In A World Full Of Cats
An interview with Marc-André Runcie-Unger – Founder of Katzenworld
Marc Andre, the man behind the UK and possibly the world’s largest cat blogging website, has seen the site go from humble beginnings to thousands of eager subscribers who, like dedicated cult followers, share and like most of the sites posts on the main social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Alongside their cat loving subscribers, cat related companies desperate for their products to be featured within Katzenworld posts, clamber for attention, sending out product after product for review. I’ve been on the end of some of these products although, living in a small apartment now, my husband has wisely put his foot down to any more cat stuff coming into the home.
When I first met Marc, over a causal Sunday lunch to discuss writing posts for Katzenworld, he came across as warm, friendly and open to ideas. I met him with his husband Iain and my husband, Gordon, equally obsessed with cats, came along too. The four of us hit it off straight away and the conversation flowed non-stop about cats (of course), blogging, PR, cat shows, books, travel, the state of the world! You name it; we discussed it. It was hard to be heard sometimes as we were all talking at the same time – the only way we could get a word in edgeways.
From that first meeting, our relationship has grown into a very warm friendship where we have shared space at cat shows, introduced each other to new business acquaintances and been a listening ear to one another when difficulties have arisen with various situations or other workers in the feline world.
I am in awe of the sheer volume of cat related content Katzenworld puts out there for all to read freely. It’s no easy task to keep on top of its social media side let alone the running of the website and yet nothing seems to be able to slow down the engine of this vast organic feline information brain that is Katzenworld.
And so… may I introduce you to An interview with Marc-André Runcie-Unger – Founder of Katzenworld
You are the founder of one of the biggest cat blogging Internet site in the UK. How did this idea come about?
I’ve always been interested in social media and when we adopted Oliver and Nubia a few years back I started to look at the various pet blogs out there. I was amazed at the variety of pages – sadly mostly all about dogs! There were some cat specific sites but very few so along with a couple of friends/relatives, I decided we would try to increase the presence of cats online. Thus, the idea of Katzenworld was born. The best part of it is that we did this over a board game evening! Hence why every so often a cats and board games post pops up on our news feed.
What’s the main philosophy behind Katzenworld?
Share and share alike! It’s about allowing the global cat community: a space on the net to come together and share their experiences. I always thought that a lot of the big cat websites out there are too restrictive and will often focus on commercial stuff or censor topics that could lead to more heated discussions. One of our goals was to provide individual authors of our community with a space to share their ideas without the worry of being told they can’t which is why we will often touch on topics that tend to get excluded in the mainstream news to avoid more heated discussions.
Of course another large part of the core idea of Katzenworld is to promote cat welfare and not just for “owned” cats but also for stray cats and even their larger feline cousins such as Tigers. For this I liaise with a number of different cat experts from veterinaries to charities in order to cover the full spectrum of the cat world.
It’s a nice philosophy that Katzenworld wants to remain free and open to allow contributors the freedom to express their own views rather than be policed by the admin team. Has this caused issues with any organisations or independent people that are more dogmatic with their views?
It sadly has caused us a few issues here and there. For example some companies thinking they can simply pay us to be silent or even worse give them favourable reviews for something that simply didn’t live up to our expectations and the standards one would expect. We’ve also had problems with people not liking the opinion of some of our contributors and believing we should censor everything but that’s not what we are about. We want people to be able to express their views and opinions and unless a contributor states false information or gives advice that is wrong or could be dangerous then we will stand by the ideals of allowing people to express themselves.
This is part of why we created author profiles for regular contributors to ensure it’s clear who is creating the post. Think of it like the BBC of the cat world. Similar to us the BBC has different authors creating content and it’s not unusual to see pieces that can even contradict each other in opinion as it’s often down to the individual person creating the content.
You have a team of bloggers working with/for you. How did you all meet or how did you decide on which writers should blog for Katzenworld?
In the beginning, some were our friends and friends of friends. I even asked colleagues at work. It was funny to find out that people you had worked with for months and sometimes years were big cat fans! There were even some amongst them that I’d never have expected to have a cat but that truly love their feline companion. Best example is one of my colleagues that ended up spending multiple thousands of pounds to save her cat after he was hit by a car, despite three vets telling her that there is no way to save him (he had a collapsed bladder). She found a vet that was willing to perform a surgery to save his live and that he did! Really shows how much us cat lovers care for our companions.
As we’ve grown in presence online people offering to write for us often approach us. Sometimes we have some unique requests such as wanting to write about cats and yoga. We welcome bloggers from all corners of the world, whether they are professional writers or hobbyists like ourselves. However, it can be a long and tedious process to weed out the ‘weird’ ones and include the genuine ones!
Our youngest ever blogger was six years old though she did get help from her mum to write the content.
What kind of weird posts do you get? I’m intrigued.
Ah there are quite a few weird ones… Once we had a lady from a fish keeping website contact us saying that since we are in the same niche she’d love to share a post to our audience. Despite being totally off the beaten track I replied to her pointing out that maybe a post about fish keeping, on a blogging site of the arch enemy of all things with fins, might not be the best idea! Needless to say she never replied.
We also often get contacted by PRs and companies involved in the dog industry that simply think that cats are just small dogs so we should talk about their dog products.
Our weirdest contact probably was someone asking me if I wanted to be in their TV add for a new soft drink! Why? Because he wanted Oliver (one of our first 2 cats) and myself in it but I didn’t fancy being associated to a terrible sugary drink.
With any successful blogging site there will always be the difficulty with finding a nice balance between keeping a blogging site natural and user friendly whilst at the same time seeing people or companies connected to cats jumping on board to post content to harness some of the audience for their own related products. And, of course, successful sites such as yours thrive and grow more with sponsorship and advertising. How do you negotiate that thin line?
Katzenworld’s integrity is more important than making a quick bit of money. Each sponsorship and product review we agree on is carefully chosen based on what we believe about the company. We won’t dismiss anyone until we’ve actually tried the product and services so that we are able to make an educated decision. But we won’t work with everyone! For example; a large well known pet food company recently approached us and offered us a fairly large some of money for an advertorial post which they didn’t want to have tagged as an advert but as our own blog post. Needless to say we politely declined their offer as it would go against the core of what Katzenworld is about and ruin our relationship with smaller high quality pet food brands such as Almo Nature and Scrumbles, both whom are trying to educate pet owners of the importance of the quality of cat food.
Where did your love of cats come from? Explain why you love cats so much?
Would you believe me that I used to be into looking after fish? When I moved in with Iain I came with a 500 liters fish tank full with tropical fish.
Now you are wondering how did this lead to cats… well ever since I was a child I always wanted a cat as I liked their sense of independence while showing true affection. No offense to the dog lovers out there but the constant slobbery “I love you” of dogs can be a bit much. The reason that I couldn’t have a cat was the fact that both my mum and myself were allergic to cats. In fact in addition to the allergies to the furred ones I also have quite bad pollen hay fever to which I have been undergoing immunotherapy for a number of years. As most doctors will tell you allergies can change approximately every 7 years so when Iain, who has had cats in his childhood and missed having a furry friend instead of a scaly fish, suggested we should adopt a cat from our local charity I decided to get my cat hair allergy retested which luckily came back as very little during the test and the nurse suggested the rest of the symptoms would go away with constant exposure to cat dander! Not going to lie. When the cat first arrived my allergy symptoms still weren’t particularly great but the 2 weeks of them were well worth it for our feline companions!
All our fish were rehomed to one of my work colleagues and a friend that runs a pet shop. Some of these are still greeting visitors in the shop.
How do you balance your work/personal time with running Katzenworld as your blog updates are prolific?
That’s a difficult one. Often it feels like I have to cram in work on the blog on the way to work, during my lunch break and when I get home. My weekends are often given over to either doing photoshoots or attending events. Sometimes, I have to take annual leave from my job when there’s something important that can’t be missed such as the ICatCare (1) annual awards event or a big mid week brand launch. For anyone wishing to create a big community blog like ours I’d recommend looking at ways of minimizing the time required for essential tasks such as website maintenance.
How did you become involved with the UK’s biggest feline welfare charity International Cat Care (ICC)?
A chance contact from the head of fundraising lead to an offer of a meeting and, as our philosophy goes; it’s always good to talk even though it’s not always clear what will become of it. On the back of this we were invited to take part in a barge trip on the Thames on the fabulous boat Lady Daphne. This event didn’t just mark the start of a great working relationship but also showed us how influential our website had gotten at that point. A lot of people that bought tickets for the ride had first seen it mentioned on our website. And the director of ICC was contacted by one of her personal contacts to inform her that she saw our post.
Where do you see Katzenworld in 5 years’ time? Any long-term projects you would like to get involved with?
There are many pathways open to Katzenworld at this point. Obviously, we would like to keep our online presence and continue to engage with an ever-growing number of readers around the world. We are looking at furthering the brand by commissioning our own range of toys and other products. One thing is for certain is that we don’t want to just cash in on its success and plaster the website with adverts.
Also, June 2018 saw the launch of our very own cat club – Katzenworld Cat Club which is part of the World Cat Federation (WCF). We were honoured to have been accepted as the first UK club for this association. We decided to opt for a WCF club membership as their core principals and goals around cat welfare seem much closer aligned to ours than some of the other associations out there. We figured that running our own cat shows as part of the WCF will give us a unique opportunity to engage with cat owners and cat lovers while ensuring that talks and stands at the events will be in line with our ideas of cat welfare and cat products that should be promoted. Sadly many of the bigger cat events out there will favour money over allowing smaller unique brands to attend and reach the audience they need to grow and prosper and ultimately we’d like to offer these people a chance to reach their target audience.
Tell us more about your concept for the Katzenworld Cat Club?
The Katzenworld Cat Club show will present and judge the cats like other traditional shows but we want to bring education back to the cat fancier shows! In our opinion it’s of utmost importance to provide general health talks and advice to members of the public attending. Many people want to learn more about cat care but often struggle to find places where they can learn more. So that’s what will be different with the Katzenworld cat show.
And for those who have never attended as a visitor to a cat show or perhaps showing their cat for the first time, what can they expect?
For those that have not been to a WCF show before from a show point of view it works like this: People will bring their own pens or rent a pen for the weekend. We’d generally recommend a soft pen (crate/large carrier) or similar kennel which will provide a much more relaxed environment for your cat. Either way the cats will be checked in by a vet in the morning of the show and each attendee will receive a number for every registered cat. Throughout the day the judges will be judging each entered cat based on the breeding standards but also the behaviour and personality of the cat. In fact at the WCF the behaviour and personality of a cat forms a large part of the judging as the organisation wants to encourage ethical breeders that socialise their cats well so that they can be an integral part of any family! The judges will also take time to advice cat owners on things they’d recommend the owners to do for their cats. For example; If your cat is getting a bit chubby they will ask what and how much food they are being fed and recommend
an alternative diet.
A single judge will be judging each individual cat on a traditional 6-foot table. This allows a cat sufficient space so it can relax more plus it enables the judge to have one on one talks with the cat’s owner who is standing at the side. The judge will use toys such as teasers to play with the cat, which helps further to relax them. At the end of each show day cats will be entered for the “best of the best” so cats that were nominated will be carried up and down a table of all of the days judges who will give points to each cat. The overall best will receive the title of best in show.
From a non-show point of view there are usually stalls selling cat toys, food and cat lover goodies so that people can purchase presents for themselves and their cats.
Katzenworld cat toys sounds intriguing. Can you give us some insight as to what kind of toys these will be and why you may choose the ones you did?
Since we’ve worked with 4cats valerian toys in Germany for a number of years our natural choice for our own cat toys will be catnip and valerian toys. Catnip and Valerian are produced from plants that cats love the smell of. Catnip is a member of the mint family and is a natural plant. Cats love the smell of Nepetalactone, a volatile oil stored in tiny bulbs on the leaves, stems and seedpods of the plant. Valerian is a plant that has tiny, sweet smelling flowers that grow in bunches, and jagged leaves. The root of the plant excites most cats’.
Both plants can give a cat a fun natural high for 10/15 minutes and is totally safe. This is why Catnip and Valerian are our choice of toys.
As for the designs… we are working on those at the moment and until the IPs [contracts for intellectual properties] are signed we can’t provide too much information. What I can say is that individual names of the toys will rhyme with the names of our cats.
Can you tell us about your own cats? I believe you have 3?
Oliver (tuxedo moggy) and Nubia (black moggy) have been living with us for just over 5 years after adopting them from a local branch of the Celia Hammond Animal Trust. They are alike in many ways but have their own personalities and we love them for that. Renegade (bi-colour flame oriental short hair) joined us last year and though at first he was an outsider to the existing pair, he has now established himself firmly in the pack. He’s a few years younger than the other two and likes to keep them on their paws. As an oriental, he’s keen to cuddle up. Something the other two are not keen on. However, recently, Freya (straight-coat Peterbald) has joined us to make our feline quartet. She’s the youngest of them all at just six months old. As she came from a multi-cat household, she was very confident and was soon having fun running up and down the various scratch trees we have.
Introducing cats can be fraught with difficulty, as most cat owners know. What process did you use to introduce your cats’
Ah! For each of our introductions we’ve gone down the route of slowly introducing the new cat into the household. Initially we’d clear the spare room and ensure there is as little other cat smell in there as possible. The room would be setup with cat toys, scratchers and beds to make the new cat feel at home and for the first few days the new cat can establish themselves in that ‘safe space’. Once the new family member seems more settled we allow the existing cats to see but not touch the new family member, slowly moving over to allowing them to come closer to each other. Cardboard walls with semi big holes are a good way of creating barriers that are just big enough to get to nose sniffing distance.
Once that seems to be working well it’s about letting the new member into the household. You are bound to see some hissing and spitting so it’s important to try and associate the sight of the new cat with something positive for the existing ones. For example giving them all treats together or playing with a toy to get nice interactions instead of hissing.
Additionally we support our introduction periods with Pet Remedy, Valerian diffusers and sprays as it keeps both the new and existing cats more calm and mellow throughout this period.
You have met a lot of people now in the cat world. Who presently inspires you?
That’s a difficult one! There are many people out there that do great things but if I had to name one person I think it would be Tom Von Kapherr who used to run Cats at the Bar. It was one of the first exclusively feline blogging sites and he managed to create a unique vibe of fun and quirky content alongside advice on feline health. Sadly Tom is currently taking a break as his daytime job has taken over but who knows you might see him appear in a guest post or two on Katzenworld!
What’s your personal view on why the Internet has gone so crazy about cats?
Let’s face it with everything going on in today’s world people need a cute distraction free from things like politics. Cats are the perfect distraction, as they constantly seem to be up to crazy antics that even those that are not necessarily cat people will enjoy! And who wouldn’t want to watch the cat Maru [a male Scottish Fold cat in Japan who has become popular on You Tube] squeeze into the smallest box possible? Fun fact is that my nickname at work is Maru as it’s the initials of my first and last names and of course the cat people at work knew about Maru!
Name the top three Katzenworld blog posts that have stuck in your mind since starting this blogging platform.
Back Stage with Street Cat Bob, this was one of my personal favourite events. All cat lovers probably know James Bowen and Bob but how many of us had an opportunity to meet him in person? The event was organised by the Ebony Horse Club in Brixton, which provides access to caring for these animals and of course horse riding to children from not so well placed backgrounds. Often some of the older teenagers have an opportunity to get back into “society” and the club does a lot of events for helping these youngsters. James and Bob attended a charity event at the Tabernacle with the host of the evening being Alistair Stewart from ITN. I helped promote the event beforehand and reported on it after the event itself. As a thank you the charity got us onto their VIP table and arranged for us to meet James and Bob backstage at the end of the event. 🙂
We also got our friends from 4cats to make him some extra special cat toys in the shape of a guitar.
Number 2 was a post detailing research on cats and whether they like touch as much as we humans think. The post was by ICC entitled ‘You Can Touch Me Here but Not There’. This post was one of our first posts that went viral and reached more than our regular monthly unique visitors in a single day! Each month we reach approximately 80.000 people on our main site and 40.000 people on our apple news channel! In addition to this we also have a Google play and iOS app but with recent GDPR changes [General Data Protection Regulation] we can’t get tracking of usage on these. So, on the back of our blog post the article was also republished in over 50 online and print publications in various languages so a great success all around.
Number 3 has to be our Christmas cartoon for 2017. If you just looked at the artwork it merely seems like a fun little story of our three kitties getting up to mischief. However, for those with more of a philosophical mind it’ll be apparent that we hid a deeper Christmas message within it.
Can we have a little insight as to what the message was?
The message here really was that we, as in all who work in the cat industry, should be getting along and working together! There’s too much in fighting at present. The cartoon shows a variety of different cats that were invited over for the Christmas celebrations by our own cats. All of them happily playing with each other and their presents. Humanity in general should take a lesson from what we often see in the animal world. Dogs adopting kittens and things like that. Humans just don’t seem very good at accepting different views when really it would help us as a species if we did.
Representing the Katzenworld brand. What are your top 5 points you wish to get across to people about cats and their well-being?
Number 1: Cats are not just pets! They are sentient beings that are part of our families. Treat them as such and you’ll be rewarded with unconditional love.
Number 2: Get pet insurance! There are so many people that think it’s not worth paying the monthly premium but trust us this may save your cats life one day. For example; the cat of one of my best friends was run over by a car and, whilst thankfully her vet saved her cat, who had to have a bladder reconstruction, the total bill came to £8,500! Without insurance she wouldn’t have been able to save her boy.
Number 3: No matter if you feed your cat dry or wet food, check what you are feeding them and only go for food that’s high quality and most importantly grain free for dry food. What our pets eat will make a huge difference to their quality of life and can often prevent problems in the future.
Number 4: Provide your cats with enrichment, especially house cats who can get bored if they don’t have sufficient scratching posts and areas they can climb. We often get told by cat owners’ that their cats don’t like toys or scratchers and that their cat just likes to sleep all day. Most cats like to play. You just need to find the right toy for them!
Number 5: We believe that in an ideal world all cats should have access to the outdoors but sadly for many cats this is not safe and we see it far too often that cats go missing or worse. If you allow your cats outside think about cat proofing your garden to give them the outdoor space but without the possibility of escaping your garden. If your cat does have outdoor access and you can’t cat proof your garden it might also be a good idea to go for a cat-tracking device in order to be able to locate them should they go astray.
Thanks Marc. Been great talking to you.
With such a wealth of free cat information at your fingertips it’s no surprise that Katzenworld has grown steadily from humble beginnings to such a major source of feline advice and what a nice guy steering the ship too.
Regarding Katzenworlds difficulties as a major blogging site. As with any subject matter, people have different opinions and personal experiences and it is no different with cats. Take the issue of feline wet and dry food as an example. Some vets think cats should only be fed a meat-based diet and ideally raw with the bones included and some feel that a dry biscuit only diet is perfectly fine. Both views deserve to be said so that the reader can make an informed choice. (See out interview with mobile cat only vet Jo Lewis for her views on this subject).
I had difficulties myself when approaching people to contribute to this book. Some, when finding out who else would be in the book, declined further to be involved, thinking that a person’s ideas, that they did not agree with, would somehow reflect badly on them or taint their brand. It was an unexpected problem I encountered over and over.
The fact that Katzenworld has managed to remain neutral and open to ideas, is one of the main reasons it should be applauded and supported.
As a long time contributor of Katzenworld you can find all of my posts here: https://katzenworld.co.uk/?s=anita+kelsey
Katzenworld’s website: https://katzenworld.co.uk/
- International Cat Care is an UK charity. The charities main aim is to engage educate and empower people throughout the world to improve the health and welfare of cats by sharing advice, training and passion. https://icatcare.org/about-us/trustee-directors
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anita Kelsey holds a first class honours degree in Feline Behaviour and Psychology (work based BA Hons) and runs a vet referral service dedicated strictly to the diagnosis and treatment of behaviour problems in cats. She is also a qualified cat groomer and specialises in grooming aggressive or phobic cats. Anita writes for Your Cat Magazine and is on their experts panel answering readers questions on cat grooming. She also advises on feline behaviour for the CFBA (Canine and Feline Behaviour) magazine as well as being a full member. Anita, a strong advocate of a vegan lifestyle, is based in London but consults all over the UK as well as international requests. She lives with her husband, a music producer, and two Norwegian Forest cats, Kiki and Zaza. Visit http://www.catbehaviourist.com.
She is the author of two cat books ‘Claws. Confessions Of A Professional Cat Groomer‘, published by John Blake and Let’s Talk About Cats. Conversations On Feline Behaviour
Her debut book ‘Claws. Confessions Of A Professional Cat Groomer‘ is published by John Blakes.