Pet Monitoring: Keeping Track of Your Pet's Tracks and More

By Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

You really know your pet. You know what he likes to eat, where he likes to walk, and what his favorite toy is. How would you like to know even more about your furry companion? How would you like to know just how much she runs, how well she sleeps, or where she is at any given time? You can know all this and more with a pet monitoring device.

Why monitor your pet?

Pet monitors provide valuable current information and provide valuable long-term information.

Physical health. Pet monitors record activity levels. Like us, dogs and cats need the proper amount of exercise to stay fit. And chunky pets need the proper amount of exercise to lose weight safely. Monitoring devices and their associated apps record your pet’s daily movements allowing you to gradually increase activity at a rate that promotes healthy weight loss. Then the monitor helps you maintain a consistent level of activity to keep your pet in shape. Some devices use databases loaded with information on specific pet food brands to measure you dog’s daily caloric intake. They even consider your dog’s breed and current weight to recommend portion size.

Mental health. In addition to physical health, activity is important to a pet’s mental health. Being active may decrease the development of behavioral issues and actually helps remedy problems that already exist. A variety of stimulation means a happier pet, so some devices differentiate between walking and playing.

Rest time. Sometimes, less activity is better for a pet. Pets recovering from illness or surgery need down time. Fluffy should not run a marathon after orthopedic surgery. Fido should not chase a squirrel during heartworm treatment. Fifi should not scamper up the stairs while recovering from pneumonia. Monitors record quiet time and may even gauge the quality of your pet’s sleep. With a pet monitor, you can make sure your pet is following doctor’s orders to rest.

Medical data. Pet monitors gather objective data, not ‘guestimates’.  When we see our pets every single day, it is hard to discern subtle changes in their activity levels. Monitors objectively track small changes over weeks or months. This data can be valuable in evaluating, diagnosing, and treating a pet’s condition. Gathering baseline data when a pet is healthy is an added benefit. As pets age or existing illnesses progress, monitors alert you and your veterinarian to downward trends early on when intervention may be more effective.

Routine data. With data retrieval, pet owners can know what their pets are doing even when they are not with them. You will know just how much exercise Fido got at the boarding facility or how many strolls he took with your dog walker by accessing recorded information via an app while you are away. If you know that your dog did not get enough exercise while you were at work, you can add a romp in the park before dinner! Or you can see just how well your pet and his sitter stuck to the daily routine while you were on vacation. You will feel better when you are separated from your pet if you know he is doing well during your absence.

What devices are available?

There are many different pet monitoring devices on the market. They vary in size, durability, and functionality so do your research before purchasing one.

The hallmark of monitoring devices is recording activity levels, but some do much more. Some monitors differentiate types of activity while others determine the quality of rest time and sleep patterns. Still others function as GPS trackers and alert owners when a dog leaves the yard. Some even store medical records.

Size and weight vary too. Some are as small as a quarter and hang from a collar like an ID tag while others attach directly to a collar and are a bit larger and heavier. Size and weight are important because it is hard for a tiny dog or cat to be active if he is burdened with a heavy monitor!

Most units are water resistant, but some are actually water proof. A water-resistant monitor may endure a quick bath but not a swim in the pool. If you have a waterdog, look for one that is truly water proof.

Are monitors expensive?

As always, you can spend a little or a lot. Many units are less than $50 while others cost hundreds. If you just want to keep track of your dog’s activity, you will not need to spend much. If you want to track your dog’s whereabouts or download his medical information, you will spend more. If you want a monitor that records the ambient temperature and lets you know when it is too hot or cold for your pet to stay outside, open your wallet a little wider. A monitor with a remote-controlled LED light that helps you find your missing dog at night may add a few more pennies.

What are other considerations?

Here are a few other things to think about before investing in a pet monitor.

Battery life. Battery life varies with how the unit is charged and how elaborate it is. Batteries in simple activity monitors may stay viable for weeks or even months, while GPS trackers may need to be recharged weekly. Units that use WiFi spare battery life.

Apps. Many monitors have associated apps to allow data retrieval. These apps are usually free and synch with smart phones or computers; however, some have subscription costs. GPS monitors usually involve monthly service fees, as do units that receive information or alerts regarding your pet. If your animal hospital can update your pet's vaccine information to the monitoring device, you will likely have a subscription fee.

GPS. Consider your environment when purchasing GPS monitors. GPS may be blocked by dense trees, rough country terrain, or city skyscrapers. You may not accurately locate your dog hiding behind the potting shed if the signal is interrupted. Working cell phone towers are a plus for good GPS function.

Social media. Some monitors have apps that allow communication with other pet owners on the same system. If you like engaging in social media and want to share photos of Fifi, this might be for you!

Knowing Your Pet

Good pet parents know their pets well and monitor them utilizing their human senses. Is that a red spot on her nose? Does his ear smell funny? Do I hear her coughing? Do I feel a lump? You are likely doing a good job monitoring your pet already, but if you want to know more, there are lots of devices at your disposal!

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