The roles that pets play in our lives have dramatically changed over the years. Though there is debate on the history of the domestication of cats and dogs, there is no doubt that these furry creatures have become important members of our families, more so now than ever before.
The importance of pets in today’s world of new technologies has led to a boom in products and services geared to providing cats and dogs with longer, more comfortable, and stimulating lives. Automatic feeders, robotic litter box cleaners, wearable sensors, and 3D-printed objects (prosthetics, joints, wheelchairs, and carts) are all pet technologies – not of the future, but of the present!
Automatic feeders that simply fill your pet’s dish with more food when it is empty are a thing of the past. Some new technology driven feeders track how much food each pet in your household consumes using facial recognition. Others are connected to a collar tag allowing only the pet that the tag is connected with to eat. These feeder options are especially helpful if pets are eating special diets, or if one pet in the household is overweight and on a restricted diet.
Tired of cleaning out your litter box? Many different designs of self-cleaning litter boxes are available – if your cat is willing to try them! Some use an automatic raking system that sweeps waste away into a covered compartment. Others use a conveyor system that sifts the litter removing waste to a covered bin.
To prevent boredom while pets are left home alone, several companies are developing artificial intelligence (AI) pet companions. These companions use a laser, a camera, and AI to track and react to your pet’s movements. The lasers mimic prey movements to encourage your pet to play and exercise. Another pet companion product in development is controlled by your smartphone and allows you to talk to your dog and even give him treats when you are away from home!
GPS sensors attached to special collars are available for both cats and dogs. Tracking through GPS positioning allows you to see where your pet has spent the day. Most of these collars have real time tracking, allowing you to pinpoint your pet’s current location on your smart phone (especially helpful if, for example, she didn’t come home for dinner or escaped from your yard). Many have blinking LED lights, which helps you locate your pet if she decides to play hide-and-seek in the dark. Many GPS trackers also come equipped with activity trackers, allowing you to keep track of your pet’s daily activity.
3D-printing technology for pets made the news recently when researchers replaced part of dog’s skull. Patches, a dog from Pennsylvania, had a large brain tumor that eventually grew through her skull. A team of veterinarians and engineers worked together to make history. The veterinary surgeons mapped out where the 3D-printed replacement skull would fit after tumor and skull removal and made a precise surgical plan – there was little room for error or the replacement skull would not fit. The software and industrial engineers created the plans for and printed the titanium replacement skull. After a 5-hour surgery, Patches was up, and alert, and looking around!
3D-printing technology for pets is not new. In 2015, a tiny kitten named Cassidy was found in British Columbia, Canada. Cassidy’s back legs were missing. He was treated for infection, but the question remained as to how he would get around. Two local high school students created a 3D-printed wheelchair. Wheelchairs for cats! With another case, 3D-printed titanium prosthetic legs were created for a cat named Vincent whose hind legs below the shinbones were missing. Veterinary surgeons implanted the prosthetics into the femurs (thigh bones). Another cat, named Cyrano, survived cancer, but had a weakened and painful knee joint. A team of veterinarians and engineers created a 3D-printed knee joint for Cyrano. Remarkable technologies that a few short years ago would not have been possible in veterinary medicine!
As digital and engineering technologies develop, they will no doubt continue to merge with and advance pet care products and animal health services.