Cat trackers come in a variety of options including GPS (mostly cellular these days), radio-trackers (or RFID), and Bluetooth trackers. Contrary to the belief of many people, microchips do not have any remote tracking capabilities (learn more here). Being involved in lost pet recovery work for over 10 years, I definitely recommend cat trackers for both indoor and outdoor-access cats.
All of the cat trackers described here must be attached to either a collar or harness. Several research studies have found that the risk of cats getting injured by a collar is highly exaggerated, and your cat is at a much higher risk of becoming lost and never found. To reduce the risk of accidental strangulation, you can attach most trackers to a breakaway collar.
I am currently working on updating this article for 2023.
GPS versus Radio-Trackers
First it can be helpful to determine if a GPS or a radio-tracking device makes more sense. In general, a GPS tracker is more appropriate for an outdoor-access cat, especially one that tends to wander through multiple yards or into the woods. A GPS can also be very useful if you move to a new home with an outdoor-access cat since they are at a higher risk of going missing or even attempting to travel back to their old home.
A radio-tracker is usually best for indoor-only cats, since they don't usually travel far from their point of escape and they tend to hide really well. Radio-trackers are also useful for traveling with your cat since a displaced cat (e.g. one lost away from home) is more likely to hide nearby though a small percentage of lost outdoor-access cats may attempt to travel back home. If you are on a budget or your outdoor-access cat tends to stay close to home, a radio-tracker is also a good option.
On the other hand, if you want to be extra safe, some people choose to use both a GPS and radio-tracker. This improves your ability to locate your cat and provides a back-up if the battery on one device fails.
How GPS Pet Trackers Work
GPS (Global Positioning System) trackers work by using satellites and/or cellular networks to locate your cat. Most GPS pet trackers work with an app on a smart phone. When you ask to "locate" your pet, the app will find your cat using GPS and/or cell phone coverage and indicate their location on a map along with an address (if they are near a home).
GPS locations are not always exact, so you may need to search within 100 feet or more of the indicated location to find your cat. This may be difficult if your cat is moving around while you are searching. Most GPS trackers do offer a tracking feature that provides repeated map locations of your cat, but this can really drain the battery. In some situations, the GPS may not be able to get a location on your cat.
Overall, low battery life is the biggest drawback of a GPS tracker. Many GPS trackers only have a battery life of a few days. If your cat stays near the house, the battery may last for a week or longer (on a good tracker), but once outside the home base (usually determined by your WiFi range), the battery will quickly drain in as little as a day. Many escaped indoor-only cats are too frightened to come out of hiding even for their owner and need to be humanely trapped. If you are not able to locate and catch your cat within a few days, their GPS battery will likely go dead.
- Can locate your cat even if they have traveled far from home.
- Provides a mapped location of your cat.
- Sends a notification when your cat travels outside a set "safe zone" around your home.
- Sends a notification when the battery level is low so that you know to recharge it in time.
- Device is larger and heavier than a radio-tag. Generally not suitable for small cats.
- Most require a monthly subscription plan and home WiFi.
- Battery needs to be recharged often. If your cat stays near the house, the battery may last for a week or longer (on some trackers), but once outside the home base (usually determined by your WiFi range), the battery will quickly drain in a few days.
- May not be able to get a signal depending on GPS and/or cell coverage in the area. Also may not work if your cat is trapped in a basement or hiding underground.
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Best GPS Cat Trackers
At this time, I don't have a single favorite GPS tracker for cats. The biggest drawback on all GPS trackers is their short battery life. Based on my research and experience, these are some of the better GPS trackers, but they all have pros and cons. Most trackers offer trial periods and free returns so your best options is to try a tracker or two and see what works best in your area and situation.
I will be adding reviews for Jiobit and Tractive as well.
Whistle GPS Pet Trackers
I used Whistle pet trackers on my search dog Dante for most his life. For my cats, I use radio-trackers, but this is also a decent GPS for cats. As of 2023, Whistle has two GPS styles: Whistle Health & GPS and Whistle Health and GPS+. Whistle recommends the GPS+ for small dogs and the regular GPS for dogs 25 lbs and up. However, the GPS+ is built into a non-breakaway collar so I wouldn't recommend this one for cats. The regular Health & GPS is actually lighter than than the GPS+. It is just more bulky, but it can be attached to a breakaway collar.
For a GPS, it has a relatively long battery life of up to 15 days if your pet stays within wifi range. However, the battery only lasts 2-3 days in areas with poor cell service. You will also receive a notification when the battery is low and it quickly charges in less than 2 hours.
Yes, I know these are all photos of dogs. Cat photos coming as soon as my cats cooperate.
Whistle Health & GPS Features
Pawtrack GPS Cat Collar
Pawtrack is the only GPS tacking collar designed specifically for cats, and it works in multiple countries. Compared to Whistle 3, it has a better, more streamlined fit for your cat. In addition to using the smartphone app, you can also view your cat tracks and manage collar settings via computer. The biggest drawback to this GPS is the very short battery life. The battery only lasts 2 days, but it comes with a second battery pack so that you can easily switch them out. The Pawtrack collar costs almost twice as much as the Whistle 3, but it comes with one free year of tracking followed by a much lower annual subscription fee.
Unlike other GPS pet trackers, Pawtrack also has a Beacon mode. This feature makes the collar emit a signal that is picked up by your smartphone and helps you pinpoint the location of your cat. Since GPS locations are often not exact and cats sometimes move around or hide, this is a great extra feature for a GPS collar.
Where to Buy Pawtrack
Pawtrack is only available on Pawtrack.com. You have 14 days from the time you receive the collar to let them know if you want to return it for a refund, but they may be able to arrange extra time to evaluate the collar if needed.
Pawtrack GPS Features
How Radio-Tracking Devices Work
Radio-trackers use radio frequency signals and require a transmitter (radio-tag) to send the signal and a receiver (handheld device) to receive the signal. Basically, your cat wears a small radio-tag on their collar, and you have to walk around with a handheld receiver to try and locate your cat. 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 they are trapped in a shed or basement.
The main drawback to radio-trackers is that they usually have a limited range, generally anywhere from 100 feet up to 2 miles 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. In order to easily find your cat with a radio-tracking device, you will need to practice. The signal can be difficult to follow depending on the terrain and where your cat is located.
- Generally smaller and lighter than a GPS, so can be used by even small cats and kittens.
- Batteries last much longer than a GPS. May last for six weeks to several months depending on the radio-tracker.
- One time payment. Does not require a monthly subscription plan.
- Works anywhere! Does not require internet, GPS or cell coverage.
- Once your cat's signal is picked up, the receiver allows you to follow it right up to their exact hiding spot. Some radio-tags will even flash or beep to make finding them easier once you are close.
- Your cat needs to be within range of the receiver in order for the signal to be picked up. Depending on the device this may be anywhere from 100 feet up to 2 miles.
- The signal can sometimes be difficult to follow and requires practice to use it easily.
- Does not give you any notification that the battery needs to be recharged or replaced.
Best Cat Radio-Tracking Devices
There aren't nearly as many radio-tracking devices available on the market as there are GPS trackers. However, in general, they are smaller and more suitable for most cats. You may be tempted to try the cheaper option of a Bluetooth tracker such as Tile, but these generally aren't as reliable as a radio-tracker. Bluetooth trackers are designed to find lost things and aren't designed to safely stay on a cat collar. Before making any purchase, be sure to check out reviews on their site and a trusted third-party site like Amazon or Ebay. Based on my research and experience, these are the radio-trackers that I recommend.
TabCat Pet Tracker (a.k.a. Loc8tor Pet)
TabCat (also called Loc8tor Pet) is one of the smallest, affordable cat radio-tracking devices. The tracker comes with two transmitter tags and one receiver, and you can buy up to two additional tags. Easy to use; just turn on the small handheld receiver, select the missing cat's tag, and start searching. Once the radio-tag's signal is picked up, the receiver will begin to beep and flash, and the closer you get to your cat, the louder and brighter it will get. Once you are quite close, you can turn off the volume, and listen for the beeping of the radio-tag attached to your cat's collar.
The biggest drawback of TabCat is its relatively short range of only 400 feet in open terrain. If your cat is outside of this range, then you need to search around until you pick up a signal. Realistically it will pick up a signal within 200-300 feet if your cat is in the woods or only 50 feet if your cat is stuck in a basement. However, even with the short range, it often works well for escaped indoor-only cats since they usually hide nearby. I have had a few cases where it helped locate lost outdoor-access cats. First the general location of the cat was determined with posters, and then they were able to go to that location and quickly track down their cat with the locator. My own cats Lily and Violet are still wearing their Loc8tor Pet trackers, which I purchased in 2015.
Marco Polo Pet Tracker
If you want a radio-tracker with longer range and more reliability, then you should check out the Marco Polo. Easy to set up and use; just press a single button to start searching, and Marco Polo will scan up to 2-miles (in open terrain). As soon as your cat is located, you will receive real-time distance and direction feedback to help track down your cat. Marco Polo is the highest rated radio-tracker pet locator on Amazon.com.