Cat tracking collars: GPS vs. Radio

According to research, an average of 60 pets an hour go missing.

While microchipping is very important, it only works if the cat is found, lets a stranger pick him up, gets taken to a vet or shelter, and asked to be scanned. So while necessary what's a more immediate alternative? How can you proactively track and find your cat if they are missing?

 

There are several options on the market, and most are Bluetooth. Sadly, Bluetooth is not a viable option beyond your yard, especially for something that can move around. Only RF (Radio Frequency) and GPS Cat Trackers are going to cover a cat who may wander beyond the typical 40 ft range of Bluetooth. 

Cats are harder to find than dogs. For tracking collar technology, there are several options. Bluetooth is not really viable for something that can move around. Only RF (Radio Frequency) and GPS Cat Trackers are going to cover a cat who may wander beyond the typical 40 ft range of Bluetooth. 

 

Let’s start by explaining the difference between the two technologies.

 

The Global Positioning System (GPS), is a global navigation satellite system that provides location and time information in all weather conditions, anywhere on the Earth where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites. The GPS system, which is owned and operated by the US government, operates independently of any telephone or internet reception. It allows you to track over time and see where something has been on either PC, tablet, or a smartphone.

 

RF Cat Trackers use Radio Frequency (2.4ghz) to send and receive messages between the handset and the tag. The strength of the transmission from the tag received by the handset is used to indicate distance as well as direction. In this way, the handset shows which way to walk to locate the lost cat. 

 

So which is ultimately better? Well let’s look at four factors which you may use to decide what’s best for you and your cat; size and weight, battery life, accuracy, and cost.

 

 Size and Weight

 

GPS cat tracking box v RF Tracking tag

GPS devices are designed to track larger items over large distances. But because of this, they suffer from being relatively heavy and large when compared to A RF Tracker. A GPS Cat Tracker will often be 1.1oz plus ounces. Whilst, this may not be an issue for larger animals such as dogs, this is a major consideration from a cat welfare perspective as 1.01lb is quite heavy for the cat to carry around. By way of comparison, it is equivalent to an adult human carrying half a bag of sugar (1.1lb) around their neck*.

A study** carried out in New Zealand and published in 2015, looked at the impact of collar-mounted track devices on domestic cats. They recorded cats wearing GPS tracking devices weighing between 1.1oz and 4.6oz and looked to understand the device's impact behavior and movement. They concluded that GPS collars on cats;

“should be no more than 2% of body mass”

For an average cat weighing 1.1lb, this equates to 0.3oz.

By comparison, a Lost Cat Tracker tag is only 0.2oz, so a GPS Cat Tracking device is approximately five times the weight of the Tracker Tag.

 

Battery Life

GPS devices locate using triangulation from four or more satellites orbiting around the earth. This signal between the device and the satellite has to travel approximately 12,000 miles. As a result, the battery has to work very hard to power the device consuming a lot of battery even when the device is transmitting periodically. A GPS will usually last between two and six days before the battery needs to be recharged (dependent on use).

The Lost Cat Tracker battery will last up to a year dependent on use. When it's flat it can be easily replaced with a widely available CR2032 battery.

 

Accuracy

While a GPS cat tracking collar could potentially locate over a very large distance, but it is not so good at pinpoint accuracy. Normally a GPS device will track to between five and ten meters. This might be OK if the cat is out in the open, but more problematic if the cat is lost in dense undergrowth or even stuck in outbuildings or a shed.

 

GPS also relies on direct line of sight to the satellites so it also becomes highly problematic indoors.

 

The Glow Track collar with a Lost Cat Tracking tag uses its sounds and lights to track a Cat Tracker Tag to within 2.5 cm.  This is particularly important if a cat becomes stuck in a cupboard, under floorboards or in a neighbor's shed. Unlike GPS, the RF waves can ‘see-through’ walls, so it works indoors and out, high, low, and hidden from satellites.

 

Cost

A GPS Cat Tracker device cost will usually have a hardware (device) and data element. The hardware will cost between $70 and $300. Sometimes the hardware cost will include the first year’s data subscription, or, there will be a monthly data cost of $10 to $20 dependent on the data type the device needs to work. 

 

With a RF-based Lost Cat Tracker, no data contract is required. 

 

Summary

GPS devices can work to track larger items such as cars or elephants.

However, when it comes to cats, an RF Tracker is the better solution.

Why?

  • RF tags are smaller and lighter than GPS pet tracking units 

  • RF pet trackers have a much longer battery life (up to 1-year v. 3 days)

  • Much greater accuracy (1-inch  v   55 feet)

  • Allows for sound (chirp) in addition to location information.

REFERENCES

* Based on the average adult human weight of 155lb and an average cat weight of 9lb.

**Weighed down by science: do collar-mounted devices affect domestic cat behavior and movement? 

 

Cayley E. Coughlin and Yolanda van Heezik Department of Zoology, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand. Published in Wildlife Research 20/03/15.

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