En español | As tough as the past year has been, we've at least had technology to remain connected with loved ones outside of the home and, for a growing number of us, the constant companionship of furry friends inside it.
So how about some tech that can deepen our connection with our pets? There are numerous gadgets that can help you pamper, or protect, your favorite feline or canine (or bird, or fish). From a camera that dispenses treats to a night-light leash, here are a few paw-fect picks to suit varying needs and budgets.
The NiteDog Rechargeable LED Leash ($29.99) from Nite Ize keeps you and your pooch visible when you're out after dark, with ultrabright light (blue or lime green) running along optical fiber embedded in the 5-foot lead. Choose between two modes of illumination, glow or flash, for an eye-catching walk.
Featuring a soft grip and a durable, water-resistant cable, the NiteDog runs for up to 6.5 hours between charges. When it's time to power up, simply insert a micro USB cable (not included) and plug the leash into a computer, AC wall socket or power strip.
Keep an eye on your pet while out of the home, and even dispense treats on demand, with the Furbo Dog Camera ($169).
Simply connect this HD camera to your Wi-Fi network, install the free app on your smartphone or tablet, and then kiss your buddy goodbye as you leave. Wherever life takes you, you can launch the app to talk to your pet, snap a pic or shoot video, and dispense a treat from the installed launcher by swiping your screen.
Other features include night vision to see your dog in the dark and an option to get alerts if the dog starts barking.
Never scoop again
The thing you probably like least about having a cat — scooping out the litter box — could be a thing of the past with the self-cleaning Litter-Robot 3 Connect ($499). After your cat does its business and exits, an advanced sifting system automatically separates the waste from the clean litter and deposits the clumps into a fully enclosed, odor-controlling drawer.
Dome-shaped and Wi-Fi-enabled, the Litter-Robot is designed for cats 5 pounds and up. A companion app, AutoPets Connect, can send notifications when the waste drawer is full or the unit needs troubleshooting, and it tracks usage history to provide insights into your cat's health.
Virtual pooch protection
Codeveloped by renowned canine behaviorist Cesar Millan, aka the “Dog Whisperer,” the Halo Collar ($799 plus subscription plan) aims to provide advanced protection for your precious pooch. This smart collar doesn't just track your dog's location and activity via satellite technology; it lets you create virtual fences wherever you go (the beach, the park) for safe roaming off the leash.
Just walk the fence perimeter with the collar or tap out a route on the Halo app. When your dog approaches the edge, customizable notifications such as a tone, vibration or voice command tell it to turn around. The package includes video tutorials that harness Millan's methods for teaching dogs about boundaries to help you train yours to sense the fence and stay within it. If your pet does breach the border, the app notifies you immediately and tracks its movements.
The Halo is recommended for large and medium-sized dogs (weighing 20-25 pounds and up with neck sizes 11 inches and bigger). You can create up to 20 fences, but you'll need a Halo subscription to store fence data, enable GPS location and activity tracking, and access other premium features and training content. Plan prices range from $2.70 to $30 a month.
Bird Buddy Early Bird ($189) is a smart feeder tailor-made for bird aficionados who never want to miss out on a backyard visitor — and who have supported its production to the tune of over $7.6 million (so far) on the crowdfunding website Indiegogo. It can be preordered now, with shipping scheduled to start in October.
The weatherproof Bird Buddy has an integrated camera to take photos of visitors, up close and personal, and uses artificial intelligence to recognize species based on how they look and sound. A companion app keeps a real-time log of your avian guests and automatically organizes the images into collections.
The battery-powered device runs up to 30 days on a charge, depending on the volume of photos and videos it shoots and streams to your mobile device. The battery comes in a detachable module you can bring inside to power up with a USB-C cable.
In the tank
For fish lovers, Seneye Home ($153.99) is a small smart device you place inside your aquarium to keep an eye on water conditions. Automatic monitoring helps you protect your fish from swings in pH and temperature and from ammonia poisoning. Readings are stored for five weeks and automatically uploaded when you connect the device to a computer.
If Seneye Home detects a threat, you'll get a flashing-light warning so you can promptly fix the problem. (The Seneye+ plus service, which costs extra, adds an option for text and email alerts, among other features.) Seneye Home works for cold-water, marine and tropical aquariums, and there are also versions for ponds ($199.99) and saltwater aquariums ($204.99).
If you like to complement your colorful fish with a light show, the 7-gallon Smart Tank ($119.20) from Koller Products is equipped with customizable LED lighting and a companion app that lets you change colors on the fly and set schedules to turn the illumination on and off. You can also track water temperature on the app and get push notifications if it gets too warm or too cool
Marc Saltzman is a contributing writer who covers personal technology. His work also appears in USA Today and other national publications. He hosts the podcast series Tech It Out and is the author of several books, including Apple Watch for Dummies and Siri for Dummies.