In July 2019, I had to go through one of the most stressful times of my life: My cat Milù disappeared into thin air.
She had a radio frequency collar (TabCat), but it proved to be completely, utterly useless. Following that horrific episode, I did more research into the GPS vs Bluetooth vs radio frequency cat tracker world and published this article, explaining why I thought that GPS trackers beat radio frequency trackers hands down.
Since that day, it’s been almost over 7 months. And it’s time for me to write the ultimate review of GPS tracking for cats.
Tractive: pros and cons
As you can read here, we’ve happily switched from radio frequency tracker TabCat to GPS-based tracker Tractive.
The live map and geolocation, and the fact that there is no geographical limit to how far Tractive lets you track your cat’s position, have all been determining factors for us to choose GPS tracking.
However, the collar’s battery life is poor – it lasts up to 2,5 days WITHOUT ever activating live tracking, and things get worse when it’s cold outside. This is true for all GPS trackers. One of the main reasons we chose Tractive over other cat GPS tracking models was that the battery can be detached, so you can buy an extra battery and always keep one or the other charged at all times. This wasn’t possible with other trackers such as Weenect (which are also much bulkier!).
**UPDATE: Weenect have updated their trackers and we currently own one. Read our review of the Weenect 2 Cat GPS Tracker here.**
The collar, although not very bulky, is only suitable for cats weighing a minimum of 4 kg (luckily, Simba is far above that!).
The first collar we received was defect, as the safety mechanism was too weak and the collar would come undone (aka lost) too easily. The replacement was much better, but it would still come undone any time Simba would jump from a significant height (e.g. a tree). When the collar comes undone, the light and sound you can play to locate it won’t work anymore. Which, in our opinion, makes this feature quite useless.
(Although this problem should have been solved by the new Tractive IKATI model, which is now sold as a separate GPS unit that you attach to a collar rather than a GPS collar unit)
Lastly, GPS tracking depends on a good cellular network. If you happen to be somewhere with poor coverage, the collar will be little to no use.
We always make sure to stay in areas that receive good signal (also because it’s essential to our work), but you can never say never.
Yes, Tractive has made a big difference in the way I can track my cat’s movements, but it doesn’t solve ALL of my problems – in fact, it doesn’t even come close. And I really don’t want to ever stress again about my cat going missing.
That’s why I thought that adding an extra ‘layer’ of protection couldn’t do any harm. So I started browsing through the jungle of key finders.
Using a key finder to track your cat
Key finders come in all shapes, sizes and prices. Out of the models I could find on Amazon (and that would deliver to Greece), I picked this one:
– radio frequency tracking
– covers up to 35 meters
– LED flashlight
– loud sound
– remote control
– battery lasts up to 9 months (for 1 whole year when in standby mode)
However, I hadn’t realised how bulky it was! Simba didn’t seem to mind in the slightest, but I thought it looked a bit… too much.
Simba wasn’t bothered by the loud-ish beeping it made, so I left the key finder attached to his collar for a couple of weeks – the time necessary for me to look for and order an alternative device.
As soon as Simba lost his collar for the 4587th time, it proved to be the right thing to do: the geographical map of his Tractive GPS collar told me its last seen location, so I could walk within the key finder frequency range, and then make it beep through its remote control.
Bingo! The collar was stuck on a net-fence in tall bushes, where I would have never found it without the help of the key finder.
Tile: a Bluetooth lightweight & compact sticker
Now that I knew how useful adding a key finder-type of device to Simba’s GPS tracker actually was, my one mission was to find a tracker that would be small and compact enough to be attached to the collar.
All my research pointed me to Tile: a Bluetooth tracker that comes in several shapes and sizes.
I wasn’t really sure how big each of these were, so it took some digging to compare sizes and figure out how bulky the ‘Mate’ ones were. I definitely didn’t want to repeat the same mistake with Simba’s previous key finder.
The Mate and Pro finders seemed to be of the same size of the key finder I had previously ordered, so I focussed on the Sticker instead.
The Sticker looked quite promising, so I ordered the 2-pack. One for Simba’s collar, and one for emergency. (That emergency turned out to be Dobby, a 2-month old kitten we saved from the streets of Leonidio, Greece – but more about that in a new post coming soon!)
The Tile sticker ticked all of our boxes:
– Bluetooth tech
– 46 meters range
– 3 year battery
– It can be attached pretty much anywhere
– Beeping sound to help you locate your lost item
– Map with last known location (and more features with the Pro version)
– You can use it with your phone vs having to carry around an external remote
– It also draws upon the ‘Tile community’ to help you find items through the support of other users
Once we received it, pairing it with our phones was effortless. A couple of taps and clicks and it was done. Name your Tile, associate it with the type of item or pet, and you’re good to go.
First, we placed the Tile sticker next to Simba’s ears to see if he would freak out at the beep.
Zero. Not bothered.
Now that Simba had passed the test with flying colours, it was time to stick the Tile to his collar. And that’s where the Tile sticker comes short. The adhesive layer sucks. It’s literally the least sticking surface I’ve ever seen in my life. Disappointing, for a product whose name is… ‘Sticker’.
A bit of superglue did the job. A few seconds later, Simba was ready to go with his new Tractive GPS + Tile Bluetooth collar.
A quick word about Tile’s customer service: It only took a very quick chat over their website, and a new set of adhesive surfaces was on its way. We received it within a week from our support request.
More thumbs up to using Tile: there is no limit to how much your cat needs to weight – so we were also able to attach it to Dobby’s collar.
She is still too tiny to wear any GPS trackers and we don’t let her out in any case, but she’s accidentally escaped through the cat flap following Simba’s lead twice. Once, she crawled under the van engine and we would never have found her, hand’t we attached the Tile sticker to her collar!
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To recap, all cat tracking systems come with cons and pros.
GPS trackers | Cons:
– Poor battery life
– Some of them are bulky
– Are completely dependant on good cellular network
– Are only suitable for cats that weight min. 4 kg
– Most of them are bulky
– Most of them don’t have a removable battery
– LED or beeping sound get deactivated if collar comes undone or the battery dies
GPS trackers | Pros:
– Live tracking of your cat
– Activity monitoring
– Last seen location
– Safety mechanism
– Fast charge (0-100% within 1-1,5 hours)
– Unlimited range, you can track your cat wherever he may be (but some models are country-specific)
Bluetooth / Radio frequency trackers | Cons:
– Limited location range, greatly reduced by obstacle such as trees or buildings
– Are completely dependant on good cellular network
– Some of them are bulky
Bluetooth / Radio trackers | Pros:
– Great battery life (several months to several years)
– Work in areas with poor signal
– Don’t depend on any other mechanism to be activated (such as the LED on a GPS collar)
– Strong beeping sound
– Attachable to any collar (or surface)
– Suitable for cats of any weight
While Bluetooth and radio frequency technologies have both been used in many different fields and applications for decades, GPS tracking technology – especially, used to track cats – is relatively new.
However, neither technology on its own is good enough – if you really want to rest easy and make sure you’ve got your cats whereabouts under control.
But, luckily, we live in the age of the web and information. And you can read reviews of products, ideas and solutions that have been tried and tested by other cat owners, like us. All in all, this is what we recommend:
If you don’t want to leave anything to chance, give this set-up a go: Tractive IKATI + Tile Sticker.
Have you tried any GPS or Bluetooth tracking devices for your cat? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments! ?