Animals are a consistent theme in marketing campaigns and have been driving business for decades. And why not? We love them!

Studies show that humans are completely fascinated with animals and are more likely to be aware of a brand if it is associated with a memorable animal. A great example is the commercial campaign for Cravendale Milk that used a gang of milk-thirsty cats. In the 60-second ad, the devious felines grow opposable thumbs, which help them open the kitchen door and menacingly corner a poor guy holding a bottle of milk. The advertisement received over 7 million views on YouTube and trended for a good long while on social media under the hashtag #catswiththumbs - increasing brand awareness by 10 per cent and overall sales by 8 per cent.

Sometimes, animals don't even have to be selling a product to make money! We have YouTube sensations like Grumpy Cat, who now has an agent, advertising deals, and her own movie. That furry little sad sack earned $64 million for her human in just two years. And if that weren't proof enough, check out this list of other cat celebrities who are making BANK.

And of course, animals have also inspired many exceptional startups. According to ASPCA, about 80 million people own dogs in the United States and about 96 million own cats. The pet industry is steadily increasing in revenue and projected to reach $67.56 billion in 2018. And business-minded animal lovers are jumping on the bandwagon.

Being a pet mama myself, I reached out to entrepreneurs who used their love of animals to inspire their businesses. Here are some of their great success stories!

Entrepreneur Phil Blizzard lives in North Carolina, where there are a lot of thunderstorms--which used to terrify his dog, Dosi. The poor labradoodle was inconsolable and Phil tried everything to help her. As a last resort, vets suggested sedatives, but the effects were too extreme. Then one day, a family friend suggested swaddling the dog the same as you would an infant. So Phil's family took an old shirt and tape and swaddled Dosi...it worked. It applied pressure to just the right areas to calm her naturally...and the idea for ThunderShirts was born. These little vest-like outfits have been proven to soothe nervous pets through stressful times.

Because of Phil and Dosi, ThunderShirts are calming millions of cats and dogs all over the world!

Catzenpup is a new technology by Garrett Wilson, inspired by his cat, Amber. A couple years ago, the delicate feline stopped eating her dry food and dramatically dropped weight--becoming very sick. Being an engineer, Wilson created a prototype wet food feeder to insure that Amber would eat even when he was away. The device is controlled by smartphone and opens wet food containers on demand.

The happy news is, Amber is doing great and Garrett's product has become the first wet food feeder!

Elyse Horvath is the owner of an adorable little dog called Sweet Pea. Living in the heat of Arizona, Elyse found that Sweet Pea's paw pads were becoming worn and cracked--even though she was just a puppy. When Elyse looked for some remedies to help her uncomfortable little friend, she couldn't find any product that addressed her needs. So she teamed up with a herbalist / chemist to create Natural Paws--a line of doggie skin care products.

This was a complete career change for Elyse, but she couldn't be happier...and neither could Sweet Pea.

Maureen Lake noticed some problems with her elderly dog, Keira. It was difficult for her to eat from her food bowls on the floor. So Maureen started raising the bowls off the floor to accommodate Keira's arthritis and weak legs. It helped so much, Maureen decided to buy Trendy Pet--a company that creates elegant elevated feeders that accommodate the heights of different sized animals.

Maureen (and Keira!) continue to pioneer products that make elderly pets more comfortable.

LittleThings.com began as an experimental blog that shared positive pet contenton PetFlow.com--but due to its tremendous popularity,the publishing operation launched as a standalone media startup. With almost five million social fans, the site continues to have a huge pet focus and publishes uplifting, positive, and interesting content.

Any pet owner knows the joys animals bring to our personal lives - and it seems our companions are making a positive impact on our economy as well. Here's to our four-legged, furry, web-footed, feather-covered, or scale laden business partners.

One of the best aspects of being an entrepreneur is that you can build a business around your passion. The great news for these folks is that pet ownership has increased to 56.5 per cent and is still on the rise!

Published on: May 21, 2015