Tech + Health

02.18.14

Fitness Gadgets … for Your Dog

It only sounds obsessive. OK, it may be a little obsessive. But these gadgets let you know immediately if something is off with your dog’s activity—often the first sign of a larger health problem.

Full disclosure—I am one of those crazy dog owners. I talk to my two year old basenji mix, Wednesday, like she’s a human. In reality, my home is really Wednesday’s home—I’m just lucky she lets me live there. When I travel, I Facetime mostly just to hang out with Wednesday and see how she’s doing, and when Wednesday stays with her “grandparents,” I call every few hours just to check in.

Wednesday’s health and happiness is one of my top priorities, so when I learned of the growing trend of “fitness trackers for dogs,” my interest was significantly piqued. These new gadgets, billed as a 24/7 connection to your pooch, hit CES hard this year, drumming up a lot of media attention in the process.

But what do these devices exactly do, and more importantly—are they worth it? With prices ranging from nearly $100 and up, this is a potentially pricey way to monitor Fido’s activity. While humans can justify a fitness tracker to ensure they are squeezing in enough steps each day, does your dog really need one, too? Surely they are getting enough exercise through those daily walks and ball chasing…or are they? And is that all the information you need to know?

That’s where these gadgets come in. It’s easy to know how much activity your dog is getting when you are involved, but what about when you are at work? Has your pup suddenly become more lethargic in your absence? Or, what about compared to similar breeds? Is your golden retriever on par with others, or could he stand to run a bit more?

These gadgets promise to report that, and then some. With most offering daily and weekly insights, you get a full review of how much your pet is moving, resting and playing when you are and are not around. Further, they provide information over time, allowing you to know immediately if something is off with your dog’s activity—often the first sign of a larger health problem. Unlike humans, who are quick to notify others at the first sign of discomfort, dogs will power through, almost hiding their ailment from their owners.

Three devices have found themselves as leaders of the pack in the pet activity tracker market. Whistle has already hit the market ($129.95), while two others, Voyce and FitBark, will be available in the next few months. While most offer similar insights and trend analysis, each has a few unique offerings. And, like human fitness trackers, all offer the ability to brag about your pet’s activity on all your favorite social networks. You can even post your favorite pet selfies for the device community.

Whistle, available now, offers an easy and digestible way for owners to get the most relevant info on your dog's activities. A tiny, on-the-collar device, Whistle slips right on, virtually undetected by most pets. Taking insights from your dog’s movement, it relays information directly to your Apple smartphone (Android coming later this year) via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. You can use it to track daily activity, develop trends and set goals for your dog. You can even compare your pup to other similar breeds to offer an understanding of where your dog falls on the activity spectrum.

Whistle

All this information can be uploaded directly to your vet, providing them a full picture of your pet’s health before you even set foot in the door—something that Whistle takes seriously given its stacked list of pet doc advisors.

Voyce, which is available for pre-order later this spring (price TBD), was developed by a subsidiary of a firm specializing in identity risk management. The gadget uses a special collar featuring 450 different components which monitor your dog’s vital signs through the neck, including heart rate, respiratory rate, activity, rest and calories.

Like Whistle, Voyce can share this information with your vet—and with your smartphone. But it does require a monthly or annual subscription.

FitBark, available for preorder ($69 for one device, $109 for one device and a base station), is more of a community device. The gadget allows you to connect with others in your family via a messenger app, journal your pet’s activities and see if your dog walker really did take the dog for its walk via the interactive to-do list. FitBark will also offer an open API, and encourages developers to get involved with the platform.

Unlike Whistle or Voyce, however, FitBark will only provide real-time updates when in the vicinity of a device-registered smartphone unless you have a “base station,” which looks like a small dog house. If you want real-time updates throughout the day, you’ll have to drop $50 more dollars for the station. FitBark does not have a subscription fee.

But, back to necessity. Are these trackers worth it? Let’s consider price. Americans spent an estimated $55.53 billion on their pets in 2013, according to the American Pet Products Association—an estimated 25 percent of that was on vet care alone. And, when you consider that only about five percent of dog owners have pet insurance, dog activity trackers like this start to make sense. If you could tap into your dog’s health and wellness before an issue becomes monumental (and pricey), wouldn’t you want to?

You should, according to Dr. Jeff Werber, Founder and Veterinarian at the Century Veterinary Group in Los Angeles. As Werber, who is also a Whistle advisor, notes, what our pets are up to when we aren’t around is really a mystery.

 “Fifty-five percent of pets are overweight—this is the largest epidemic affecting our pets," said Webber. "These provide the ability to monitor movement and exercise.”

“This provides an ongoing connection between you and the vet,” added Whistle CEO and co-founder Ben Jacobs. According to Jacobs, Whistle claims he talked with hundreds of vets in its development process to determine what these docs believe to be the most useful information for them to know to effectively treat your pup.

So what does that mean for you? If one of these gadgets works as advertised, it could result in a healthier, happier pooch who requires fewer vet visits, and more efficient trips for those visits that can’t be avoided.

And what about for Wednesday? Well, that means she’s sold on her new collar bling.