With the world-famous Westminster Dog Show in full swing this week (and with cats this year!), we're thinking a lot about our own furry friends. And we do love to pamper them: Americans spent an estimated $62.75 billion on Fido and Fluffy last year, according to the American Pet Products Association. That comes after a 2013 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that said U.S. households spent more money per year on their pets ($500+) than they spent on alcohol ($456) or men and boys clothing ($404).
Not surprisingly, the biggest portion of that spending goes to food and healthcare. But there's also a booming pet toy market. And like most things these days, those toys are increasingly going high-tech. If you're the parent of a fury friend looking to get them something special, here are a few new options to consider:
Whistle ($79.95, Amazon)
If your dog, like mine, is prone to Houdini-like feats of escape, you spend a lot of time wandering around the neighborhood screaming its name like a madman. Whistle saved me from being the local canine town cryer. It's an $80 wireless, waterproof device that attaches to your pet's collar and acts as a GPS beacon. Just press "locate" on your computer or mobile device and the system will show you your pet's current location. You can also set up a 'safe zone' and receive alerts when your pet leaves that area.
Furbo ($249, Amazon)
If you don't work in a pet-friendly office environment, there's still a way to interact with your dog during the workday. Furbo has an embedded camera that acts partially as a home monitor and partially as a tool for pet voyeurs. You can even talk to your dog via a two-way microphone/speaker combo, though it's likely to mightily confuse your pet.
One way to ease that anxiety? You're also able to remotely give them a treat. It doesn't really build loyalty to you, since the dog has no idea who's causing the food to shoot out of the system, but they'll stay happy — and may refrain from destroying that throw pillow.
PetNet SmartFeeder ($149, Amazon)
You're a responsible pet owner, but sometimes after-work plans come up without warning, and getting home to feed your dog or cat at the usual time isn't possible. This device can back you up if you're running late. It measures portions based on your pet's age, weight and activity level and serves them an appropriately-sized meal. Just be sure to give them a treat or two when you get home as penance.
Petsafe ScoopFree Ultra Self Cleaning Litter Box ($159.95, Amazon)
No matter how much you love your cat, you probably hate cleaning the litter box. Petsafe is a device that makes the chore a bit less gross, scooping waste away five, 10 or 20 minutes after your cat finishes its business. (That's important, since you don't want to scare the cat and have it change its preferred toilet to, say, your laundry hamper.) The device uses specific disposable litter trays, which you'll have to buy from the company, so there is a recurring expense. Whether that's worth it to you largely depends on how many cats you have — and how often you have to clean.
SureFlap MicroChip Pet Feeder ($149.98, Amazon)
If you've got both a dog and a cat, it's a familiar problem. You put food out for the cat and before you can walk five steps, the dog is snarfing it up. The MicroChip Pet Feeder puts an end to that with a lid that covers your cat's food and only opens when the correct pet approaches. Signals from your pet's microchip or an RFID collar tag trigger the feeder and make the food accessible. (If, however, you've got an overly skittish cat, there's a learning curve for them.) When the cat's finished, the lid closes, keeping dogs (or other, food stealing, cats) from helping themselves to leftovers.
K&H Self-Warming Pet Cot ($29.97, Amazon)
Looking to keep your couch from being eternally covered in fur? This cot gives dogs and cats the warmth they crave, courtesy of a fabric that captures body heat and reflects it to the animal. The frames are sturdy enough to support most household pets easily and will distract your pet from your furniture, though they won't break any long-standing habits your pets have made.
IQ Pet StarWalk ($30, Amazon)
Obesity is a growing problem among pets. After all, if we as pet owners aren't getting enough exercise on a day-to-day basis, there's a good chance we're not taking optimal care of our animals either. StarWalk is an attachment for your dog's collar that keeps track of day-to-day activity, including total steps, when your dog is most active, distance traveled and temperature.
It's also a good motivator for you to get up and move, as the StarWalk will light up to alert you when your dog needs more exercise, nudging you to take a walk alongside Fido. The light can be manually controlled, too, acting as a safety light during nighttime walks.