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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Keep an Eye on Fido With These Pet Cameras

Our furry friends are important members of the family, and leaving them at home while we go out to do people things can be hard. However, pet cameras—specifically designed to keep watch over dogs and cats—can make the human's absence from the home less stressful for both parties. If you've considered getting a pet camera, there's no better time than now.

Read our Best Indoor Security Cameras, Best Outdoor Security Cameras, Best Dog Tech and Accessories, Best Dog Beds, and Best Cat Tech and Supplies guides for more. 

Updated January 2023: We've added the Furbo 360 and Wyze Cam Pan V3.

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Security Camera or Pet Camera?

Before getting into details about specific cameras, it's important to clarify the difference between pet cameras and your run-of-the-mill security camera

Security cameras let you watch your pet while you're away from home, but pet cameras often have a few more pet-specific features that can make them more helpful. Some can dispense treats or allow you to interact with your dog or cat using your voice or a type of video chat. They can help address common issues like separation anxiety and boredom, which can lead to destroyed furniture, other kinds of property damage, or undue stress. 

That's not to say that you can't use a security camera as a pet cam—we actually have a recommendation below that can help. Regardless of what you buy, you should take steps to secure the device. Like any other smart home device that connects to Wi-Fi, there's a chance it can be hacked and compromise your privacy. Make sure your Wi-Fi password is strong, set up two-factor authentication with your camera's app, and keep it updated. It's smart to keep it turned off when you're home, too. 


Best for Dogs

Furbo 360 Dog Camera$206 at Amazon$210 at Furbo

The Furbo 360 Dog Camera spins circles around the competition (9/10 WIRED Recommends). Seriously—the camera turns a full 360 degrees, compared to the static picture you get on most other pet cameras. Like its immobile predecessor, this stylish pet camera also includes basics like two-way communication and bark notifications, and it even lets you toss a treat. 

Most pet cameras have a wide field of view to see a large part of your room, but the ability to spin 360 degrees means you can monitor the whereabouts of your pup at any moment. Even better is the fact that it features Auto Dog Tracking, following them from one spot to the next so you don’t have to frantically search every time you open the app. This tracking can be tough if you have two dogs traipsing around, but I typically found that where one dog goes, the other tends to follow. If it’s nighttime or the room doesn’t have a lot of light, you can still see your fur babies in color night vision with the 1080p camera.

If this baseline monitoring and interaction isn’t enough, you have the option to subscribe to Furbo’s Dog Nanny service for $7 a month. It’ll snap selfies of your dog, send safety alerts about smoke or carbon monoxide and fallen objects—even chewing alerts—and can spot intruders too. All of these 15-second video clips are saved to the cloud, so you can review the situation as many times as you need, wherever you are.

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The Furbo app itself leaves much to be desired. It’s easy to use but looks and feels lackluster. I also wish there was web access to the camera to easily share monitoring access with friends and family instead of having them download the app. But these small qualms still don't beat the benefit of having a camera on a 360-degree base, and one that can hurl treats at my pooches.

Best for Cats

Petcube Play 2 Camera$199 at Amazon$199 at Chewy$199 at Petcube

Petcube's compact Play 2 Camera is aimed at cat owners. The wide-angle camera records in 1080p and features real-time two-way communication. In conjunction with the Petcube app, you can pop on and check out your camera to see what's happening, speak to your animals, and hear their responses. Or, if your cats are like mine, you'll at least be able to watch them ignore you.

The built-in laser sets the Petcube Play 2 apart from other pet cams. Lasers aren't the best option for dogs, so this is strictly something you should avoid if you don't have a cat. Within the app, you can drag your finger around on the camera's live feed, and the built-in laser will follow the path of your finger. The laser is pet-safe, and the camera itself has Alexa built-in, meaning if you tell Amazon's voice assistant to play with your pet, it will initiate a play session. That feature works whether you're at home and feeling lazy, or you're away and don't have time to drag the laser around yourself.

My kitties love playing with the laser, but the process of playing within the app is finicky. Sometimes the laser skips around or responds slowly, and on more than one occasion, my cats couldn't see it because the pet-safe light can be quite dim. Reading other reviews of the Petcube 2, there seems to be an issue with laser visibility and smooth motion in houses filled with a lot of natural light, so you may want to take that into consideration if you're planning on buying it. For my testing purposes, I mostly had Alexa play with my cats.

I also tried the Petcube Care subscription. If you don't need a bigger backlog of stored videos, a constant stream of lackluster discounts from Petcube's partners, or smart alerts, I didn't really find it all that useful. The Play 2 already has a hefty price tag. Even if you go with the cheapest annual Petcube Care plan, you'll be paying an extra $48 per year. That's nearly a quarter of the camera's regular cost. But if you have multiple pets or you're away from home a lot, you may find the subscription worthwhile—especially since it does offer a web interface unlike the Furbo 360. —Louryn Strampe

Another Great Dog Camera

Petcube Bites 2$249 at Amazon$249 at Walmart$249 at Petcube

The Bites 2 is a good-looking, rectangular box with an aluminum base and a black plastic treat bin. Unlike the Furbo, it comes with a mounting kit so you can attach it securely to the wall. It doesn’t take up counter space in your kitchen, you don’t have to devote a shrine to your dog in the corner of your living room, and your dog can’t knock it over if they become overly enthused.

The Furbo is more attractive and has more dog-specific features, but the Bites 2 integrated itself more seamlessly into our lives. For example, it can accommodate a staggering 1.5 pounds of treats at once—more than enough for my dog to have her meals entirely by pet cam—and in a much wider variety. Unlike the Furbo, the Bites 2 can accommodate kibble that is up to 1 inch in diameter, and it comes with inserts that let you control how many are thrown at once.

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My dog isn’t too vocal (perhaps my working from home has something to do with that), but the Bites 2 also has a surprisingly extensive four-microphone array and speaker which means that it sounds much better and clearer than the original Furbo, on both ends. My dog already had some experience with the original Furbo by the time I tried the Bites 2 with her, but she could hear the Bites 2’s chime even from the backyard. When my children and I sat outside their preschool, I could see her run in the dog door to gobble up treats when we threw them at her.

The Bites 2 also has many of the same software features as the Furbo. You can also control it with Alexa (which is built in, not enabled) and it has an easy-to-use proprietary app that lets you toggle on smart alerts. Petcube Care offers a few subscription tiers. I tried the Premium subscription, which included the ability to add different cameras and download videos. However, Petcube’s optimal subscription is $4 per month—with the notable disclaimer that you have to pay for the year in advance.

Still, that's substantially cheaper than Furbo’s Dog Nanny plan and offers many of the same AI smart alerts, video clips, and three days of video history. Even after my Premium subscription ran out, I still found the Bites 2's live-streaming and treat-tossing to be adequate to check on my dog for a short weekend away. —Adrienne So

Best Budget Pet Camera

Wyze Cam Pan V3$40 at Amazon

While not designed as a pet cam, the Wyze Cam Pan V3 has several features that make it perfect for keeping tabs on your furry friends. Cats and dogs don’t always step obligingly into the frame, so a panning camera can help you get a better look at them. The Wyze Cam Pan V3 can spin 360 degrees and tilt up and down 180 degrees. Pick the right spot for it, and you can find your pets wherever they are in a room.

As a budget camera, the Cam Pan V3 is one white plastic cube above another with a hinge between them. It’s lightweight, but a rubber base keeps it grounded, and you can always use a mount to fix it up if you’re worried about your pet knocking it over. There’s two-way audio, so you can hear meows or barks and speak soothing words. The video quality is decent (1080p), though the picture looks blown out when it’s super bright. There is color night vision, but the frame rate is low, so action videos can look choppy.

The Wyze Cam Pan V3 doesn’t dispense treats, but if you subscribe to Cam Plus ($2 per month), you can get smart detections, so your camera will alert you via the app when it sees your pets or even when it hears meowing or barking (audio detection is in beta and doesn't work flawlessly). Set your camera to pan through various points marked in the app every few seconds to boost your chances of catching what your pets are doing. The Wyze app includes a Rules section that enables Cam Plus subscribers to create automation, so you can set a schedule for the camera to be on when you’re away at work or have a pet detection trigger another camera, light, or notification.

If you’re wary of the Wyze brand after Bitdefender disclosed vulnerabilities last year that took far too long to fix, we don’t blame you. Wyze claims it has significantly improved its security infrastructure. We also appreciate the privacy mode, which prompts the Cam Pan V3 to face directly down so it can’t see anything; we recommend turning this mode on (or just unplugging the camera) when you are home. —Simon Hill

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