They're wrapped around almost as many wrists as watches are. One in 10 Americans has a fitness tracker. These wearable devices track your steps, calories burned, and a bundle of other stats. Now, novel trackers that hang from a collar log our four-legged friends' activities, too.
Think a pet fitness tracker sounds a little over the top? Consider this: More than half of dogs and cats are overweight or obese. Pets have the same weight-related health problems as people. So why not try the same strategies to boost exercise? At around $100 to $200 each, about a half-dozen pet activity trackers hit the market this year. A number of veterinarians think the gadgets will revolutionize pet care.
"Some of these devices will blow your mind. They're going to change the way I talk about physical activity with my clients," says Ernie Ward, DVM, founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.
How much fitness does your furry friend need? Pooches should walk or play for 30 minutes a day. Kitties should get in three daily bouts of play at 5 minutes each, Ward says. So far so good -- but do you think your pet is exercising while you're at work? You should think again.
"Most people are under the misperception that when they leave the dog out in the backyard, he's running, galloping, and playing all day. And it's just not true," Ward said. "These monitors are extremely valuable to me as a veterinarian because they verify just how inactive your pet really is."
The device tracks activity of varied intensity from walking to aerobic play as well as periods of rest. Some devices also monitor breathing and heart rate. They send all this data to your phone, often wirelessly, so you can check in on the pup when you're away. Several of these gizmos connect to caregivers' phones, too, so when the pet sitter shows up, you'll know.
The devices' apps compare your pet's activity to that of pets the same age and breed. They help you set fitness goals, track progress, and log meals. One thing you'll probably learn is how much more exercise your pet needs. Keep in mind, the exercise guidelines are general. Your vet knows best as to how much your pet needs and can handle.
These devices can also wave a red flag. What if the tracker shows that a cat that once got up and walked around the house several times a day now isn't moving at all? Or that a dog that used to play for the first 20 minutes after you left for work now only runs around for 5?
"I have that hard data in front of me that says 6 months ago you were walking for 40 minutes a day and now you're walking 22 minutes," Ward says. "There may be a legitimate cause, but these monitors can also help me uncover hidden disease."
Some studies show that just wearing a fitness tracker motivates people to move more. Likewise, you may be motivated to move your pet more once you've attached this gadget to his collar.
"If all Americans would adopt this one simple rule -- walk your dog for 30 minutes a day -- not only would our dogs be healthier, but we would be, too," Ward says.
About a half-dozen pet activity trackers hit the market this year, at $100–$200 each.
Just like kids and their favorite games, every cat is different in how it likes to play. Ward suggests three games to trigger those recommended 5-minute daily play sessions.
Chase the red dot. Lots of cats love laser pointers, found at office and pet supply stores. Shine it on the floor or move it around, and cats will chase it all over.
Dangling carrot. You can make these toys on your own. Tie a stuffed toy mouse to a string and hang it from a stick. Let your cat bat it to her heart's content.
Find the food. Kitties can get locked into a pattern of walking to the food, the litter box, then back to bed. Want to keep them moving? Move their food to different spots around the house.
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