Having dinner at my boyfriend’s house, I get a notification on my phone saying that Coco’s food has just been released for her.
I open the smart food dispenser app on my phone and watch my delighted cat tucking into her dinner. I press the microphone so she can hear me, and start cooing to her.
Coco meows happily, and after we’ve both finished our separate meals, I open another app so I can play a laser game with her. She runs around my flat chasing a red dot that I’m controlling with my finger — all from six miles away — while I watch on my phone screen.
It’s no longer enough to wave a ball on a stick at your unimpressed cat, or empty a can of food into a bowl. Instead, the rise of tech means pets can have their own robot friends and electronic feeders with inbuilt calorie counters. There are even apps designed to translate miaows and woofs.
Radhika Sanghani and her cat Coco (pictured) give verdict on some of the best gadgets for pets, after research found 2.1 million people across the UK collected a new pet in lockdown
Thanks to this, as pet owners like myself start to return to normal lives — the office, nights out, weekends away — after endless months spent lavishing love and attention on lockdown puppies and kittens, our furry friends won’t be left alone.
A highlight of the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show was a ‘smart’ cat and dog flap that allows owners to talk to their pets via smartphone. Retailing at more than £2,200, the MyQ Pet Portal will be available to buy later this year.
The pet tech market is estimated to exceed £14 billion by 2025. ‘There’s been an explosion in smart tech for pets in the past year because of Covid,’ says Ben Lee, entrepreneur and digital product expert. ‘Pets are incredible companions, and they’ve become a solution to loneliness.’
In the UK, 2.1 million people got a new pet in lockdown, with 1.8 million more considering getting one, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association.
Owners are also spending more and more on their feline and canine friends. UK pet purchases reached a record high of £6.9 billion in 2019, and experts believe spending will only continue to rise.
‘As a society, we track our own data and we want to do it for our pets, too, from nutrition to sleep,’ says Lee.
The benefits still seem focused on the owner — GPS collars and smart cat flaps are more about reassuring owners than improving the pet’s life — but Lee believes tech will soon be used to predict health conditions.
In the meantime, there are plenty of apps and gadgets that do everything from babysitting to keeping pets warm — all from afar. Coco and I tried some of the best…
WEBCAM TO KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR PET
Petcube Play 2, £130, petcube.com
Radhika said Petcube Play 2 (pictured) gives her peace of mind while away from coco and is worth every penny
When I stay at my boyfriend’s, I often worry about Coco. So I was thrilled to hear about Petcube Play 2, a webcam that means I can see and speak to her from my phone, and play laser games with her.
The Smart HD camera has a 160-degree view and an option to record videos via the app. When I move the laser on my phone screen, it somehow translates to a real-life red dot on my living-room floor.
Coco loves it, and I get peace of mind from checking on her while I’m away. It’s truly worth every penny. 10/10
ROBOT THAT PLAYS WITH THE CAT
Ebo Pro, £259, enabot.com
Radhika said Ebo Pro (pictured) isn’t cheap, but is perfect for indoor cats that need entertainment
Ebo bills itself as a ‘smart robot companion for your cat’, designed to prevent loneliness and boredom. The small round ball wanders around my home, calling out ‘Ebo’, and Coco stares at it in fascination.
There are numerous functions, from a laser game to a webcam and audio feed that work similarly to the Petcube. The AI tech means it adapts its play to my cat’s personality. My poor tech skills mean that I find it hard to figure out all the functions, but I love the self-timer — Ebo wakes up twice a day to play with Coco, and then returns itself to the charger.
Ebo isn’t cheap, but it’s perfect for indoor cats that need entertainment, and can be used to train them and track their exercise.
At first, Coco is suspicious of her robot friend and prods at it with her paw, but when it speaks and turns its laser light on, she perks up and is happy to chase the red dot around the house. 9/10
COSY SMART BED WITH HEAT CONTROL
PetKit Cosy Pet Bed, £135, petkit.co.uk
Radhika said PetKit Cosy Pet Bed (pictured) is best for pets who struggle with the heat or cold
I’m quite impressed by everything this smart pet bed offers. Using humidity sensors, it adjusts the temperature of the bed, heating up in the winter and using air conditioning to keep pets cool in the summer. A hidden infrared sensor monitors when your pet is in the bed, so you can get app updates about your pet’s sleep patterns. The only problem is persuading Coco to use it.
It’s only when I layer blankets inside that she enters (the padding it comes with is quite thin), but she isn’t too impressed. This is best for pets who struggle with the heat or cold. 7/10
GPS TRACKING COLLAR FOR FURRY FRIENDS
Pawtrack GPS cat collar, £39.99 with a monthly £7.99 subscription fee, pawtrack.com
Radhika said Pawtrack GPS cat collar (pictured) is fiddly to set up, but showed exactly where Coco went
My flat is on a main road and I live in fear of Coco straying too far from home, so I was excited to try the Pawtrack collar.
It uses GPS so owners can see their pet’s location and recent paths on an app, and can alert you to when your cat goes beyond your boundary. There’s even a tracking beacon to help you find a cat that’s hiding in foliage.
It was fiddly to set up and has to be recharged nightly, but showed exactly where Coco went. 6/10
APP THAT DECODES YOUR PUSS’S MIAOWS
MeowTalk, free, App Store or Google Play
Radhika said MeowTalk (pictured) could be useful for loud cats, despite being initially not convinced that it would work
This free app promises to ‘translate your cat’s miaows’, using machine learning tech. I’m not convinced it will work. But when I test it out on Coco, I’m impressed.
When she’s purring, the app translates it to ‘I’m relaxing’, and when she’s outside my bedroom door, miaowing to be let in, the app tells me: ‘I want to be loved!’ I give her cuddles, and the app logs the fact that it was right. The only problem for me is that Coco rarely miaows, but for loud cats, this app could be useful.7/10
SMART FEEDER THAT FILMS YOUR PAL
Skymee Smart Automatic Food Dispenser, £139, amazon.co.uk
Radhika said Skymee Smart Automatic Food Dispenser (pictured) is great for any anxious pet owner but the accompanying app isn’t as easy to use as it could be
The thing I’m most excited about with this food dispenser is being able to set automatically timed feeds for Coco so that I can leave the house without worrying about her meals. But it turns out that the feeder does so much more than release food on cue. It has a built-in HD camera so that I can watch Coco eat, as well as a two-way microphone so I can talk to her while she dines.
It’s not exactly necessary, but it’s definitely fun, and would be a great addition for any anxious pet owner.
The feeder is for both cats and dogs (though it only does dry food) and helps schedule healthy feeding plans for pets according to their breed and size. But it has an inbuilt setting to ‘woof’ loudly every time it releases food, which naturally terrifies Coco. It’s possible to turn it off, but it’s a fiddly process I’ve yet to manage because the accompanying app isn’t as easy to use as it could be. 8/10
RelaxoPet Pro, £69, petsathome.com
Radhika said RelaxoPet Pro (pictured) is useful for overwhelming and stressful situations such as thunderstorms or fireworks
This mini USB-chargeable speaker has been developed to help stressed cats relax by using high-frequency sound waves. It also has a noise-motion system to monitor stress levels.
It’s especially useful for overwhelming and stressful situations such as thunderstorms or fireworks. I use it for Coco when my boyfriend visits (her equivalent of thunderstorms) and she’s transfixed. After a few moments, she falls asleep.
It doesn’t work as well when she’s scared by a neighbourhood cat, but she definitely seems to enjoy the sounds. 8/10