Jan 072011
 

GPS trackers rely on satellite signals and can remotely tell you where you cat is located as long as it can pick up a signal.  The location can often be transmitted to your computer or cell phone.  The main drawback to GPS trackers is that they may not be able to transmit a signal if your cat is in a building or underground or sometimes even if the sky is heavily overcast.  However, some GPS trackers also use cellular signals and this can increase reliability depending on coverage.  These are called A-GPS or Assisted GPS.  There is usually some error in the transmitted location and you will probably have to physically search an area to find out exactly where your cat is located.  GPS trackers also require payment of a monthly service fee or prepay program similar to cell phones.

There are numerous dog GPS trackers but most are too heavy for a cat.  The recommended maximum weight for a cat to carry is 40 grams or approximately 1.5 ounces.  There are  several GPS trackers designed for cats that are available in the US, but even these are generally only recommended for cats weighing 10 lbs or more.  These include the GPS CatTrack Live (TK201) available from Mr. Lee’s CatTrack and Tagg the Pet Tracker.   PawTrax, which offers a pre-payment plan rather than a monthly fee, may now be available for purchase in the US.  Email info@pawtrax.co.uk for more information.

With a radio-tracking device, your cat wears a small transmitter on his/her collar, and you have to walk around with a receiver to try and locate the cat.  The basic principal is that the receiver will beep louder the closer you get to your cat.  Radio-trackers can transmit signals through buildings, so you can still locate your cat if s/he was trapped in a shed or basement.  The main drawback to radio-collars is that they usually have a limited range, generally anywhere from 100 feet to 1 mile depending on the strength of the signal and the terrain you are searching.  The signal will travel much farther in open areas compared to wooded areas or through buildings.  There are currently two radio-tracking collars available in the US: the Loc8tor Pet and the LoCATor.  The Loc8tor Pet costs around $100 (for 2 transmitters and 1 receiver) and has a maximum range of 100-400 feet.  The LoCATor costs $50 per radio-collar and $250 for the receiver and antenna, and it has a maximum signal range of 600 feet (city) to 1 mile (open country).  To operate the LoCATor you are also legally required to obtain an Amateur Radio Operators license from the FCC.

I think that the radio-tracker is generally the better option for finding lost cats for several reasons.

  • Most lost cats do not travel more than a mile or two from home (and many are found within 1/4 mile).
  • Lost cats have a greater tendency to get lost and trapped within their own homes or outside in sheds, garages, and basements.
  • Cats are excellent hiders and a lost cat will frequently run and hide even from their owners.  A radio-tracker allows you to track down the exact location of your cat while a GPS tracker will just give you a general area.
  • Radio-trackers are much smaller than GPS trackers and can easily be attached to a break-away cat collar.  Also if your cat loses their collar, you should still be able to locate the collar and tracking transmitter.

See also my review of the Loc8tor Pet.

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  8 Responses to “GPS versus Radio-Tracking: pros and cons for finding cats”

  1. I just wanted to make it clear that I currently only have hands-on experience with the Loc8tor Pet. However, I have also previously worked on several wildlife research projects using radio-telemetry to track wolves, bears, coyotes, and foxes. Not surprisingly, I am a little biased towards radio-tracking. I do have experience using GPS locators and GPS loggers, but not any of the ones designed for finding lost pets. I plan to acquire and test more GPS and radio-tracking devices in the future.

  2. As a wildlife biologist who used radio telemetry for many years for everything from spotted owls, to mountain goats, and Canada lynx….here is one thing to remember. You must turn the signal down until it is barely audible…then as you walk around it will either get louder or disappear. You know you’re heading the right way if it gets louder and louder which is why we turn it down so low in the beginning. It’s easier to detect the sound disappearing entirely or getting slightly louder if it’s kept at a very low volume…that way the only way it will get perceptibly louder is if you are getting closer to the animal. Also, there are a LOT of things that can interfere, buildings made of concrete, canyon walls, hills, etc. The signal can “bounce’ off of canyon walls and confuse the user. We often had to use helicopters/small aircraft which are, of course, not an option for cat owners…but we used them to prevent the “bounce” issue. You want a collar that has the closest possible accuracy, for example…down to 100 feet versus 200 feet. They’re a great tool, but still not infallible.
    C. Lee

  3. Well, is it possible then to have BOTH! mount the radio-tracking device onto the GPS collar. If your cat is worth its life, then why not have both. That way you are sure to locate the exact venue and find your cat without much difficulty.

    • Earlier this year, I purchased a Tagg the Pet Tracker for my dog. I also attached a Loc8tor radio-tracker to his collar. This way the GPS gets me to the general area, and then I can find his exact location with the radio-tracker. So I would definitely agree that if your cat is big enough, using both is the best option. BTW: my dog also has a microchip and an ID tag because you can never be too careful.

  4. I think they might have those kinds of collars here: http://www.trainingcollarstore.com

  5. Pawtrack now has a GPS that is designed specifically for cats and built into the collar. I will probably need to update this article after I learn more about these trackers and maybe even try one myself. For more information see: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pawtrack/pawtrack-gps-cat-tracking-collar

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