Dogs are not very high tech. Dogs inspire us to put our phones down. They live perfectly and completely in the moment. Even so, as our lives have become more technologically advanced, so has our relationship with our dogs. Advances in technology have provided the opportunity to give our canine best friends longer and healthier lives and given us opportunities to better understand them.
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Advances in Veterinary Medicine Lead to Longer, Happier Lives
The same way human medicine has evolved thanks to advances in medical technology, so has veterinary medicine. A trip to the vet doesn’t mean just vaccinations and getting neutered anymore.
Kelly Johnson, a board-certified veterinary surgeon at NorthStar VETS emergency, trauma, and specialty center in New Jersey offered several examples of how developments in medical technology have improved the lives and quality of life of our companions: “Our surgery team is performing arthroscopic and laparoscopic procedures on pets. On the orthopedic front, they’re performing total hip replacements and cruciate repairs. The radiology team diagnoses pets through radiographs, ultrasounds, CT, and MRI scans. We have an interventional radiology team that can, for example, pull bladder stones out, leaving a pinhole incision behind.”
Much of this technology wouldn’t have been available to veterinary specialists in the past, and even if it were, it would be prohibitively expensive for most pet owners. Specialists use these new technologies to develop treatment plans, to 3D-print bones, and to aid in planning a surgical intervention. While these lifesaving veterinary advances might seem invasive (and some are), they also have contributed to lower stress for our dogs.
“The internal medicine team can now remotely monitor a pet’s blood glucose level at home without them having to come back to the hospital for multiple blood draws … We also use continuous blood glucose monitoring that can be read with a smartphone and sent to the clinician automatically,” says Melanie Puchot, a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist at NorthStar VETS.
Wearables Add Security and Early Warnings to Changes In Your Dog’s Health
Just as activity trackers have become commonplace for people, “pet wearables are an up-and-coming industry that will allow veterinarians and pet families to track health metrics in order to manage chronic illnesses,” Johnson says.
These canine activity trackers, from companies like FitBark, Whistle, and Fi, attach to or are built into dog collars and allow guardians to get updates through mobile apps on how active their dog is. Over time, this kind of data can help you be aware of decreased activity, which could be a symptom of illness or pain. You can also compare your dog’s activity levels to other dogs of similar size, age, and breed via the tracker’s associated apps.
A big selling point of activity tracker technology is that it often includes GPS tracking for a small monthly fee. Dog owners are able to link the device to their home Wi-Fi, and anytime their dog leaves that area the app will send push alerts to linked phones. If the dog is with a linked phone belonging to a guardian, pet sitter, or dog walker, that information is displayed in the app alongside the dog’s exact location.
My dog wears a FitBark activity tracker with GPS, and I recommend it to everyone as added peace of mind. A GPS tracker, of course, is not a replacement for leashing your dog, and it’s no replacement for a collar with up-to-date tags and your dog being microchipped, but it adds a bit of security so that when a dog gets lost their location can be immediately pinpointed.
Unfortunately, not all wearables are good for dogs. Although most help dogs live safer and healthier lives, products like shock collars (or e-collars as they are sometimes called) have also become more prevalent. Although banned for being inhumane in many parts of Europe, e-collar technology that is designed to cause pain or discomfort remains in use in the US.
Programmable Bells and Buttons Make It Easier to Communicate With Our Dogs
Most pet tech helps us to learn more things about our dogs, but some actually help us learn from our dogs.
As a dog trainer, one of my favorite things about working with dogs is learning to communicate with a different species, and technology has made that much easier. The Mighty Paw Smart Bell is recommended by Khara Schuetzner, chair of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, as a “great tool for anyone who wants to teach their dog to indicate when they need to go outside to potty.”
The bell can be installed indoors or out, and the accompanying wireless transmitters allow it to be heard anywhere in your home. This is a high-tech version of putting bells on the door for a dog to ring when they want to go outside.
Looking for more advanced communication with your dog? A new dog-training movement inspired by speech-language pathologist Christina Hunger and her dog Stella have inspired a field called Alternative Communication dog training. Using recordable answer buttons like these programmed with words your dog knows, like dinner, play, and walk, and pressing the buttons yourself before each activity, your dogs will start to make the connection and soon press the buttons themselves to communicate with you. Combine this with a little patience, and your dogs can learn to communicate their wants and needs in a way we can understand.
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Cameras and Treat Dispensers Keep Your Dog Safe and Happy Even When You’re Away
Ever wonder what your dog does when you aren’t home? Now you can watch them to find out! “At-home technology has been great for dog owners to see what goes on while they are away,” says Schuetzner. “Most people wonder what their pets do all day, so a lot of the web-based camera systems give you a way to see what is going on and communicate with your pet.”
Wi-Fi-enabled cameras you can watch from your phone can be especially helpful if you are raising a new puppy or supporting a new rescue dog adjusting to life in your home. With a puppy-cam you can see if your dog is calm or distressed. This can be particularly useful if your dog shows any symptoms of separation anxiety. Even better, you and your dog’s trainer will be able to look at footage and figure out what is triggering your dog. Is it the act of you leaving? Or is it something that happens while you have been gone?
Cameras are also useful for supporting older dogs who may begin to experience symptoms of stress or anxiety when left alone. Although not marketed for dogs, I use and recommend Wyze smart-home cameras to dog guardians. These cameras connect to Wi-Fi so you can watch your dog via the app and even have night-vision capabilities. At $20 you can’t beat the price. They can also give you the chance to watch interactions that pet sitters or dog walkers have with your dog.
Other products are specifically designed with dog guardians in mind. Schuetzner recommends the Furbo and Pet Tutor to her clients. Furbo allows you to see what your dog is doing, but it also lets you talk with your dog and even dispense treats to reward calm behavior. Treat dispensers like the Pet Tutor and other automatic feeders allow you to distribute treats at certain intervals, or remotely via the app. Feeders are also helpful for managing pets on special diets. “We recommend automatic feeders that read a specific pet’s microchip and give only the correct pet access to food, which completely changes multipet households where each one needs individual prescription foods,” says Puchot.
Dogs don’t care about the latest and greatest gadgets; they live in the moment and just want to spend time with us. Anytime you add new technology into your dog’s world, think about whether and how it is going to improve your dog’s overall quality of life. Obviously any product designed to cause pain or discomfort should be avoided, but tech that helps dogs live longer and healthier lives, or allows you to have more fun with your dog, is great. Similarly, if you are someone who craves as much information as possible or who has a dog that has complex needs, looking at some of these options, either at home or with your vet, gives you the opportunity to know your dog better and give them happier, healthier lives.
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