Incredible hi-tech Christmas gifts for pets
Connected fitness trackers for dogs, autonomous mouse robots for cats, and even a smart door for chickens are expected to be wrapped up for Christmas this year, as tech innovators target Australia's growing audience of pet owners.
And experts say the unexpected gadgets are not just about providing fancy toys for bored puppies, but have practical uses that could help locate a pet, keep them fed, or ease the guilt of busy workers.
The explosion of pet technology now includes devices such as filtered water fountains, robotic balls, pet locators with wireless internet connections, and smart cameras with two-way audio so pet owners can chat to their animal buddies during the day.
Our love of pets has grown so much that Aussie pet owners are expected to spend $1.2 billion on pet products and accessories this year, according to the latest study from Animal Medicines Australia, including $600 million on dogs and $250 million on cats.
The figure has risen $100 million since 2016, and as Australians now homed almost 29 million pets, or more than the country's human population.
Pet Barn senior category manager Layla Crawford said the pet tech market had shot up "in the last 12 to 18 months," with gadgets growing both in number and sophistication.
"It is growing every year because pet ownership is continuing to grow, especially among Millennials," she said.
"People are also spending a lot of time away from home, at work, and the technology not only lets you see what your pet is doing at home but lets you interact and treat your pets."
Ms Crawford said dog owners, in particular, were spoiled for choice in the technology stakes, with a large range of fitness and location-tracking devices now available to alert them to any escape attempts and to determine whether their dogs were getting enough exercise.
Some connected cameras, including the Petcube Bites 2, were also able to let owners dispense treats to their pets using an app, and talk to them.
"To be able to have a chat to your dog at lunch time and give them a treat provides that bonding experience, which is so special," she said.
"It's a great boredom buster for dogs. They won't feel lonely because their mum or dad is talking to them."
Options for cats this Christmas include a Petoneer Fresco Pro water fountain with three levels of filtration to remove stray bits of fur, and a smart robot named the Petronics Mousr.
Even chickens are breaking into the pet technology market, however, with ChickenGuard creator Ben Braithwaite telling News Corp that sales for his automated chicken coup doors were soaring.
The company, which he set up in the UK after creating his own homegrown solution, now sells smart chicken coup doors in 51 countries, with Australia his fourth largest market.
While the technology was unusual, Mr Braithwaite said it regularly sold out because it gave chicken owners a way to keep their pets safe while ensuring they could stay late at work if they needed to and go on holidays.
"It means you're not rushing back from work at some horrible time and it can save the Sunday lie-in," he said. "It opens the door in the morning, closes the door in the evenings, and you can use timers or light sensors to set it up."