There's an undercurrent of anxiety behind the newest pet products that busy working parents will instantly recognize. What are the darlings doing all day while I'm at the office? Are they snacking too much? Getting enough exercise?
Now there's a wealth of innovative tools meant to ease the fears of even the most guilt-ridden pet owner.
Take Whistle, a stainless steel tag embedded with an accelerometer that registers your dog's every move and feeds you the data via a smartphone app. The half-ounce device, which costs $100, clips to a dog's collar and can tell an owner whether the dog has been asleep all afternoon or chasing its tail.
Similar products have been on the market for a couple of years now, but they're adding features. For instance, Tagg — The Pet Tracker was initially meant to help owners find lost pets with global positioning technology when it was first sold in 2011. Since then, a tracking feature that charts a pet's daily activity has been added. Like Whistle, it costs $100.
Tracking capability is also being built into the newest pet doors. Some newer models have features that promise greater flexibility and the ability to collect data on the animal's activity. Among the newest and most advanced on the market is the PASSport Pet Access Smart System.
Ideal for anyone with a pet menagerie, the PASSport door can be programmed so that up to 20 animals can have unique time restrictions for going in and out of the house.
What if it turns out your dog is lethargic as a slug?
Then there's an assortment of dog treadmills meant to keep off extra pounds. Krista Wickens, co-founder of PetZen, said her company sells three sizes, costing $500 to $1,000. Demand, she said, has doubled since her first model went on sale five years ago.
Two companies — AiKiou and Northmate — have redesigned chow time to give pets an intellectual challenge while making sure they don't eat too fast.
AiKiou sells food-delivery systems for dogs and cats (think: food bowl) that work with the animals' natural problem-solving skills, said co-founder Alexandre Tremblay. The dog bowl, for example, is shaped like a paw and has sliding covers the dog must push around to get to the food.
Then there's the company's Stimulo Cat Interactive Feeder, which has a series of tubes too small for a cat to put its face into. Instead, it must use its paws to fish out the morsels inside.
Instead of a container, the Green Interactive Feeder by Northmate is a patch of green fins that are meant to resemble blades of grass. The kibble goes between the blades, leaving the pet to nose it out. The Green feeder is meant to imitate a hunt for food on the lawn, said Qinyin Zhou, a sales manager for the company.
So for an after-dinner activity, what better than a game of chase? That's the idea behind San Diego-based Go-Go Dog Pals.
Convinced his dog needed more exercise, Will Bowen powered up an old remote control car in the park and his dog, Kota, went crazy for chasing it.
But toy race cars aren't built for the roughhousing that the average dog brings to the equation, so Bowen's inspiration was to "ruggedize" common, off-the-shelf race car parts by encasing the chassis in a hard plastic covering.
The first Go-Go Dog Pals varmint goes 22 mph and costs $230.
Cats also are benefiting from new electronic toys. An old-fashioned, hand-held laser pointer can, of course, be a frenetic bonding experience. But when master is away, why not let the cats play with something like the programmable FroliCat Dart Duo? At about $40, it has two rotating laser lights that have speed and timer settings for "16 engaging play combinations."