It's no secret that Americans love to pamper their pets and consider them true family members. Just look at the recent proliferation of pet spas and niche restaurants that welcome our furry friends. So it's only logical that pet-tech devices are making a splash.
New smart gadgets let you pet-sit from afar, make sure Fluffy and Benny are fed while you're away, even monitor vitals and track movements using GPS. Though still nascent, the pet-tech market is already trending. A national survey conducted by Cox Homelife found that 32 percent of dog owners and 26 percent of cat owners would consider buying a video monitoring system for their pets.
"Using home automation technology to check on our pets is definitely convenient," says Ryland Madison, director of product marketing at Cox Communications, which provides TV, internet, digital telephone, home security and tech solutions services for its residential customers. "It's fun to play back and share video monitoring footage of our budding internet stars with family members, co-workers and friends. It also provides peace of mind for the entire household."
Pet-tech gadgets are part of the smart-home revolution — fully connected abodes that keep your family safe and let you monitor and control a slew of household functions using your phone, tablet or computer. These fully automated home hubs can also link with a new generation of high-tech pet products.
"The aim of creating smart homes is to create living spaces that take care of us instead of the opposite," says Steve Koenig, senior director of marketing research for the Consumer Technology Association. "This is mostly limited to systems in the home like climate, security and so on. But more and more this dynamic is extending to the occupants of the home — which includes pets."
Here are five types of smart gadgets that are revolutionizing pet care.
1. Dinner is served
Far more than just an automatic food dish, smart feeders are sophisticated devices that match your critter with the best dietary option based on age, weight and activity level. They also let you control feeding times and portion size, all from your smartphone. And you'll never run out of food. Some smart feeders automatically order more food when you're running low and have it delivered. Cox Homelife subscribers can even monitor the front door, let the delivery person inside and lock up afterward.
2. Finding Fluffy and Benny
What if your beloved companions get lost or stolen? No need to panic; new GPS-enabled devices make it easy to track them down. A small Bluetooth device a little larger than a quarter attaches to your pet's collar. Simply download the free app (iPhone, iPad and Android) and you'll be able to pinpoint your buddy's location using a digital map. The tracker will even send you an alert whenever your pet leaves a room.
Another type of pet tracker locates your critter using mobile coverage outdoors and Wi-Fi indoors, and it even monitors activity levels, so you'll know if your pet is getting enough exercise. A fun "adventure" feature records up to eight hours of your pet's secret solo life.
3. Game time
The perfect solution for boredom and separation anxiety, new devices aim to keep pooches entertained and active all day with games, puzzles and flashing lights — and even serve up treats when they successfully navigate each game. It's all operated with paw-friendly touchpads, each move guided by lights and sounds. You can even record your own voice to encourage and reassure your pet while you're away. You can also track all the doggie activity with their app.
Another device takes a different approach, allowing owners to play fetch from afar by setting a ball launcher's distance and speed.
4. High-tech pet sitters
Want to keep an eye on your pet when you're not home? Check out an interactive pet cam, a device that lets you see and speak to your pet — and even dole out treats — with a computer or smartphone, so you can track your pet's activity and bust out a reward for those being good.
Similar devices are available for cats, allowing you to watch your cat, dispense goodies and even operate a laser pointer remotely. Anyone who watches cat videos knows felines are fascinated with laser pointers. These devices will not only keep your cat active, they will help burn off all the calories from the treats. Then store your own cat videos to share on social media.
5. Virtual vets
Like a watchful veterinarian, new devices monitor your pet's vital signs for indications of illness and pain. A medical collar constantly checks temperature, respiration and pulse rates, looking for fever or abnormalities that would signal a health problem. If any red flags are detected, the device will immediately notify you via email, phone or text. Advanced health monitoring devices are available specifically for pets recovering from surgery or struggling with a long-term illness.
"We expect pet wearables will gain significant momentum as a means to quantify activity and promote better health for companion dogs and cats," Koenig says. "Look for these to evolve in 2017."