Look after your pets and they'll look after you - or, in the case of cats, snooze nonchalantly somewhere in your vicinity - which makes picking up the best pet toys a great way to increase your bond.
But maybe a simple toy isn't quite enough? If you want to really improve your furry friend's life you're going to need some of the best pet tech around, and whether you're feeding them, keeping them entertained, or making sure they're not getting up to no good while you're out of the house, we've got some top tips.
A smart pet feeder gives you the opportunity to make sure less-pushy pets get their fair portion, specific food goes to the right pet, or extra-greedy pets don't immediately eat so much that they're sick. They're particularly useful if you have to go away for a little while, as you can trickle-feed dry food on a schedule, and the Pavlovian response to an automated feeder's motor could even be enough to stop pesky pets waking you up in the middle of the night to demand a snack.
There's a wide array of options out there. Simple gravity fed-feeders like the Amazon Basics Food Feeder (opens in new tab) will work for indifferent cats, but greedy dogs may just munch and munch until the contents are exhausted, and rabbits should only have a certain volume of pellets in a day.
Automated feeders allow you to implement more regimented portion control - though we'd recommend opting for something which can be securely fastened to a board and which isn't likely to be broken into by persistent pets. Something like Wopet's 6L feeder (opens in new tab) is pretty ideal for dry food dispensing, offering app control, up to 15 portions a day, and even a voice recording function so you can call your pets for food even if you're not around.
For wet food, a device like the Cat Mate C500 (opens in new tab) can keep up to five portions chilled, revealing it via a carousel only at your pre-set feeding times - again, this is great for nights away, or for pets which pester you for breakfast at 4am.
Sureflap's Surefeed feeder (opens in new tab) can (if your pet is small enough) open only for certain microchips, which makes it ideal for a clowder of cats where one is on a specific diet - though bear in mind it can be circumvented by pushy feline siblings, since it'll stay open as long as a cat is detected in its halo.
Keeping an eye
Separation anxiety is a real issue, particularly seeing as many pets have grown used to constant company after the past couple of years, so keeping an eye on your pets from afar - and perhaps even being able to talk to them to reassure them - is more critical than it has ever been.
Realistically you could use pretty much any smart camera to watch your pets. The vast majority feature two-way talk, and you don't necessarily need to spend a huge amount. Something like the Neos Smartcam (opens in new tab) / Wyze Cam (opens in new tab) are solid budget options, and spending less on individual cameras gives you the option to place multiples around the home to keep an eye on your pets' favourite spots. A Wi-Fi baby monitor with pan and tilt - the Nooie Cam 360 (opens in new tab), perhaps - is easily repurposed for pets, and night vision is a feature that may well come in handy.
There are pet-specific cameras on the market, too. These generally combine a cam with some kind of secondary feature. In the case of something like the Furbo (opens in new tab) or Skymee Dog Camera (opens in new tab), you'll be able to ping out treats for your furry friend to enjoy when you're not around. That's certainly one way to get their attention on the camera - though for most pets this'll mean keeping it on an inaccessible shelf.
If you're a cat owner, a microchip cat flap is a must. It'll stop rogue neighbourhood cats paying you an unwelcome spray-heavy visit, and offer your own felines a certain sense of security. Stopping at something like the PetSafe Microchip Cat Flap (opens in new tab) or the slightly more advanced SureFlap Dual Scan (opens in new tab) is fine, but you can do more.
A smart cat flap like the SureFlap Microchip Cat Flap Connect (opens in new tab) gives you much more control. You can automate a curfew for individual cats or lock and unlock the flap through your phone, get push messages when a cat has gone out or come in, and even check out past activity to build a big-picture view of your cats' general activities.
Don't overlook the potential of trackers. If you have a dog that's prone to excitedly bolting into the woods on a walk, attaching a device like the Pawfit 2 (opens in new tab) to its collar can help you keep tabs on its location even if you can't see it. Similar devices are available for cats, like the Tractive 2 (opens in new tab), but we think they tend to be a bit bulky; an AirTag collar (opens in new tab), on the other hand, is just the right size.
Robots can be very stimulating toys for pets, and as long as your furry friends are not prone to destroying toys - we're looking at you, large dogs - they could be a solid investment in play.
One, in particular, stands out: the Skymee Owl (opens in new tab) is a rolling robot with a built-in camera. You can set it to patrol your home while you're out, giving your pet something to interact with and dropping treats as it goes, but you can also pilot it manually, perfect for games of chase. If you can't find it, the Skymee Fury Bone (opens in new tab) is a tougher robot roller which omits the camera, while the Enabot Ebo SE (opens in new tab) is more of a patrol bot with transitive pet-fascination properties.
We've also found results with the Sphero Mini (opens in new tab), which is ostensibly a STEM toy (and does very well at that) but absolutely brilliant for entrancing both cats and dogs.
While it can be difficult to tempt a pet to actually use a bed you've bought them, the addition of a little technology might be just the convincer you need. Some have found decent results using an electric blanket (opens in new tab) (or something like the CosiHome Heated Throw (opens in new tab)) turned down low, creating a warm spot that's basically irresistible to most furry creatures, but a specific pet heating pad may be more efficient and slightly safer. You can typically get these in whatever size suits your pet's bed. If you're really worried about your pet getting their teeth into it, the Snugglepad (opens in new tab) is a simple microwaveable option which definitely won't cause any issues.
Keeping a pet calm isn't necessarily so straightforward, as it's going to depend on your pet's predilections and preferences. A chemical diffuser, like Feliway (opens in new tab) and Adaptil (opens in new tab) plug-ins, can help resolve internal conflicts between pets in your home, and help certain pets be comfortable in areas they might otherwise avoid.
There are more technological solutions, too, though it's up to you if you believe in their true efficacy. The RelaxoPet Pro (opens in new tab), for example, claims to sense your pet's discomfort and soothe them with calming vibrations. It... might?
Cats, dogs, small children: they all love a laser. Admittedly some pets may be more indifferent to light than others, but that may be because you're not using the correct laser.
Cats, for example, can see green lasers, but their eyes are more sensitive to light in the red range of the spectrum, so a red laser will work better for them in most lighting conditions. It may not stop them shrugging and giving up after five minutes, however.
Dogs do love lasers, but some animal behaviorists suggest they may do a bit more harm than good for canines: tickle a dog's predatory instinct and they may become obsessed with the laser, and direct their attention to literally any source of light.
Not just any laser will do for play. Picking up one of those 'free' pointers from Wish, for example, is a terrible idea if you're playing with pets because their power isn't properly regulated. Obviously you're going to avoid their eyes, but reduce the risk to your pet's peepers by buying a pet-specific pointer - there are loads on the market.
You might also try a smart device which has a laser in it - the PetCube Play 2 (opens in new tab), for example, includes a motorized low-power beam which skitters around the floor whenever you want to entertain your cat, or can be directly piloted through its app - but since it can't automatically avoid your pet's eyes, you may prefer to resign yourself to manual entertainment. Not that that's really a chore.
While we wouldn't advocate that even the most passionate owner gifts their pet a personal (or, er, fursonal) iPad, the fact is that many pets enjoy interacting with apps almost as much as you do. Just be prepared for claws, beaks and filthy noses to take their toll on your screen, and install a screen protector before you hand it over.
YouTube videos of birds, cats, insects and the like may entrance a cat, but specific dot-chasing apps give them an opportunity to bat at the screen and present less potential eye damage than an actual laser.
For dogs, it may be worth trying apps which test all of their senses; dog apps tend to revolve around squeaking, though we've also found some success sitting them in front of cat-focused apps, particularly with dogs that love to chase. The same caveats apply here as with lasers, though: dogs' obsessive behaviours are easy to trigger and difficult to switch off, so base the decision entirely around your canine's proclivities.
For birds, try switching on the front camera to give them a gigantic and confusing mirror to fume at, or for more talkative feathered friends, try an app which will repeat what they say in a silly voice. You're not hurting for choice on that front.
This article is part of TechRadar’s Tech Resolutions (opens in new tab) series, a motivating blast of encouragement showing you how to supercharge your new year with tech. Running from Sunday December 26 to Sunday January 2, our series will also reveal how we’re aiming to level-up our gadget lives in 2022. So whether you’re looking to become a Chromebook power-user, beat your takeaway obsession with a new air fryer, or use a smartwatch to propel you to new fitness heights, we’ll show you how to get your new year off to a flyer. And when it all inevitably goes wrong, you can always blame the gadgets.
- Read our guide to the best smart home devices you can buy today