“I have a Maltese, a Jack Russell and a Siamese cat. I work long hours and often have to go away on business trips for a couple of days at a time, when I employ someone to come in and feed my furry kids and play with them for a while each day. However, I worry about them while I’m not at home because I know that they steal each other’s food and become bored (barking and howling sometimes, according to my neighbours). I sincerely wish that I could spend more time with them but that’s not possible right now.

Do you have any suggestions to help my pets and, quite honestly, me?”

Mrs H.: Sandton

We hear you, Mrs H.! Of course it would be wonderful for our pets, and for us, if we could spend more time with them but, let’s face it, the reality is that most of us have to work and have various commitments which mean that we are often away from home for long periods of time.

Mrs H. has a ‘pet sitter’ who no doubt does his/her best to feed, water and entertain her furry kids, but the days are long for pets left on their own and there’s always the possibility of stealing each other’s food, boredom and separation anxiety which may result in vocalizing or even destructive and aggressive behaviour. This affects pets’ mental and physical health.

Remember that if you are going to be away for extended periods of time, a pet sitter, with whom your furry friends are familiar, who lives in your house while you are away, or carefully-chosen kennels, are the best options, where possible.

However, we have some suggestions for Mrs H. and for you to consider.

Hi-Tech and Pets

Technology is playing an increasingly important role in our lives and, predictably, manufacturers of pet products are jumping on the bandwagon and are creating devices aimed at improving the health, welfare and safety of our furry friends, whilst attempting to make our often frantically-busy lives somewhat easier.

Please note: These products, or similar versions of them, are all available in South Africa (or will be shortly), either online or at various pet product outlets.

Safety First

You, as a caring and concerned pet parent, should of course look carefully at the manufacturer’s safety instructions to ensure the device is correctly, and safely, used.

Roaming Rugrats

What about when your furry friends go roaming?  Obviously, you’d like to know where and when they are going.


A device which has been available for several years is the microchip, which is a very simple and effective way of reuniting furries with their pet parents – and yet, many thousands of pets are found on the streets without having been ‘chipped’, with no way for rescuers to contact their families. Moral of this story? MICROCHIP.

Microchips cannot be used to track your pets but they are your first line of defence in ensuring that your lost pet will be found and reunited with you. They are inexpensive, tiny (the size of a grain of rice) and are inserted under your furry friend’s skin by your vet. If your pet gets lost, any vet or branch of the S.P.C.A. can detect the chip with a scanner and contact you through the registry kept by the chip company.

Pet Trackers: GPS

These trackers usually include a GPS chip and a SIM card. The chip gives your little wanderer’s position and the SIM card in your smartphone receives the information. Of course, cell coverage is required and you usually have to pay a monthly subscription. Some trackers have these fees included in the initial purchase price. However, if your doggie or kitty wanders out of the area covered by your cell network, you won’t be able to track the little brat, so microchipping is still essential.

How do they work in practise?

  • A GPS chip is attached to your furry’s collar. (Won’t wear a collar? You’ll have to rely on the microchip then.) The GPS chips cannot be made small enough (yet) to be put under your pet’s skin.
  • The GPS chip in the transmitter gets information about your pet’s position, provided by orbiting satellites. (Yes, really!) Sometimes Wi-Fi can also be used to find your pet’s position.
  • The transmitter sends this information to your smartphone, usually via an app.
  • You then rush to the location and hug your furry to death. (Of course you will.)

Smart Pet Doors

The problem with traditional pet doors is that they can let in unwanted furry guests to your home, as you have no control whoever comes in, or goes out. You could also have a feline who is allowed to go out and a small canine who is not. When you’re out at work all day, a high-tech pet door is a convenient way to let your pet out to do toilet business or just to wander, and to let him/herself in again. Some of these doors have automatic locking/opening features, timers and special functions which allow certain pets in or out.

How do they work?

  • They may be powered by a battery or plug into the mains. (Good luck with that. Rather go for the battery unless you have an alternative source of power.)
  • Your pet will need to have a microchip or a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) collar, in order for the door’s sensor to pick up your pet’s presence.
  • With some doors, it is not necessary for your pet to push against the door: they open as kitty or small poochie gets close to the door.
  • Once your chipped/RFID-collared pet goes through the door, it closes and locks, keeping heat in and cold (and uninvited guests) out.
  • Many of these smart doors are better waterproofed than traditional doors.

Feeding Hi-Tech Style

If you are away from home for a while, you may have arranged for someone to come in and feed your pets, but you may still want to be sure that food is always available, all the time. You may have several furry friends (Who hasn’t?) and you don’t want Guzzling Gizmo to eat little Fluffy’s food for the day in one gulp. You may have a furry on a special diet which you don’t want your other pets to share. You might want to put Guzzling Gizmo on a weight-reducing diet. You might want to keep your children out of your furry’s food.

Believe it or not, there are smart feeders available now which will enable you do all of these things.

  • The microchip cat feeder

These feeders recognize your furry friend’s microchip, or RFID collar tag, and open only for that pet and close when he/she moves away, preventing other animals and children from accessing the food. They are suitable for wet and dry food and the food is kept fresher as it is sealed until Fluffy wants to eat it. However, bear in mind that the wet food is not refrigerated in the feeder, so will go ‘off’ after a few hours.

  • The automatic pet feeder: for cats and small/medium sized dogs.

These feeders ensure that your furry gets the right amount of food each day. Some come with smart features, such as Wi-Fi connectivity and some can contain enough food to feed your doggie for over a week. They have a screen so that you can read the time and programme the feeder.  Some have LCD screens which tell you when meals will be dispensed.

Many of these can feed up to fifteen portions of food. Some have back-up batteries to provide power in case of power cuts and some of these can be operated remotely using an app on your smartphone. It is also possible to obtain feeders which have ‘fish-eye’ cameras so that you can actually watch little Fluffy remotely, and two-way audio so that you can talk to her and she can answer you!

Hi-Tech Drinking

Smart Water Dispensers

These dispensers ensure that your pets always have a supply of water: they have a low water level indicator to remind you to refill. You can, via Wi-Fi, programme activation dates, specify certain days of the week with start times and duration of dispensing with a smart app giving you complete remote control. Some units can support voice commands.

Some units incorporate a water fountain, which use a circular water circuit providing oxygenated running water, which is attractive to pets and makes them more likely to drink. The water is filtered, removing fine particles, hair, and chemicals, such as chloride (salt), which may cause kidney stones. These devices run relatively quietly. They work with an app which can give you reminders on your phone when the water level is running low or when the fountain or filter need to be cleaned. You can also control when water is dispensed.

Hi-Tech Toilets

Automatic Litter Box

This litter box senses when your cat enters of leaves the box. Kitty does what he/she has to do, then leaves the box. A timer counts down and after leaving time for the crystal litter to clump, a cleaning cycle begins, when the contents are sifted and separated and the waste is then dropped into a carbon-filtered container below. The manufacturers claim that you only need to empty the drawer every 7-10 days and that the box controls odours five times better than traditional trays/boxes.

Hi-Tech Home Entertainment

When your pooches and kitties are’ home alone’, boredom can be a real problem as it can lead to stress and anxiety which, apart from the mental anguish for your pets, can lead to destructive and even aggressive behaviours. However, hi-tech can assist again with various toys and items which can alleviate boredom, at least to some extent and in the short term, until you, dearly-beloved pet mommy or daddy, are home.

  • Treat Toys

We are all probably aware of those wonderful, solid rubber toys with holes or spaces in them which conceal various treats which your pooch can spend time extracting. Well, technology has gone a step further with a similar type of toy which contains a built-in timer. The idea is to fill the toy with enticing treats, set the timer and as the timer unwinds, the holes in the toy gradually line-up with the treats, which then fall out. The whole process should keep poochie entertained for up to 45 minutes, according to the manufacturer.

  • Smart Ball

A camera is integrated into a toy ball, which is connected remotely to a mobile app so that you can watch your poochie or kittie romp and fool-around while you’re not home.

  • Smart Bone

This is a bone-shaped smart toy with two modes: “drive mode”, operated by a free app which allows you to move the bone for your poochie to chase, and “autoplay mode” which moves around on its own, responding to your dog’s moves.

The above toys represent only a few of the many tech-toys available.

And finally…

No matter how innovative or exciting a new smart product for pets may be, there will always be limitations. Technology cannot solve all of our issues regarding our pets. Leaving your pets alone for hours on end is never ideal and no product is a substitute for YOU. Please do your own research and make the decision regarding which products you feel are best for your furry friends and for you.


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