Pet Tech

Firstly, before I dive into this week’s topic, let me say – Happy New Year!

I hope 2024 has started well for you all. It’s been a busy start to the year for us here at SLVC, which is just the way we like it – surrounded by animals and helping you to keep your pets happy and healthy.

I don’t know whether it’s a sign of getting older (that’s a rhetorical question, please don’t feel the need to comment!), but the years seem to be flying by at an ever-increasing rate and with each year that passes, new technological advancements seems to occur. Don’t get me wrong, this can be fantastic – the way we work has changed so much even within my veterinary career and new developments continue to improve the things we can do to help animals, provide better care and treat patients more quickly and effectively. But technology continues to infiltrate other areas of our lives, too.

Technology has advanced so rapidly over the last couple of decades, we rely on it to support almost everything we do nowadays. From organising our daily schedules to doing our shopping or entertainment, an app or technological device is usually our first port of call. They’re seeping into every aspect of our lives – we can now remotely turn our heating on and off, manage visitors to our home via doorbell cameras, CCTV and remote door locks, even set our cars to defrost and preheat before we make our first journey of the morning (who doesn’t love that genius idea on a cold winter morning!). Even the most basic, back-to-nature pastime such as going for a walk now has a technological aspect to it. How many of us plan routes on an app or rely on GPS maps to find our way around? Yep, guilty. Not that embracing tech is anything we should feel bad about – it’s been developed to help us – but it does feel that we’re becoming increasingly reliant.

As I say, being a vet has changed immeasurably thanks to the advancement of technology and this is something that should certainly be celebrated. I’m an advocate for embracing new developments as well as being au fait with the more traditional methods, in case technology should let us down or become unavailable, which it can do from time to time. But as well as veterinary care, tech is increasingly creeping into pet care, too. They’re not essential, by any means, but some products and apps have emerged that are designed to make life easier for pet owners … with varying levels of success. Some are useful, some are gimmicks, and others are just downright daft! See what you think of this weird and wonderful pet tech that’s currently on the market:

Automatic Ball Launcher

If you have a highly energetic dog, I can just about see how this could be useful, but I’m not entirely convinced … especially when some models can set you back well over £100! The ball launcher is an electronic device that, as you may have guessed, will launch a ball for your dog to chase. If you haven’t got the time, energy, physical capability, strength or coordination to continually throw a ball for your dog this device can do it for you – and many offer the opportunity to adjust the launch distance, too, so you can tailor it for the size of your outdoor space. But I would hasten to add that a ball launcher won’t replace the need to walk your dog or interact and play with it. You’ll also need to be there to supervise and, unless you can train your dog to do it yourself, you’ll have to keep replacing the ball in the launcher.

There are, of course, other options that are much cheaper and can be just as effective, such as the long plastic manual ball launchers.

Also, I would urge owners to check the size of the balls that these launchers use – don’t let large dogs play with small balls that could easily be swallowed as this presents a choking hazard.

 

Smart Feeding Systems

These range in sophistication from bowls with timed-release covers which will allow access to food at a certain time, right up to daily dispensers that hold several days’ worth of food. Again, I can see how they can be useful but I’m wary that they could also be easily misused. For animals that need to eat at regular intervals or certain times of the day for health reasons, or for those that won’t self-regulate if food’s left out for them, these devices are great for occasions when you can’t be there at the right time to feed your pet. However, I do worry that with products like this on the market owners could be encouraged to leave pets alone for long periods of time, and they don’t just need their owners to dish out their dinner. Pets really need regular affection and interaction. Even if they’re fed and watered, they still need company – not just an electronic babysitter. Talking of which… the next product takes things to another level.

Interactive Pet Home Monitoring System

With a camera, Wi-fi connectivity, a mobile app and a two-way microphone, pet home monitors allow you to keep an eye on your pets when you’re not there. Again, that can be a great thing – you can make sure your pet’s ok when you’re not around, which can give you reassurance. Some of them can even dispense treats, so you can talk to Fido or Kitty via the app on your phone, praise them, and give them a treat, if you so wish. Again, I’d be worried that this type of system could encourage people to leave pets alone for extended periods of time. Also, the technology is so new it’s unclear as yet how animals will interact with the devices and how this could affect their relationships with their owners. We all know that animals form bonds with the people who are there to care for them and meet their needs. What will happen if they increasingly come to rely on an electronic device? Hmm, the jury’s still out on that one for me. It does make me feel a little uncomfortable.

GPS Trackers

These devices have been around for a few years now and can be useful for both cats and dogs. Using a collar or a small device that attaches to a collar, GPS trackers can help to reduce the number of missing pets and have successfully helped to reunite many pets and owners. It can also be fun to see where Kitty goes when they’re out and about exploring! However (yeah, sorry, there’s always a but, isn’t there!) I would stress that they shouldn’t be entirely replied upon. As with all technology, these devices aren’t infallible. They can fall off, get lost, or lose signal (most of them rely on a cellular connection so won’t work in areas of no or low phone signal). For dogs, they certainly shouldn’t be used to replace good recall training.

Pet Health Monitoring Systems

Much like a human smart watch, a smart collar or monitoring device can monitor your pet’s activity level, pulse, respiration, temperature and calories burned. They are promoted as a way to monitor your pet’s health and activity and can be really useful for preventative healthcare or as a way of monitoring certain health conditions. The information they record can be useful for vets in identifying and helping to diagnose problems and they can provide an early alert that something’s amiss (as I’ve mentioned many times before, it’s not always obvious when a pet is feeling unwell and some conditions can be quite well progressed before any symptoms become evident). I would stress, however, that these devices should be used to inform your pet’s regular veterinary health practitioner, not replace them! They can only track and record certain information – they won’t provide a full health picture or diagnose conditions and there’s a lot they won’t pick up on, too.

They can also be useful for providing an overall picture of your pet’s activity levels, allowing you to pick up on any changes. Has your cat become lethargic? If they’re moving less all of a sudden maybe a visit to the vet is in order. Or, are you walking your dog less due to time constraints? If it’s not a one-off and is becoming a consistent pattern, maybe rearrange your diary to factor in time for some longer walks!

Puppy Tweets

Now this device, by Mattel, is just absurd in my opinion! Yes, it’s designed just for fun but … why?! There are reviews for this on Amazon (I’m not linking it because, well, I’m not!) so people have clearly bought it … but as I’m sure you’ll understand, the reviews aren’t great. Essentially, it’s an electronic tag that attaches to your dog’s collar and, when your dog moves or barks, it publishes a Tweet on your dog’s Twitter (X) account (you know, the one you set up for them!) via a USB link. Apparently, it’s a way for you to ‘interact with your pet over the internet’. Yeah, because we all need to do that. The tweets are limited, generic (non-customisable) and pre-loaded, so basically after a while the same ones will just continue to be repeated. If your dog moves or barks a lot you could be bombarded with them all in one day, and then you’ll have the same again the following day. Great!

I tell you what’s even better than interacting with your pet over the internet … actually interacting with your pet in real life! Now there’s a revolutionary idea!

Until next time, I’m going to unplug and power off for a while. All this talk of technology has really drained my battery! Bye for now.