By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker
With the popularity of wearable fitness trackers for humans (1 in 10 Americans has one),1 it was only a matter of time before wearable technology for pets became available — and that time is now. There are a number of smart collars and other pet devices that do everything from locate your dog if he's lost (via built-in GPS) to monitor his activity levels, body temperature, respiration rate and even body position.
Such technology is in no way a substitute for regular check-ups with your integrative veterinarian, and it's certainly not a necessity for properly caring for your pet. The devices can be pricey, and typically include a monthly monitoring fee as well. There's also the very real concern of strapping a Wi-Fi-enabled device to your pet 24/7 which Dr. Mercola has extensively reviewed in the past.
That said, fitness trackers can help you stay on top of subtle changes to your pet's routine that you may not have noticed otherwise. Plus, with so many pets suffering from obesity-related diseases, fitness trackers can give you some motivation to keep your pet active by comparing your pet's activity levels with similar dogs of his age and size, while informing you about how much (or how little) exercise he's actually getting. Let's take a look at some of the options on the market.
Fitness Trackers and Other Wearable Technology for Dogs
Waggit (currently in a pre-sales campaign) is a smart collar that monitors your pet's vital signs, body positions and sleep quality, comparing it to his "baseline" readings so you get alerts and early indications of potential health concerns. Since dogs are masters at hiding pain and sickness, there's also a pain management component, which tracks unusual changes in vitals, movement, sleep and body position that could indicate your dog is in pain.
Waggit also allows you to input a virtual "fence," then alerts you if your dog has gone beyond it (as well as provides GPS location and even ambient temperature alerts). For activity, Waggit allows you to set activity goals and track your dog's time, distance, speed, intensity and calories burned and compare this with similar dogs. There's also a training component that uses multiple sounds for "gamified training for you and your pup."2
The FitBark is a device you attach to your dog's collar, which then monitors activity levels, sleep quality, distance traveled, calories burned and overall health and behavior. The second edition (FitBark 2) boasts a longer battery life of up to six months.
FitBark can be linked to some wearable fitness trackers for humans or synced up with your cellphone, allowing you to monitor your pet 24/7. There's also a FitBark Health Index that gives you an overall picture of your pet's health. Any dips in the index may be an early sign of discomfort or disease.
According to FitBark, "We built the FitBark 2 in collaboration with 45+ veterinary schools and research institutions that have been using our platform in clinical settings to address mobility issues, skin diseases, nutrition, cognition, vision and a wide variety of medical conditions."3
You can easily share FitBark data with your veterinarian or trainer for increased monitoring or other family members to coordinate care. FitBark has also amassed quite a bit of data on pets from users' devices, leading to some interesting factoids like:4
- Maltese dogs appear to be especially restless during fireworks while beagles and golden retrievers tend to be calmer
- Puppies are nearly twice as active as adult dogs
- Vizslas, spaniels and terriers require lots of activity
- Switzerland has the most active dogs in the world
- Golden retrievers tend to enjoy a high quality of sleep
Whistle 3 is another device that attaches to your pet's collar, allowing you to track your pet's whereabouts and activity. They claim to be the most advanced pet tracker, allowing you to find the exact location of your pet anywhere in the U.S. Whistle 3 also has activity and rest monitoring that allows you to set goals and receive notifications if there are significant changes to activity or sleep patterns.5
PetPace is a smart collar that uses sensors to track your pet's temperature, activity, pulse, respiration, positions, calories consumed and burned and heart rate variations. The data is sent to a health monitoring service that analyzes it and sends you (and your veterinarian) alerts if any abnormalities are detected.
Your pet must be within 1,000 feet of the Gateway (which connects to your modem) to transmit data in real-time. Other times, the data is stored and transmitted when your pet is back within range. PetPace comes in various sizes and can even be worn by cats as small as 8 pounds.6
The Poof "pea" is a tiny medallion-like device that hangs from your pet's collar (this one can be used with dogs and cats alike), providing activity monitoring, calorie tracking and sleep tracking and boasting a battery life of six months. The similar Poof "bean" provides the same services but comes with a rechargeable battery that lasts about six weeks per charge.
The usefulness of pet fitness trackers ultimately depends on the accuracy of the data, their safety for your pet as well as your willingness to view and act on the data you receive.
Such devices will surely continue to develop and become increasingly sophisticated as time goes on, but for now, if you're the kind of person who wants to keep close tabs on your pet's vitals and activity, you may enjoy the extra data that wearable technology can provide. And who knows — someday such devices may even help you and your pet communicate.