Lil Bub became famous in her youth, at the beginning of the decade, when a picture of her went viral on Reddit. She was a permakitten with bulging eyes and a tongue that always stuck out. Her owner, Mike Bridavsky, made a Tumblr account for her in late 2011, according to a Spin profile of the cat. He never expected it to blow up, but people found her unusual physical features to be irresistible.
But Lil Bub wasn’t just a cute meme; she was a mortal creature, and more fragile than most. The runt of her litter, Lil Bub had health problems all her life. Scientists sequenced her genome to uncover information about her “magical” appearance. She most recently had a bone infection. And on Monday, Bridavsky wrote to her fans with sad news: Lil Bub had died in her sleep. “We lost the purest, kindest and most magical living force on our planet,” he wrote. Bridavsky had been sharing updates on her bone condition over the past few weeks, but he admitted that he wasn’t expecting her to pass so suddenly.
It was a jarring death, even from afar. Lil Bub was the subject of a documentary, made celebrity appearances and was one of the most recognizable cats in the world. Just days ago, her social media accounts were promoting a Black Friday merch sale to her millions of followers.
Lil Bub’s death was trending on Twitter within minutes of the announcement as fans of the cat and friends of her owner, as well as other viral animal accounts wrote tributes.
Although famous animals predate the internet, Lil Bub’s life and fame coincided with the online flourishing of the influencer pet, and her passing is part of a parallel phenomenon: widespread grief when those pets inevitably die.
Boo, the cute, smiling Pomeranian with 16 million followers on Facebook, died in January. He was 12.
Boo, the dog’s owners wrote on Facebook at the time, never got over the death of his friend and fellow famous dog Buddy. “We think his heart literally broke when Buddy left us,” the post read. “He hung on and gave us over a year.”
Grumpy Cat died in 2019, at 7 years old, after becoming the dour face of a feline empire of merch, media, and entertainment. Grumpy Cat “produced” a New York Times bestseller. Grumpy Cat did commercials and even starred in “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever.”
Keyboard Cat, an orange tabby whose given name was Bento, died last year of liver cancer. Bento had become famous as a stand-in for his owner’s previous cat, Fatso, the keyboard-“playing” star of an old home movie that went viral on YouTube many years after Fatso himself had passed away.
In a way, the deaths of Fatso and Bento mark two sides of cultural history: the first Keyboard Cat, whose original “feat” was captured with analog media and confined to a VHS tape, died without fanfare; the second Keyboard Cat, whose celebrity came as the result of sudden, random viral fame in the YouTube age, created national news when he died.
Viral pets have become part of the social-media feeds of any animal lover with a social media account, and their deaths have mark significant disruptions even when they don’t rate obituaries in the mainstream news.
There was Nana, the rescue senior pit bull with 170,000 Instagram followers, who died in November. Tillman the Skateboarding Dog died in 2015. Eddie the Lilac Lion, a toothless, earless cat who charmed thousands on Instagram, died in 2018. Luigi the cat attended the 2018 burial of his friend Bandito the pug, with whom he shared an Instagram account with more than 100,000 followers. Colonel Meow died in 2014. The death of Caspar, an Instagram cat with a modest following, prompted the Cut to publish a meditation following the last days of a cat’s life online.
Gabe the Dog’s borks inspired YouTube remixes for years until his owner announced in 2017 that Gabe had died of heart problems.
The animal internet of the 2000s was filled with amusing cat pictures. The internet of the 2010s has been a place for cat and dog empires. Internet cat and dog cultures have their own online languages, media outlets and political controversies. Watching the lives of other people’s pets has become a part of the internet experience, and now so has mourning their deaths.
Happily, this decade has not seen the demise of all the beloved internet pets. Despite many rumors to the contrary over the past few years, Kabosu, the shiba inu who became the face of the Doge meme, is alive and well, according to her Instagram.
This story has been updated by The Washington Post to correct the year that Grumpy Cat died. It was 2019, not 2018.