14 mins read

How my smart home helps care for my pets


I love animals. I’m lucky enough to have a big backyard with plenty of space for seven chickens we call The Ladies, a bunny rabbit named Inle, a large dog named Gus, and an adventurous cat who goes by Smokey. (I think there’s space for a horse, but my husband disagrees.) Caring for my flock is one of my favorite things to do. But with a full-time job and two teenage kids, life gets busy. That’s where my smart home — and pet tech — comes in handy, helping me keep everyone safe, healthy, happy, and fed. 

Pet care is a primary use case of my smart home. In fact, about half of all my gadgets are in some way helping me look after the animals — from watching them and feeding them to keeping them comfortable and letting me know where they are or what they need. 

The Ladies would like to tell you about their pet tech.

Some dedicated pet tech has benefits you won’t find elsewhere. Health tracking features on Fitbit-like devices for pets can be useful, and a pet cam is generally easier to use (and more fun!) than a standard security camera. But a lot of pet tech is overpriced and requires a monthly subscription.

Using standard smart home gear to help with pet care can be cheaper and more effective. An outdoor contact sensor on a garden gate or an “animal detected” alert from a video doorbell notifies me faster than a GPS tracker that Gus has made a break for it, and smart home automations and routines that work for humans can be helpful for four-legged friends, too. 

The products I’ve highlighted here are some of my favorite solutions for my particular needs. Of course, not everyone has quite so many animals to look after, and if you live in the city, you probably keep your pets indoors (in which case, I can recommend a good robot vacuum). Still, this rundown of how I use my smart home for pet care offers tips and solutions to help you put smart tech to work for your pets.

A watchful eye

The Ladies and Inle live in the backyard in a sturdy chicken coop and a palatial two-story, four-room rabbit hutch built by my very handy husband. The coop and hutch are constructed like Fort Knox, but I still worry about predators. (We had an unfortunate raccoon incident a while back.)

To keep an eye out when I’m away from home or sleeping, I use two solar-powered S330 EufyCam security cameras with AI-powered detection, a feature that uses machine learning to analyze the footage from a camera for specific things, such as people, animals, vehicles, or packages. If a creature is spotted outside the pet enclosures, I get a rich notification that includes a snapshot so I can know immediately if I need to dash out there with a broomstick. 

Other security cameras, including Arlo, Google Nest, Tapo, and Reolink, offer animal detection. However, the Eufy cameras work with the Eufy HomeBase 3, a storage device connected to my router that processes the footage locally and helps extend the signal. Eufy’s cameras are the only cameras I’ve tested that reliably connect to my phone and stream from the end of my garden, where I get one bar of Wi-Fi. Because of its local storage and processing, there’s no monthly subscription; the cameras also have solar panels built in, meaning I haven’t had to charge them yet with over six months of use.  

The Ladies (seven Barred Rock hens) are intrigued by the Eve sensor outside their coop. It triggers a fan to turn on when temps rise.

Climate control

I live in South Carolina, and the summer heat here can be tough on outdoor pets. We have Barred Rock hens, known for their hardiness in hot and cold temperatures. But still, I like to keep The Ladies comfortable.  

I have an Apple Home automation set up to turn on a box fan connected to a Lutron Caséta outdoor smart plug when the Eve Weather sensor detects temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. I have a similar setup in Inle’s rabbit cage using different plugs, sensors, and platforms (which I rotate when testing devices), but the Caséta plug, while expensive, has been the most reliable and robust. Additionally, after 3PM when it’s over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, I have an IFTTT automation that triggers a Rachio smart sprinkler system to turn on for 30 minutes, giving the chickens a cooling shower. (Inle comes inside when it’s that hot!) 

An outdoor Nest Cam sends me an alert when an animal is at the backdoor or if he has hopped up on the table for some refreshments.

A digital cat flap

Smokey is an indoor / outdoor cat, and we don’t have a cat flap. Instead, I rely on the various security cameras and video doorbells I’m testing around my house to send a motion or animal alert to my phone when he’s walking through the yard to the backdoor or sitting on the front porch waiting to be let in. It’s not a solution for everyone, but it works for me!

In case I miss an alert on my phone, I also have an Alexa Routine set up to play a Christmas bells jingle and announce “Smokey’s Home” from an Echo Show 8 on my desk and a speaker in the living room when the Google Nest Cam (outdoor / indoor) trained on the porch door detects an animal. This routine also plays if the Ring camera in the backyard detects motion. This is useful since it alerts anyone who’s home (such as my parents when they’re pet sitting) that the cat wants in. 

Gus chilling to a pet YouTube channel.

Home alone

Gus prefers to be an indoor dog, so when I have to leave him home alone, I have a camera set up by his crate to keep an eye on him and alert me of any issues. I’ve tried various cameras in this role and have two favorites:

  • The Furbo 360° Dog Camera ($99). As a dedicated pet cam, this has a host of features you won’t find on other security cameras, including alerts for continuous crying and barking and even vomiting or pooping. However, these features are behind a paywall ($7 monthly, $69 a year), as are recorded videos and the option to automatically turn the camera on and off when I leave.

Since I work from home, I don’t use this enough to justify a monthly subscription, so I rely on the free regular barking alerts to let me know if something’s up so I can drop in on a livestream and use the camera’s treat dispensing feature to help calm him. I also have the Furbo plugged into an Eve Energy smart plug connected to Apple Home to turn it on when I do leave and back off when I’m home.

  • The Aqara Camera Hub G3 ($110). A more basic pet cam but a better security camera (it has 2K video over the Furbo’s 1080p), the Aqara can also pan and tilt, specifically track dogs and cats, and send noise alerts like the Furbo (all without a subscription). Plus, I can record video for free locally on a microSD card or by connecting it to Apple Home and using Apple HomeKit Secure video. The Apple Home integration lets me program the camera to turn on when I leave home and off when I come back. The camera also looks really cute.

The Aqara G3 is a good security camera that also works as a pet cam.

Recently, I’ve been playing with the Samsung SmartThings Pet Care feature, which lets me set up a routine in the SmartThings app that turns on the lights and plays a soothing YouTube pet channel (pictures of puppies and cats with classical music playing) on my Samsung TV during the day. It also sends a notification if it hears Gus barking. It’s been surprisingly effective at calming him, although the sound detection needs some fine-tuning since the robot vacuum also triggered it.

Smokey enjoying his kibble from the Aqara Smart Pet Feeder.

Smart feeding

Automatic pet feeders are great if you work long hours or will be out during your pet’s regularly scheduled mealtime. They’re also very handy for portion control. I use an Aqara Smart Pet Feeder for Smokey’s kibble. At $99, it’s quite expensive and needs an Aqara hub for app control, but it can connect to other smart devices, which lets me set up some useful automations. 

My current favorite one is using the Aqara Camera Hub G3 (which also works as a hub for the feeder) to dispense food when an animal is spotted. If I’m away overnight, I’II set the G3 up next to the feeder and turn on the automation in the Aqara app so Smokey gets a fresh treat when he walks up to the bowl (I can limit it to two times a day!).

The Jiobit pet tracker is small, but not small enough for Smokey’s taste.

Keeping track

Pet trackers are helpful for finding a lost pet and keeping an eye on health and wellness with Fitbit-like features that track steps and let you set daily activity goals. I’m currently testing the Petcube GPS Tracker with Gus. It’s a new device that costs $53 upfront and starts at $5 a month for GPS tracking and health features, including total daily activity, total distance covered, and daily activity goals. That’s quite a bargain compared to the competition, which starts at around $8 a month plus the cost of hardware, usually over $100.

Some other pet trackers I’ve tested on Gus include the Whistle Go Explore and the Fi dog collar, both of which were great but have expensive monthly subscriptions. Because most pet trackers are too chunky for a feline, the best option I found for Smokey is the Jiobit Smart Tag. It was also the most precise tracker I tested — accurately showing Smokey’s location and all the routes he traveled that day.

Its use of both GPS and 5G is probably why, but that’s also why I had to pay a $15 monthly service charge for tracking only, with no health features. The device itself is $130, and after Smokey left it up a tree one too many times, I realized that it just wasn’t right for an independent cat.

When and if anyone releases a pet tracker that works on Amazon Sidewalk — a long-range, low-bandwidth network that can give any IoT device free low-speed data — I will be first in line to try it. Ring promised one in 2019 when Sidewalk was first announced, but it has yet to materialize.  

Gus reluctantly accepts a treat from a Furbo camera being carried around by Amazon’s Astro home robot.

Wait — there’s more

There is a growing array of smart tech that can help you take care of your pets. One category I haven’t covered is robot cat litter boxes (a benefit of Smokey being an indoor / outdoor cat). I am obviously intrigued by the idea of a smart chicken coop (The Ladies’ home is getting a bit long in the tooth), but that might have to wait until prices come down and sizes go up. (I have seven large ladies.) 

While several gadgets are designed to help keep your pet entertained, my crew all gets along well (even the cat and the chickens!), so I don’t need a robot AI companion. (They were also deeply suspicious of Amazon’s Astro robot when I tested it.)

Yes, some of the connected tech for pets can seem gimmicky and overly expensive, but I’ve found using smart gadgets to help take care of my pets provides me peace of mind and a very helpful extra pair of hands.



Source link