Americans love pets: 68% of American households have an animal in the family. We also love our smartphones: 58% of us own one of these gadgets. Now, thanks to device makers and app developers, we can use those smartphones to help care for our beloved pets.
App developers seem to have noticed that we spend a lot of money to keep those pets healthy and happy. In 2013, consumers spent $55.7 billion on pets, according to the American Pet Products Association. This year, people will spend an estimated $15.25 billion on veterinary care alone, up from $14.37 billion in 2013.
Animal lovers also can access free or inexpensive health information via hundreds of apps related to pet care. Although not designed to replace veterinarians, some apps supply basic medical advice, such as treating burns and cuts or applying bandages. Others include searchable databases to alert owners to poisonous plants or substances.
Research suggests pet ownership improves humans' health. From encouraging people to exercise to reducing stress and blood pressure, a growing number of physician and animal advocacy groups tout the benefits of adopting a pet. Pet owners are also responsible for ensuring the health of their new family member, and mobile health technologies can help four- and two-legged creatures stay in shape and eat well.
Sometimes pet fitness devices serve dual purposes. GPS-equipped collars that track a dog's steps not only tell owners how much he's moved on a given day, but also help locate the animal if he escapes a house or enclosed yard. Cameras installed to help watch pets while an owner is at work also track sitters to make sure they show up as promised.
Some adoption shelters use cameras to provide pets with exercise, increase adoptions, and amuse cats. With iPetCompanion, organizations such as the Welland & District SPCA, the Animal Rescue Site, and Palmetto Lifeline allow users to play with cats using an assortment of remotely operated toys.
Like their owners, however, many pets today are overweight and need more exercise. Several apps track pets' diets (including table scraps) to help owners discover hidden calories and avoid duplicate feedings. Other apps monitor exercise to ensure dogs, in particular, get enough running and walking in their day. There are even apps that replace traditional training tools like whistles and clickers -- although you'll still want to bring along an old tennis ball or Frisbee, unless your dog's mastered your smartphone.
Not everyone owns a dog or cat, and developers offer apps for aquarium and fish owners, horses and goats, and exotic pets such as guinea pigs and ferrets. With suggestions on how to clean tanks or when to get a chinchilla's teeth ground, these apps provide a first round of guidance to pet owners.
Unfortunately, some animal lovers cannot own a pet. With a plethora of pet-ownership games available for iOS and Android, there's no reason not to get a virtual dog, cat, or hamster.
Check out our collection of apps for pet owners. Did we miss your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.