Sniff Tests: Pet Gear Goes High-Tech

Plus: Best Buys in Pet Beds, Carriers, Crates/Kennels, Leashes, Pet Seat Belts & Underground Pet-Containment Systems

High-tech has come to pet products, particularly those that promote safety and well-being. Be prepared to open your wallet, however, if you plan to walk your furry friend down that path.

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The pet-products industry delights in the ongoing love affair that we have with our pets, and a slew of new high-tech products were unleashed in the past 2 years that are designed to keep us connected to our pets 24/7, as well as to keep them safe and secure at home and when they’re out and about. This trend, however, will have pet owners digging deep into their pockets.

KEEPING TRACK. Although you can play “I spy” on your pets via a standard home-security camera so you can find out what they do when they’re home alone, new video cams that are marketed to pet owners have particular pet-centric features.

For example, by using a mobile app to connect a smartphone or a tablet computer to a pet video cam, you can play soothing music to settle an anxious pet, or you can talk to your pet and give it a treat no matter where you are.

The PetCube ($199) lets you initiate interactive games with your pet. For example, it’s the only product that we found that has a built-in laser that you can move around remotely to stimulate your pet, so it chases the laser’s light. Pet video cams start at $170, compared with entry-level home-security cameras that cost about $100.

You also can keep track of your pet’s health online. We found that the popularity of fitness trackers crossed into the pet space within the past 3 years. Wearable pet activity monitors exist that track how long that Fido sleeps during the day and how often that he eats. You also can make sure that he stays properly hydrated by using a bowl that has a built-in scale that measures his water consumption, as long as he isn’t a sloppy drinker. If your dog wears a camera on its collar (costing about $70), you can see the route that a dog walker took your dog on their outing and see how they spent their time by checking an app that you download on your smartphone or tablet.

Meanwhile, our research found that the selection of pet GPS trackers that are available increased over the past 3 years. A pet GPS tracker, which a pet wears on its collar or harness, lets you set up zones at your home and get alerts if your pet attempts the great escape. Many activity monitors also now have GPS functionality. We found at least 12 GPS-based activity monitors that start at $70.

As with all GPS systems, pet GPS trackers use a cellular network and require you to subscribe to a provider’s plan. However, manufacturers use a dedicated cellular network, so you don’t have a choice in plans. Monthly rates typically cost about $8, and annual subscriptions bring the monthly rate down to about $5. We recommend that you ask whether the coverage of the network that’s linked to the tracker is good in your area, because cellular coverage varies among networks.

According to our research, when wearable pet tech gadgets came to the market, they were bulky and heavy, particularly for smaller pets. However, within the past year, devices were introduced that are light enough so smaller dogs and cats can wear them without being encumbered. 

“We always encourage pet parents to also have their pets properly tagged [with identification details] and microchipped, in case they find themselves out of range,” says Ben Jacobs, who is the founder and CEO of Whistle Labs, which makes pet GPS trackers and activity monitors.

Connected pet products all work with free apps, but not all apps work with all smartphones, particularly older models. You should make sure that you have a compatible device before you buy a connected pet product.

PLAYING IT SAFE. High-tech pet products go beyond wearable products that monitor your pet. Now they include food bowls and water dispensers that automatically dispense food or liquid and exterior pet doors that open or close automatically when your pet approaches. These products are programmed to operate only for a specific pet via a sensor that’s attached to the pet’s collar or the pet’s identification microchip. Most of these products use batteries, but a few use a home’s electricity and include a battery backup.

Unfortunately, most of these high-tech products don’t work when the power to your home goes out or the battery dies. Although most such products have a warning system, such as a flashing light, that reminds pet owners of when to change the product’s batteries, only Wireless Whiskers’ AutoDiet Feeder ($170), which was launched in spring 2017, has an additional level of security that’s called intelligent recovery.

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