Want some sober stats about everyday threats to your furry little companions?
Dogs and cats are as prone to getting fat as us humans, especially older pets. PetMD says 17.6 percent of US dogs (13.9 million) are obese; 35.1 percent (29.9 million) are merely overweight. And according to the American Humane Association, over 10 million pets—cats and dogs—go missing every year, either lost or stolen.
Those numbers are disconcerting, especially when you consider just how much happiness our fluffy friends bring into our lives. It's our duty to keep them happy, healthy, and safe. And while regular trips to the vet along with some good old-fashioned TLC do wonders, technology can help play a pivotal role as well. We've tested plenty of pet trackers and GPS collars designed to trace your pet's activity, location, and more. Here's what to look for, along with our favorites.
Connection Type/Base Stations
All the trackers we've tested use apps for Android or iOS devices to give you a quick read on the data they collect. Few provide a web-based interface—PetPace does, but only to veterinarians who pay extra for it. FitBark offers free web interface, but you still need a smartphone for setup and to sync data. If you're not a smartphone user, you're probably not going to be a tracking customer.
Base stations are often used to establish a line of communcation between the tracker and your phone via Wi-Fi. They come in lots of shapes and sizes. The Link AKC has a base that doubles as a battery charger. FitBark sells an optional base station that looks like a plastic dog house. The Whistle 3 doesn't need a separate base station—it has Wi-Fi built in, so it uses your home router to create the base station.
The majority of pet trackers use Bluetooth for the initial setup. A few use Bluetooth exclusively. For example, the Link AKC utilizes Bluetooth to talk to your smartphone and its base station/charger—as long as it's within range of either, your pet is considered to be in a "safe zone." It isn't until your pet wanders out of range that the alerts arrive warning it might be on safari.
The very first pet trackers were all about activity, like fitness trackers—we quantified them as "Fitbits for pets," and that description still largely stands. Nearly every tracker we've tested tracks activity to varying degrees
Some have thrown themselves into the activity-tracking in a big way. PetPace, with a deep focus on dog health and working with vets, is all about generating reports on fitness, showing various movement levels from resting to high-activity, plus pulse and respiration. The Tractive Motion has graphs galore. FitBark distills every motion a dog makes into BarkPoints, an easily quantifiable comparison from day to day (and dog to dog). Most of the trackers calculate activity using proprietary algorithms, so pick a device based on the activity that's important to you.
GPS location is a primary reason for getting a tracker now. Note that trackers should be used in conjunction with microchips in a pet, not as a substitute. Most vets charge less than $50 to put the rice-sized permanent chip inside a pet. 99 percent of shelters and vet clinics have scanners. It's about as foolproof a way of being reunited with a lost pet as exists.
If you're in an area with coverage (primarily 3G on the latest trackers), the tracker talks to the towers and sends info to the internet on your pet's whereabouts you can access on your phone app. It's not always instantaneous—there can be a few minutes delay while the device realizes your pet is out of the safe zone. That's enough time for a fast pet to make a getaway, but better than not knowing at all that Fido jumped the fence.
When compared with a personal tracker device like the Tile Mate or Trackr Bravo, they might look like good pet options, considering their battery life, small size, and affordable price. But pet-specific devices are made specifically for collars (or come with collars) and are ruggedized. All are dirt- and water-resistant enough to handle a swim by the more daring pet escapees.
There are typically monthly or annual fees associated with GPS tracking. The lowest price we've calculated is getting the Whistle 3 and paying for a full two years of service upfront, to the tune of $246.73.
What About Cats?
Many of the devices available are a trifle too big to effectively work on cats, or the algorithms used just don't take the slinky movements of the feline into account the way they do a dopey, lumbering canine. If you want to track your cat, we've highlighted which devices do double-duty in the chart above.
Also consider size and weight for the different breeds of dogs. The smallest tracker we've tested is the Tractive Motion at just a quarter of an ounce; the Link AKC and PetPace are very large and work best with the collars that ship with the devices, though the collars come in various sizes.
A few of these devices try to track more than just activity and location. Temperature is one that comes up a lot, because hot cars are killers. Don't leave the dog or cat inside, even with the windows down! That said, we've found temperature to be fairly inaccurate, be it from dogs sitting close to wood-fired stoves on a cold day, laying in the sun by the bay window, or just folding the tracker up into their neck while sleeping. It might not be a bad feature to have, but the warnings take on a boy-who-cried-wolf aspect.
Perhaps the biggest issue you'll have with these devices is battery life and charging. Some have batteries that can last a week (Whistle 3, FitBark), while others last just a couple days at best (Link AKC). Not surprising, location services negatively impact battery life. If a dog is on an extended furlough without leave, talking to cell phone towers to get a GPS signal can chew through battery quickly. So find that missing pet fast.
Still, it's hard to argue with the peace of mind these trackers provide. And after all the love your pet brings into your life, isn't it the least you can do?
Featured Dog Tracker Reviews:
Whistle 3 Review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Whistle 3's cost, size, and battery life put it at the head of the pack for pet activity and location trackers. Read the full review
FitBark Dog Activity Monitor Review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The FitBark Activity Monitor is an affordable, unobtrusive fitness tracker that takes your dog's total physical activity into account, but falls just short of our Editors' Choice. Read the full review
Link AKC Smart Collar Review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Link AKC Smart Collar thoroughly tracks your dog's activity and location, but it's a bit big and pricey compared with other options. Read the full review
PetPace Collar Review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The PetPace Collar measures a lot more than just your dog or cat's activity levels, but it requires a pricey subscription fee. Read the full review
Tractive Motion Review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Tractive Motion is an affordable pet activity tracker for cats and dogs that syncs with your phone via Bluetooth, but lacks some of the features and convenience you get with pricier models. Read the full review
Trax Play Review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Trax Play is a useful GPS tracker for small children and pets, but you're better off using a device with two-way communication. Read the full review