
I had no idea how involved the pets of instagram world is — time to dive back into the app!
So much cute! Maybe Bernie needs an Instagram, especially since most of my pictures are of her…
Okay, you can now follow Bernie on Instagram @ broadwaybernie
LIES. FAILURE. It’s @ bernieonbroadway
This post started out fun, but then became exhausting quickly. Seems like a lot of effort, the pet instagram world.
Right? I’m a little impressed & little terrified. I don’t think I put that much energy into anything in my life. Which is likely a judgment on me.
I think what it comes down to is that you make of it what you want, and for awhile, I really wanted to win instagram like it was a game I could level up in or something. Now I’m more relaxed about it, tbh.
These are some awesome pointers. I’m just too lazy, and my cat is too much of Satan.
Then again, if you wanted to play up that Satan-angle…
Your cat is so cute!
OMG tortie kitties are my favorite I used to have one I miss her.
I don’t even have a cat but now I can wait to make their future Instagram account?
I don’t even have a cat but now I can’t wait to make their future Instagram account?
Open new tab.
YELLED “OH MY GOD”
So glad I was sitting down, because I was not prepared for the level of Cowboy gorgeousness.
Well, this was the cutest and made me feel really special. <3
My cat’s names are Scherbie and Barney, named for HIMYM characters. I haven’t been able to come up with an appropriate hashtag for them. Anyone more creative have ideas?
I’m so happy this exists.
This is really adorable (and makes instagram look way less intimidating).
Tiger Boo Boo PrettyFace Getrude Rumpleteazer Selavy would like to say hi:
Do I get:
A) A breakup cat
B) A breakup tattoo
Both are pretty permanent. You get to snuggle one, but you don’t have to pick up the other’s litter. Choices!
Can I have an Instagram for my invisible cat?
First thought: This looks like so much fun, I should totally make an Instagram account for my cats! Second thought: My executive dysfunction won’t allow me to be active enough to make it worth it.
So I probably won’t do it, because I don’t like setting myself up to fail, but this was really fun to read about! Also, Cowboy is adorable and I might follow her from my regular account. :)
I WANNA PET YOUR CAT
She’d be down for that. Come over anytime.
please follow @needoocats