Friday, August 23, 2013

GPS Cat Tracking Collars Can Be Hard To Find

Cat GPS tracking collars seem like a great idea for keeping tabs on your wandering feline. Outfit a tracking collar with a global positioning device that knows its current location at all times. The GPS device can then periodically send its longitude and latitude position to some base station by simply transmitting it over the cellular phone network. Once received, the location information is uploaded to a website which allows you to monitor your cat's location. Not only is this GPS tracking system a good idea, it's already being used in a variety of ways -- from car navigation systems to locating lost hikers.

However, the typical GPS cat tracking system is difficult to locate -- at least in the United States. The main problem is that GPS technology has not been miniaturized to the point of making GPS cat collars small enough and light enough for most household cats. Domestic cats are simply unable to bear the weight of the current GPS electronics and power supply.

The only websites that advertise GPS cat tracking collars seem to be located in Europe, and those particular European devices are fairly large -- weighing over 90g. Most average sized cats would only be able to carry an 80g tracking collar comfortably.

The other downside to GPS tracking collars, and this goes for both cat tracking collars and dog tracking collars, is that GPS collars typically have monthly fees associated with them. This is because the GPS collars will normally utilize the cellular phone networks for transmitting location information and the cellular networks all have monthly charges. So if you wish to avoid monthly fees you will have to use another type of technology for the cat tracking collar.

One of the best options that I have found is to use a short range radio tracking collar. This kind of tracking collar transmits a periodic beacon signal that is detected by a directional receiver. With the receiver you are able to tell in which direction your cat is located by how strong a signal you are detecting. In addition, as you get closer to the radio collar the beacon signal also gets stronger so you can determine both the relative direction and distance to your cat.

These short range radio cat tracking collars have two distinct advantages over the cat GPS collars. First, because they use free radio frequencies you avoid the monthly cellular network fees used by the GPS systems. Second, the electronics used with these short range devices can be made small and light enough for any domestic cat to wear. The tracking system on the collar only has to beacon a weak signal so the amount of electronics and power requirements are low. These types or cat tracking collars just need a small coin battery for power.

There is one disadvantage to using a radio tracking collar. Unlike the cat GPS locators you would not be able to pinpoint the longitude and latitude of your cat since the radio collar does not transmit any exact location coordinates -- just distance and directional information that you can detect via the relative signal strength with the directional receiver. However, since cats usually do not wander miles away in a short time span -- my cats are usually within a block of my house -- having exact location information to track on a website does not seem as critical in my view.

The other perceived disadvantage of a short range radio cat locator collar is that it will not work over long distances as compared to the GPS collar. That is only partially true. While a GPS collar that is using the cellular network may be able to transmit location information over a longer distance, cellular network systems are also susceptible to interference and signal loss. If your cat should wander into a hole or a cave or some area that is not being serviced by a cellular tower, then the GPS collar would not work.

A short range radio collar would be able to work in much more remote areas and in places where the cellular phone networks cannot reach since the radio collar only needs to transmit as far as the receiver while the GPS cat collar needs to transmit to the nearest cellular tower.

So consider a radio cat collar as a cat tracking device if you cannot find a cat GPS collar that fits your needs and budget.

Ken Harrison owns two cats and they both wear cat tracking collars. See for more pet tracking information.
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