We love our pets, and even though we're not always willing to fork over a fistful of cash for our own health and safety, when it comes to our furry, four-legged friends we quite often go overboard. Because they're worth it.
Up front, pet tech is pricey â it's going to cost you a bit to connect your pet, but there are a lot of benefits, including convenience, safety, and health. You can put the smart home to work to help care for your pet and lend a hand with things like making sure Fido is fed on time, knowing when your puppy has escaped, keeping tabs on your cat's activity level, and making sure everyone's entertained when you're away.
Of course, one of the top uses for smart home cameras is checking in on your dog from work â just to say "Hi," or to make sure he's not chewing the couch. Plus, a lot of the connected tech available for your pets fits right in to your automated home: You can command your pet feeder with Alexa, use your pet tracker's IFTTT channel to sync his comings and goings with your smart home, and let your pet-sitter in with your smart door lock.
Here we round up some of the best pet tech we've tried and tested, so you can continue to spoil your precious bundles of fur, even when you can't be with them.
Best pet tracker
A GPS pet tracker is the smartphone ageâs answer to microchipping your dog (which you should still do, of course). Where a microchip is a great tool for when your pet gets lost and then found, a GPS tracker is a much more immediate solution. It works by keeping tabs on your petâs location, then, if and when it crosses a pre-determined boundary, it sends an alert to your smartphone.
Whistle is the leader in this space, making the smallest device with the longest-lasting battery on the market. As a bonus, Whistle also acts as a pet activity and behavioral tracker â like a FitBit for pets. We have been testing the original Whistle and the new, improved Whistle GO Explore for a few months now and are very impressed with it.
Whistle GO: Design and features
A small, chunky brick you attach to your petâs collar, Whistle GO has two models, GO and GO Explore. It comes in a variety of colours depending on the model (pink, grey, and blue, or black, green, and magenta), and it charges using a standard USB cable.
Both models will monitor your petâs location and activity, plus it has a new health feature that tracks itching, sleeping and licking. Theyâre both waterproof but the Explore has a slightly higher rating (IPX8) and twice as long a battery life (up to 20 days). Explore also features a built-in nightlight you can activate when youâre on a nighttime walk or to help with tracking, Otherwise the two models are the same.
While itâs marketed as an activity tracker, unless you are seriously concerned about your petâs lack of excursive the main reason to get one of these is as a safety net should your dog or cat (yes you can put this on a catâs collar too â any animal over 8lb) escape or gets lost. In the app you set up safe places and if the tracker crosses the border of one of those places the GPS kicks in. When this happens you get an alert on your phone like this one we got in testing: âHeads up, Gus is 0.3 miles from home near Clearview Drive.â
Whistle GO in use
We tested the Whistle GO Explore on our two-year-old 60lb Wirehaired Pointing Griffon who is an expert escape artist, and it came in very handy more than once for tracking him down (even outside of our testing!). The alert came through about 2-3 minutes after the dog crossed the boundary â which is a long time, but more of a heads up than we would have received otherwise. Once he crossed the boundary a big âtrackâ button appears on your phone and this kicks in the GPS so you can more accurately track and locate him.
While heâs in the Wi-Fi boundary the GPS turns off and less accurate Wi-Fi location is used to save battery life. Consequently the battery life on the GO Explore is impressive. When we tested the third-generation Whistle we would have to recharge it every four or five days; the GO Explore went 26 days before we needed to charge it (the GO has a 10 day battery life). However, the more you take your pet outside the âsafe place,â say for a walk, the more often youâll need to charge.
On the activity tracking side, the app shows you a timeline of your petâs activity, how much ground he covered, and an estimate of how many calories burned, plus how long he was active. You can set daily goals and be alerted when he hits them, although it would be nice to get an alert around 5pm saying if he needs some more exercise (you can hook Whistle up to IFTTT to get features like this).
When you, or someone with the Whistle app on their phone, take the dog for a walk you get an alert saying âEnjoy your walkâ and then another one when heâs back home â a nice way to keep track of any dog walkers and make sure theyâre doing their due diligence. You donât get a detailed map of your walk however, more of a point-to-point overview.
New with Whistle GO is a health tracking feature â which uses the accelerometer in the device to monitor licking, scratching and sleeping. You canât access this information in the app, but you get a weekly report emailed to you that includes how long your dog spent doing those favourite activities. As someone who has frequently sat in front of my vet saying my dog has been scratching but not being able to answer her questions about how often and how long, this is actually useful information. Plus, the long-term tracking compares the activities week-by-week, so you can keep an eye out for potential problems.
The biggest downside to Whistle is the $10 a month subscription for cellular data that enables the GPS tracking, and if you have two dogs thatâs per Whistle. You canât use the device without the cellular plan, so if you just wanted activity and health tracking thatâs not an option. This is expensive considering how little youâll actually use the data plan, but itâs essentially an insurance policy, and all the features you get with the Whistle app are fun and informative, so probably worth paying something for.
In our testing however, GPS tracking was pretty spotty. It would say Gus was home from his walk about 800 feet down the street or tell me he was out of the boundary when actually he was just at the far end of the yard. We have very poor cellular service in our neighbourhood however, and considering that, it actually did a decent job. One downside here is if you like to go walking in the woods, or camp in remote areas with your dog, you wonât be able to rely on this to keep track of your pup because those places rarely have decent service either.
Best smart pet feeder
PetSafe Smart Feeder
Life gets busy and sometimes you canât get home to feed Felix or Fido, or you have so many other mouths to feed that perhaps he or she gets overlooked and itâs not till you finally plop down on the couch and spot that woeful face do you remember.
An automatic pet feeder may seem like an unnecessary luxury but it's actually a really great tool for pet care. Your pet gets fed on time, every time and gets the exact portion â which is crucial to pet health. From a smart home perspective, the PetSafe we tested also lets you feed your pet with your voice using Alexa, which is super handy. Plus you can feed them remotely, great if youâre out of the house and want to make sure theyâre taken care of.
PetSafe Smart Feeder: Design and features
PetSafe is a big device, itâs not going to easily blend in where your small food bowl used to be â but thatâs because itâs doing double duty as a food storage system as well as food bowl. The stainless-steel bowl can be removed for cleaning, and thereâs a button on the top that will dispense food if you donât want to use the app â although this is quite slow.
Features include being able to schedule, monitor, and adjust your petâs feeding remotely. The PetSafe automatically dispenses correct portions and sends you alerts when food is running low. You can also hook into the Amazon Dash Replenishment service to make sure you never run out of food (this is a new feature on the just released model). Voice control with Alexa lets you dispense food with your voice.
The PetSafe works off AC power, which means no food if the power goes out so youâll want to pop in some batteries for backup.
PetSafe Smart Feeder in use
Controlling the feeder with the app is simple, the main screen has a big button you press to feed on the fly, prompting you to choose how much. There is also access to scheduling options, and the choice to feed your dog slowly rather than all at once, which is good for those ravenous hounds that wolf it all down â canât be good for the digestion! A timeline view shows you all the feeds your pet has received and when you first set up the device it asks if you have a dog or cat and provides a feeding schedule you can tweak.
Notifications in the app include options to have alerts sent when your pet is fed, when thereâs an error, and when you are low on food or out of food. These last two are a new addition in the latest model; the earlier version didnât have this and it was easy to think your pet had been fed when in fact nothing had come out. You can also now tie the feeder into Amazonâs Dash Replenishment service, but we couldnât test this as they donât carry the food we use.
You can fit about 24 cups of dry or semi-moist food in the feeder â no wet food as that would just be messy. Youâre able to feed up to four cups per meal, which is plenty. We really like the slow feed option, which doles out bits of the total portion over 15 minutes â it was great for our mad-hungry dog and kept him very attentive!
The feeder only works on 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, but it connected to our dual band router no problem. The biggest problem here is if you have two pets that donât like to share. You can control two feeders from one app â but thatâs a big outlay. In our scenario we have one dog crated and the other not, so we just scheduled the smaller dogâs feed for when the bigger dog would be in his kennel. There are some pet feeders out there that use wireless tags you attach to your petâs collar to only open for the correct pet, but weâve not tested those yet. They are also quite a bit more expensive.
Our only problem with the PetSafe was the flimsiness of the bowl attachment, as our bigger dog could easily rip it out in his quest for more food â he didnât do any damage to it, but it did mean the food would just spill on the floor because heâd knocked the bowl out of the way. Weâd love a way for it to be more securely attached. Thankfully he wasnât able to get into the food dispenser, despite trying very hard. So thatâs a bonus.
Best pet cameras
Being able to check on your pet at home and make sure theyâve been picked up by dog-walkers is something everyone can benefit from. There are quite a few specialised pet cams on the market as well as some regular smart home viewers with some decent pet features.
When buying a pet camera, youâll want to consider similar factors as you would for a regular smart home camera. Video quality, resolution and frames per second (fps) are all critical here. You really should be looking at 1080p quality at 30 frames per second â thatâs the optimal experience, and anything less is a compromise.
As weâve mentioned, standard smart home cameras are an option here too. Devices like the Wyze Cam, Nest Cam Indoor (which can alert you specifically if it hears a dog barking), and Hive Camera offer you the ability to check on your pets and even communicate two-ways. Plus, they can fill the role of being a standard smart home camera. You're getting something that gives you both options.
Pet-specific cameras have interactive features built just for your furry friends, such as the ability to dole out treats, or play games with them â either autonomously or with you driving the controls from your office. Most of these gadgets are designed for both dogs and cats, and several have added features that come with a subscription.
Petcube Bites 2
Petcube Bites 2 is a camera and treat dispenser in one, with Alexa built-in. In addition to being able to see, talk to, and send your pet a treat using a mobile app, the Petcube Bites Alexa skill lets you do all this just with your voice. Plus you can use the Alexa for all the other fun and useful things the voice assistant is great for.
Petcube Bites: Design and features
The Petcube is a tall, slim device with a brushed metal body that ideally should be mounted to a wall, but can also be placed on a table or low counter (if you put it too high you wonât be able to see your pet on the floor). Features include a 160-degree camera view that you can stream from live in full HD, two-way audio that lets you chat with your moggy or pooch from afar, and a fun, interactive Angry Birds-esque treat flinging tool.
As a smart camera you can schedule the device to turn on or off at certain times, or just be active when you open the app. Motion and sound alerts are free but youâll need to sign up for the companyâs Petcube Care plan for smart alerts (pet, human, bark and meow detection), longer video history (you get four hours for free) and the ability to download your videos. It starts at $3.99 a month.
Setup is straightforward: plug it in, load it up with treats, download the Petcube app and connect to your Wi-Fi (2.4 GHz or 5GHz). As weâve mentioned, Petcube Bites ideally needs to be wall-mounted, or you end up struggling to see over surfaces if you just prop it up. You can balance it on the edge of a table or unit fine â but unless it's at the edge you'll get an obscured view.
Petcube Bites in use
We tested Petcube Bites with two dogs, a small terrier and a larger dog, and they both loved it â obviously. They quickly came to recognise the sound the camera makes when you open the app and connect to it, which means they run to the camera as soon as you turn it on. This is classic click and treat conditioning and adding the sound is a clever idea to make them come to you as soon as you want to check in (you can turn off the sound if you prefer).
The appâs interface for flinging the treat is well thought-out and fun. It works in landscape mode only and the interface is super-imposed over the live view of your home. Click a small dog bone and then swipe up to fling the treat, choosing from three distances. You can also choose to video the interaction or take a photo. Plus, thereâs a microphone button to toggle on two-way talk if you want to hear your pup or have them hear you.
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You can schedule treats to be doled out to your pet during the day too, if you donât have time to interact, or you could share the camera with friends and family so they can check in and play. You can also make your camera public and let strangers on the internet treat your pet, but this is not something we would recommend and the social feed in the app showing all the shared cameras is not something we were fans of (one reviewer mentioned seeing a naked man walking past one camera â err, no thanks). While you canât turn the feed off, you can change the settings so that you donât see it every time you launch the app.
As a pet monitoring device, Petcube works well, sending you an alert when motion or sound is detected, which takes you straight to a live stream from your camera. The alert is a purring sound, which is cute, but very quiet. With the subscription you can get alerts for specific pet activity, a bark or a meow and/or a person, and you can then also filter your video clips by these.
Video quality is decent, not crisp, but clear enough so you can see what is going on and talk to your pet, but night vision is very grainy and often took a while to kick in, leaving us staring at a black screen for a bit. We had our test unit set up a few feet away from our dogâs kennel, where he goes when weâre out of the house (heâs a 60lb puppy and I like my leather couch). We were able to fling the treats far enough that they landed in his kennel (and if they didnât make it our 11-year-old Border Terrier was happy to come clean up the mess.
There is a bit of a mess with the treat flinging, as the debris comes out with it, so you wonât want to put it near your best rug. You also need to be picky about what treats you put in here, or it can get really messy and wonât work properly. Petcube says they should be round, no smaller than .3 inches and no bigger than 1 inch, which limits you a bit. They have list of ârecommended" treats on the Petcube website.
The built-in Alexa is great if you donât already have the smart speaker in the room this will go in, and makes the price point a little more palatable. However, if you have an Alexa in the same room, youâll want to turn the voice assistant in this off. As with a lot of third party Alexa devices, it is lacking a few features, such as music grouping and ESP, where only the closest Alexa will pipe up â making it more annoying than useful. We (more specifically our kids) did love using the Petcube skill to send treats with our voice, however.
Google Nest Cam IQ Indoor
If you just want to keep an eye on your pet but arenât interested in treats or the other more gimmicky features of a pet cam, the Google Nest Cam IQ Indoor is our favourite option. While there are much less expensive smart home cameras out there that will send you sound and motion alerts, the Nest Cam can send you specific alerts for dog barking, plus it can zoom in and actually track your pet as they pass by.
Google Nest Cam: Pet-friendly features
Bulky, and white, Nest Cam isnât going to blend in perfectly with most decor, but a magnetic mount and swivel head means youâll probably be able to get it in a good spot for pet spying. It has far and away the best camera specs, including 1080p, 30fps, a 4K sensor, and HDR imaging â this means youâll be seeing Fido in perfect clarity. Night vision is also pretty crisp and very usable.
Three features we love about Nest Cam IQ that make it a great pet camera are: superb two-way talk, thanks to three microphones with echo suppression and noise cancellation; a 12x digital zoom, so you can get really close up and see what your dog is chewing; and the Nest Aware subscription plan, which gets you bark alerts, âsuper sightâ â a zoom and track feature that zooms in and follows your pet when they pass in front of the camera â and 30 days of footage and continual recording, so you can watch your critter's entire day.
Like the Petcube, Nest Cam has a smart assistant built in, this time Google Assistant, so your Nest Cam doubles up as a smart speaker. However, there are no pet-specific commands you can give it and there are some restrictions, for example it won't play music.
Google Nest Cam: As a pet camera
The Nest app is very responsive and clicking on a âdog barkingâ alert takes you straight to a live view of the Nest Cam, where you can hop on two-way talk to hopefully calm Fido down, or check out whatâs going on. Of course, you can have multiple Nest cameras in one app, so you can track your pets wherever they may roam, both throughout your house and outdoors with the Google Nest IQ Outdoor Cam, which has all the same features as the indoor version.
We also really like that the Nest Cam knows when you are home or away (thanks to geofencing and your smartphone) and will turn on and off automatically, so you donât need to worry about setting schedules or turning the camera off when youâre home, but youâll know youâll hear about it if thereâs a kerfuffle at home while youâre out.
Of course, as a smart home camera you can use the Nest Cam for much more than just pet spotting. Read our full review of this device here.
Ring Spotlight Cam
As we noted in our review of the Nest Cam, having an outdoor camera may be necessary if you want to keep an eye on your pet and he or she spends a lot of time in your backyard. The Ring Spotlight Cam is a very good solution here and is significantly less expensive than the Nest IQ Cam Outdoor, plus is battery-powered so you can put it in the best spot in your yard to catch your petâs antics.
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One downside is that it doesnât have specific bark detection, but what we love about it as an animal cam is it has a built-in spotlight that turns on at night when it detects motion. Weâre not species-est here at The Ambient, and clearly this feature would be useful for keeping an eye on any number of critters. We actually use one in our backyard to keep watch over our chicken coop â if a predator prowls around at night the bright spotlight acts as a good deterrent.
Ring Spotlight Cam: Pet-friendly features
Ring Spotlight Cam comes in white or black, and features two slots for batteries so you donât have to recharge too often, or opt for the solar panel add on and hopefully never have to worry about keeping it juiced up. Two LED panels on either side of the camera light up when motion is detected, and you can set motion zones and adjust sensitivity. For pet-watching youâre going to want to enable all motion zones.
The app will ping you when thereâs motion and you can watch a live feed and use two-way talk to chat to your pet. The 140-degree field of view is decent and 1080p HD video gets you a pretty clear picture, but not a lot of detail, and the zoom is a bit of a blurry mess. Night vision is also good enough. What youâre really paying for here is the portability â being able to put this anywhere makes it a great pet cam, although youâll need decent Wi-Fi wherever it sits.
Ring Spotlight Cam: As a pet camera
We set the Ring Spotlight up on an oak tree near our chicken coop, so we could keep an eye on the birds and be alerted to any suspicious movement at night that might signal a raccoon or fox sniffing around. Using our 25lb and 60lb dogs as testers the floodlights activated reliably on motion, lighting up the chicken coop to potentially scare off the predators. Video quality is a bit of a letdown, as even though the camera is only about 20 feet away from the coop we can't really see into it very well, just enough blurry shapes to know that the chicks are still alive and well.
For a pet cam that lets you see your pet outdoors, know when he or she is running around, talk to them and check in on them if theyâre outdoors at night, Ring Spotlight is a good option. It also doubles as a decent security camera, with a loud siren you can activate from the app. Read our full review of it here.
Other pet cameras to consider
While we havenât tested these devices, they get good user reviews and have features our picks donât that might be a good fit for you.
Furbo Dog Camera
The Furbo Dog Camera has a 1080p camera with an impressive 160 degree field of view, although thereâs only one forward-facing lens, so youâll want to place it against a wall. Thereâs room in the bank for 100 treats, which it will fire out one at a time. We havenât tested the Furbo yet to ascertain video quality or treat velocity.
Thereâs night vision so you can still keep tabs on your pets after dark, and two-way audio as well. Furbo also listens for barking and will alert you to any distress while youâre away via a push notification, which is a neat feature.
There's also the new Furbo Dog Nanny service, available in the US and Canada only, which uses AI to give you even more features. These include dog activity alerts and dog selfie alerts, which basically let you know that the dog is looking at the camera and might want a treat. There's also person alerts, so if you do have a dog sitter that comes over to walk your best bud you'll know.
Finally, Dog Nanny has a Doggie Diary, which gives you the most adorable moments from your dog's day in 60 seconds. You get a free 90-day trial when you buy a Furbo, or pay $$.99 for three months then $6.99 a month or $69 for an annual subscription.
Pawbo Life Pet Camera
Pawbo has a massive range of pet cameras under its Theme Park brand, which goes some way to explaining the mad array of cameras, interactive toys and treat dispensers.
The main Pawbo Life is a neat and compact unit, although it lags behind rivals in terms of video quality. The camera opts for 720p HD rather than 1080p. However, the Pawbo makes up for its technical deficiencies with a host of games and entertainment options.
The standard Pawbo has two-way communication and a laser chasing game, which you can play manually or set to run automatically, making it useful while youâre at home as well.
The Pawbo Munch is a more fully-fledged feeder that you can pair with the Pawbo Life. You can reward your pet via the food drawer, which could hold a bigger meal if youâre running late, or want to make sure your cat is fed while youâre away. The treat drawer has two elements: the tray itself and an interior dispenser, which means treats can be doled out slowly over time as your pet plays with the Munch.
Petzi Treat Cam
Managing to sneak in as the cheapest camera on our list is the Petzi Treat Cam. And, as the name suggests, it's fairly straightforward in what you can expect here.
Owners can check on their pets throughout the day using their phone or tablet and using the built-in speaker they can shout at them to stop eating food off the counter. Just be aware that there's no microphone, so while they can hear you, you can't hear them.
So there's some small sacrifices you'll have to put up with for the lower price, but you do get a strong viewing range and a night-vision option for low-light. If you want to reward your pet, the remote treat option also lets you unleash snack bites day or night.