Pets are part of the family. So is it any wonder their world is becoming a little more high tech?
We are a nation of animal lovers, with 98 per cent of Irish pet owners considering them a family member, according to a survey carried out for Aldi. In fact, 43 per cent love their pets so much they allow them to sleep in or on their bed. Figures from Statista showed that up to 2017, 34 per cent of households claimed to own a dog. That's a large market out their for tech companies to tap. So what exactly is out there for our furry friends? Lots, apparently.
Pets can wander. Pets can get lost. Pets sometimes disappear for days on end. If you are the owner of one such wanderer, it can be upsetting for the family when the cat goes absent without leave for several days.
So it's no surprise that pet trackers are becoming more common. For Irish pet owners, there are a few options. The latest to the market is Vodafone's Pet Tracker, which uses the Pod 3 tracker on a pet collar to keep tabs on your furry friend. You can set up safe zones so you will be alerted should your pet decide to stray from home and follow their activity through the app and its accompanying maps. There is real-time tracking also, although it depends on how fast on their feet your pet actually is, because there can be a couple of minutes between your pet passing through and your app refreshing. You will need a Vodafone sim of some description to cover the monthly subscription fee of €3; you can opt for a 30-day sim plan or a pay-as-you-go sim and keep it topped up.
A second option is Tractive, a GPS tracker that has options for cats and dogs. The cat version is a smart breakaway collar; while the dog version is a tile that attaches to their existing collar. Both offer live tracking, but the cat version gives you the ability to monitor your cat’s fitness through their activity. The dog version offers a virtual fence with smartphone alerts if your pet manages to break free.
It needs a subscription to work properly. The subscription for the basic service costs €89.90 for the year, allowing to you to keep tabs on your pet’s movements in real time; bump it up to €99.90 per month premium subscription and you can get unlimited location history, worldwide coverage for your pet and the ability to share access to the tracker with other accounts.
Forget about baby monitors; pet monitors are where things are at these days. And it’s more than just making sure that the fluff monster isn’t taking up residence on the sofa while your back is turned.
Dog owner Claire invested in a pet cam after a move meant daytime noise was an issue. “When we moved city, we moved into an apartment – ground floor with access to decent outdoor spaces. We got a dog walker who would come in every day to take them out and burn off some energy,” she said. “But the occasional barking, which wasn’t an issue in our previous home, was starting to annoy the neighbours.”
That’s when she and her husband Andy invested in a pet cam, so not only could they keep an eye on what their animals were doing, but they could speak to them throughout the day.
“We decided on the pet cam because it meant we could monitor any noise issues too and manage them before it became a problem,” said Andy. “So far, it has been a success.”
You could just invest in an internet connected baby monitor that allows you to talk back to your cat or dog, but there are plenty of pet focused products out there. Petcube has a range of cameras that not only keep watch on your pets, but the latest addition, Petcube Bites, tosses treats to your dog on a schedule.
There are others available without the fancy extras – Motorola and Panasonic both have pet cameras that will give you a bird's eye view of the action.
Perhaps you want something to keep your dog on his toes while you are at the office. Or maybe keep your cat amused on a long winter’s night when you don’t want to risk the cat doing a midnight flit; iFetch takes the simplest game, fetch, and gives it a tech twist. The interactive ball launcher comes in three versions: the original iFetch and iFetch too, which launch different sized tennis balls at your pet. And the iFetch Frenzy which is less tech and more physics based, using gravity and your pet’s tenacity to keep them feeding the balls into the device.
Some products pull double duty. The Pet Cube 2’s cat version has a laser toy built in that is the ultimate in laziness for pet owners. Now you don’t even have to bother with a laser pointer at the wall – just let the camera do it all for you.
Tech for owners
If you have a cat flap, you’ll appreciate how convenient they are, but also how much you want to keep unwanted intruders – next door’s cat, the feline from around the corner and the stray that occasionally rifles through your bins – out of your kitchen.
It’s not exactly new technology, but there are a range of pet doors that are set to only open when it detects your pet’s microchip. The SureFlap Pet Door Connect, however, can be app controlled. It will still work with your pet’s microchip or the RFID collar included with the package, but you can use the app to switch the door to entry only to keep your pets at home, even if you are out of the house.
If humans have smart beds, why can’t pets? Petrics developed a system that will help you track your dog’s health as he or she sleeps. There is an attachment for your pet’s collar that monitors their activity and rest, an app that stores all the data, and a smart bed that has climate control and a built in scale. That way you can keep track of your pet’s vital statistics while they get a decent night’s sleep.
RONAN MCGREEVY’S MYSTERIOUS CAT
On Christmas Day, Marlay got a bad dose of cat cabin fever. He kept looking wistfully out the window while generally getting in the way as we were trying to make the Christmas dinner, so we let him out.
He did not return for three weeks. He presented himself on my birthday, a bag of bones, his proud black fur frayed and matted.
Marlay’s desire to be outdoors is only matched by his propensity to get lost since we moved house in October. Prior to that he and his brother Felix had a huge garden and river to play in and they thanked us profusely by depositing at our backdoor baby mice they had killed. Charming.
It is not fair keeping cats cooped up in indoors, but neither is it fair to let them out when they might not come back for days or weeks. I looked on the internet for a pet GPS. The results were not promising. No pet shops sold them and I had a bad experience of buying technology online which is where Vodafone comes in.
The V-Pet Tracker costs €120 plus a €3 a month subscription. You need a Vodafone phone account for the monthly subscription –- a pay as you go sim will do as long as you keep it topped up.
Initial impressions of the V-Pet Tracker were not good. When we took Marlay outside, he bolted from my daughter’s arms and ran off.
In the meantime we tried searching for him via the tracker’s app. The software is impressive. You can toggle between a regular map and a satellite view, with your cat’s movement’s overlaid. We tracked Marlay down to a lawn in a nearby apartment complex.
Or so we thought. Like TS Eliot’s Macavity the Mystery Cat, he wasn’t there. He wasn’t on the roof of a local garage nor a neighbour’s backyard either though the app tracker indicated that he was. The lag between the app updating and Marlay moving on meant we were trailing in his wake.
But the battery from the tracker wasn’t fully charged (the makers do not make this clear) and it ran out of power within 24 hours.
Marlay turned up eight days later, having exhausted the second of his nine lives. Where was he in the intervening days? The limited data from the pet tracker, while it was active, suggested he had not travelled too far – mostly through a neighbour’s garden, the apartment complex and some waste ground in between. You could spend all day looking at the little red zig-zagging lines that marked his movements.
The tracker’s great strength is in offering reassurance that your pet is close by though pinpointing the exact whereabouts of a tiny moving target from space is a challenge.
Although we had the misstep with the battery, I was impressed by the tracker’s durability – probably more so than Marlay. There was literally and figuratively not a scratch on it when Marlay returned after eight days away. It was, to quote the advertisement, reassuringly expensive.