Wearable activity trackers for dogs

(WFLX) - Wearable technology for fitness is a hot trend for humans, but new wearable devices hitting the market are meant to monitor man's best friend.

Pet wellness is a serious business with Americans expected to fork over upwards of $58 billion in 2014 to take care of their animal companions.

But will monitoring Fido's fitness electronically help lead to healthier pooches or send owners barking up the wrong tree?

When Steve Pelletier rescued Jack, the lovable Labrador retriever was overweight. That's something Steve, who is in the business of canine food and fitness with two wellness Web sites for dogs, wanted to work on right away.

He put Jack on a diet and exercise regimen, and even outfitted the pooch with a tracker. It collects data about Jack's daily movement and sends it right to the Internet. "It's helped us not just check out activity levels, but also monitor things, like sleeping patterns and scratching patterns."

This new breed of wearable tech devices lets owners keep track of Fido's habits and behavior and alerts them to potential problems. "Pet owners really want to do right by their pets in terms of their health. They want the best diet; they want the best care. And the wearable technology kind of layers into that mindset."

Pet industry expert Kristen Levine uses an activity tracker on her dog, Chilly, and says many "pet parents" want to take care of their dogs the same way they take care of themselves. "I think this will appeal to people who like technology themselves --  appreciate the functionality it offers."

That functionality will go beyond activity tracking, in some cases, with products designed to monitor heart and respiratory rates, calories burned, temperature and even control food dispensers.

Veterinarian Steven Budsberg of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention says pet wellness technology can provide owners some insight about their pet's health, but not necessarily the full picture. "You can start to get an idea of where they're moving. For behavioral issues, you know activity levels that may or may not be related to disease process or pain. But they are indirect measures; they don't tell you exactly what's going on."

The professor of animal surgery is not convinced our furry friends need their own wellness trackers. "I think the risks are simply overwhelming people with information and with data which really is meaningless. People over-diagnosing or overreacting to data about their pet, and vice-versa, under-reacting."

As for Steve, he says, the tracker has helped improve Jack's health, and he is happy about the wearable tech trend spreading to another species. "We were able to notice that Jack was scratching a lot more than normal, and it turns out he had a food allergy. As technology moves from the human body to the pet body, I think, that we all ultimately can benefit."

Some of these products are hitting the market this fall, and they range in price from $100 to more than $300, plus an additional service fee in some cases.

If you're considering an activity tracker to help your dog lose weight, Dr. Budsberg points out lifestyle change is important. Simply cutting down on how much your pet eats and increasing activity levels is a low tech solution he says works.

Here are some trackers available for pets:

Hey Rex: Tracks activity, sleeping, scratching. Cost $199

TAGG: Tracks activity using a GPS. Cost $99 + monthly subscription

Whistle: Tracks activity. Cost $129

Otto PetCare Systems: Tracks activity & dispense food. Cost $388

Voyce: Tracks activity, rest, heart rate, respiratory rate & calories burned. Cost $299

Pet Pace: Tracks activity, sleeping, scratching, heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature & calories burned. Cost $150 + $15 monthly service fee

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