The Future of Pets
The Atlantic|January 2016

Of micropigs and tweeting dogs.

William Brennan

In his 1915 guide to pets, Alpheus Hyatt Verrill, an American naturalist, lambasted the dog-keeping habits of his day. “There is no excuse for pampering, constant fondling, dressing up in clothing, and other ridiculous customs,” he wrote. Dogs, Verrill insisted, should be treated like the animals they are. A century later, Verrill’s message has gone stupendously unheeded. Americans pamper their pets more than ever— treating them to such indulgences as airconditioned doghouses, craft beer (albeit without the alcohol), video games, and even humpable sex dolls. Future technologies promise to bring us even closer to our pets—and to make pets’ lives look more like human ones. Here’s how our relation ships with animals could change.

1. Pet Gadgets

Americans spend about $60 billion a year on their pets. We now have, for example, technologies that help people stay connected to their animals when they’re not home. A device called the iCPooch lets people videoconference with their dogs (and remotely dispense treats in order to persuade them to come to the camera). In a similar vein, a company called PetBot has developed a monitor that can sense when a pet approaches and record a short video—which it then e-mails to the owner. Future versions of the device will be able to post the videos directly to a pet’s accounts on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Fitness gadgets are also big, likely because, as one recent survey found, more than half of American dogs and cats are overweight. A device called Kittyo allows owners to stream live video of their cats on a smartphone and, with the touch of a finger, make a laser dance around the room, keeping their cats entertained and active. A couple of companies off er what are essentially Fitbits for dogs; one device, called Voyce, keeps a record of a dog’s activity levels and other health indicators, which a vet can later review. Treadmills for dogs exist, too—though they’re nothing new. The first canine treadmills were invented in the United States in the early 1800s and used “dog power” to accomplish chores such as churning butter and grinding grain.

2. Canine Communications

At North Carolina State University, a group of computer scientists, electrical engineers, and veterinary behaviorists is developing a “smart harness” that collects a dog’s biometric data to help humans understand what the animal is thinking and feeling. The harness looks like a Kevlar vest for canines. It has sensors that monitor heart rate, respiratory rate, and other indicators, plus a microcomputer that can identify and interpret patterns in those biometric measures.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM THE ATLANTICView All

THE SECOND CAREER OF MARTELLUS BENNETT

The former NFL tight end writes the kind of children’s books he would have loved as a kid.

10 mins read
The Atlantic
January - February 2021

THE COVID-19 MANHATTAN PROJECT

NEVER HAVE SO MANY RESEARCHERS TRAINED THEIR MINDS ON A SINGLE PROBLEM IN SO BRIEF A TIME. SCIENCE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME.

10+ mins read
The Atlantic
January - February 2021

THE LEGACY OF DONALD TRUMP

His reign of lies poisoned our minds and our politics, with effects that will long linger. But democracy survived.

8 mins read
The Atlantic
January - February 2021

The Most American Religion

Perpetual outsiders, Mormons spent 200 years assimilating to a certain national ideal—only to find their country in an identity crisis. What will the third century of the faith look like?

10+ mins read
The Atlantic
January - February 2021

THE MAKING OF A MODEL MINORITY

Indian Americans rarely stop to ask why our entrance into American society has been so rapid—or to consider what we have in common with other nonwhite Americans.

10+ mins read
The Atlantic
January - February 2021

More Than the Vote

The suffragists’ struggle produced undaunted trailblazers, Black and white, who continued to pursue social reform.

10+ mins read
The Atlantic
January - February 2021

The Committee on Life and Death

As COVID-19 has overwhelmed hospitals, the lack of clear bioethical guidelines has meant that doctors have had to make wrenching life-and-death decisions on the fly. The result has been chaos and unnecessary suffering, among both patients and clinicians. As the country prepares to distribute vaccines, we’re at risk of reprising this chaos.

10+ mins read
The Atlantic
January - February 2021

JEANS NOW, PAY LATER

Are the new online services that allow you to buy just about anything in installments—interest-free—too good to be true?

8 mins read
The Atlantic
January - February 2021

China's Rebel Historians

Defiant researchers chronicle a past that the Communist Party grows ever more intent on erasing.

10+ mins read
The Atlantic
January - February 2021

How Great Is Martin Amis?

Assessing the legacy of a comic master who grasps for seriousness

6 mins read
The Atlantic
January - February 2021
RELATED STORIES

My Special Cat

Most of us have had that special cat—a heart cat with whom we had a deep connection. It may have been the cat we had as a child, or the one that saw us through a troubled time, or one with whom we bonded as we exhibited at cat shows. Whether the cat found us or we sought it out, those connections cannot be denied. These are the stories of some of those special cats and what they mean or meant to us.

4 mins read
Cat Talk
December 2020

WHO'S a good business model? It's YOU! Yes it is! You're SUCH a good business model! Yes you are!

Locked-down Americans are pampering their pets like never before, and Chewy is reaping the benefits

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
November 23 - 30, 2020

Click - Getting Great Shots of your Cat with a Smartphone

So you want to enter one of the many virtual competitions popping up around the internet but don’t have professional photos or video of your cat. Fear not! If you have a smartphone, you have a camera and can get what you need. Here are a few tips to help.

4 mins read
Cat Talk
October 2020

Choosing the Right Cat Tree

Whether you have your first cat or your tenth, keeping your cat healthy and your furniture undamaged means you will need to get a scratching post (or cat “tree”). These come in many shapes and sizes and they’re built using a variety of materials. Different construction techniques are also used, some being better than others. This gives you lots to choose from. So, choosing the right tree for your cat can take some thought.

4 mins read
Cat Talk
October 2020

A Fish Named Dog

I locked eyes with the fish as I tapped flakes of food into his tank. He stared blankly at me through the glass. Not exactly my idea of a perfect pet.

3 mins read
Spider Magazine for Kids
July/August 2020

Welcome to the world that is Life With Patrick

For those of you who do not know them, let me introduce you to the cast of characters:

6 mins read
Cat Talk
June 2020

Show Curtains Saved!

Skittles' She Shed Retains Its Beauty

5 mins read
Cat Talk
June 2020

State Breeder Laws Every Resident Fancier Should Know!

All of the U.S. states in Region 4, except Kentucky, have state-level breeder licensing laws.

7 mins read
Cat Talk
June 2020

Caring For Cats During Lockdown

Most of the world is under some form of “stay at home” order to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

5 mins read
Cat Talk
June 2020

A Buyout Firm's Four-Legged Future

JAB made billions buying coffee brands. Now it wants to be the vet for the world’s pets

5 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
June 08, 2020