The days of cats amusing themselves with bits of string and dogs spending hours playing with their own, er, equipment are long gone. Sophisticated modern pets demand the latest high-tech gadgets to keep them stimulated, satisfied and in 24-hour digital contact with their owners. We reveal what today's plugged-in pets are barking for.
Bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase 'doggy style', the anti-fog, UV-resistant Doggles, £16, should help preserve the anonymity of celebrity canines after a big night out. Firebox's hilarious Humunga Stache, £10, on the other paw, promises to turn even the most bashful bulldog into the most popular pooch at the park.
Has Fido been barking up the wrong tree? Or perhaps he's wasting the day playing poker with his pals? Find out with Pet's Eye View, £35, a collar-mounted life-cam that automatically snaps VGA-sized photos every five, ten or 15 minutes. You'll only fit 40 images on the internal memory but the Pet's Eye View is (mostly) water- and chew-proof, has an LED flash and uses USB for downloading pics and recharging its lithium-ion battery.
Nothing is more tedious than personally interacting with your pet, but until they invent miniature virtual reality specs with tiny digital mice and simulated Frisbees, you're stuck with it. The Frolicat Bolt, £20, at least removes any actual physical effort, beaming a high-speed laser dot on floors or walls in random swoops to keep your cat fascinated. Similarly, what dog will seek attention from a sofa-bound owner when it can chase the massive, chicken-flavoured bubbles emitted by the wonderfully named Jumbubbler, £20, instead?
Speech therapy for birds
If Polly really wants a cracker, she'll have to improve her diction. And say please. Now you can take the drudgery out of endlessly repeating the same phrase to your avian friends with the Mirror-Mate recordable bird-training mirror, £7. The mirror records a 10-second audio snippet, then repeats it over and over again until your budgie finally learns to talk along, or until you are driven insane and smash it repeatedly against the bars screaming, "I'm a pretty boy! I'm a pretty boy!"
Four legs bad, four wheels good
There comes a time in every hamster's life when it yearns to explore the world beyond chewed up toilet-roll tubes and yesterday's Metro. Celebrate your pet's adolescence with the Critter Cruiser, £20, a single-seater plastic sports car that gives it the freedom of the open carpet. More rebellious rodents may prefer the Harley-alike Chopper, £13, but don't come complaining to us if he knocks up some easily impressed country gerbil and you end up with 184 illegitimate offspring to support.
Of course you think your gently slobbering ferret or scaly iguana are works of art, but what if they really could hang on a gallery wall for others to admire? Without attracting the attention of the RSPCA that is. Genetic analysis is now so affordable you can have your individual pet's DNA decoded visually and turned into a 'beautiful' abstract portrait for about the same price as, er, a new animal. The DNA 11 Pet Portrait, £125, can be generated from a simple cheek swab of almost any species -- or even from some old hair clippings if your pet has already joined Lassie and Bubbles in the great gallery in the sky.
The Persian always rings twice
In a world ruled by cats, every home would come pre-fitted with a pressure-sensitive Wireless Door Bell Mat, £50, that rings the doorbell when Tiddles wants her sardine supper. Here's a slightly more stylish paw-shaped Pet Chime doorbell for dogs, £25, that generates a digital bark when Rover is ready to return. But wait just a minute! Do you really need an artificial woof when most dogs already come with one built-in?
Hot or not dog
Dogs die in hot cars! Or they did until Hot Dog came along. For a mere £300, you can install this sophisticated temperature monitoring system in your car. When the mercury reaches a pre-set temperature, Hot Dog will lower two windows, sound the horn, flash the lights and even activate a 'pager' (eh?) to alert you to your dehydrating doggies. Or alternatively, you could just not leave your dog in a sealed car on warm days. You know, whatever's easier. There's more thermal tomfoolery with the Komfort Pets Carrier, £100, a climate-controlled pet box that automatically heats or ventilates itself to keep your pets at the perfect temperature.
When zombies attack
Research has shown that 64 per cent of dog owners expect their pet to protect them in the event of an infestation of the undead. But you can't take your pup's ability to attack reanimated brain-sucking pests for granted. The best way to train them is with a speaking Extreme Dog Toy, £10, painstakingly modelled after a recently deceased office worker. The tough canvas toy features an extensive vocabulary, including such realistic undead catchphrases as "Aargh!", "Urrgh!" and "Grrr!" but sadly not the classic, "Braaaains!"
If the worst should happen and the plague of zombies threatens to overwhelm you, you'll be glad you invested £300 in a Pet Emergency Evacuation Jacket. Constructed from Japan Firefighting Association-certified flame-retardant material, the jacket is a veritable utility belt, stuffed with energy bars, an emergency whistle, a muzzle, a mini radio, rubber dog booties and, of course, aromatic oils for calming panic.
Global Pet System
Disney's lost-pet classic The Incredible Journey would be much different these days. For a start, Zoombak, $100 (US only), allows frantic owners to simply log in to a Web site and pinpoint their misplaced mongrels and moggies via the power of A-GPS. Movie over in ten minutes, let's all go to the pub. But wait! The soon to be released Pet Cell will go one step further, incorporating a mobile phone for instant communication with anyone finding your pets.
And even if you don't lose your animals, it can be nice to see what they've been up to. CatTrack 1, £40, is a matchbox-sized GPS tracker that logs up 64,000 waypoints in your pet's peregrinations, taking position fixes every 30 seconds for up to 30 hours before its rechargeable battery runs down.
Another crap gadget
Some people say cats are very clean animals, but we bet the same people wouldn't eat dinner at our house if we only washed in spit. The Litter-Robot, £200, lets you see just how clean your feline friends really are. It senses when a cat has done its business, separates the waste from litter using a rotating sphere and deposits it neatly into a low-odour box for disposal. Frankly, if there's a market for this type of techno-nonsense, it can't be long until baby-changing robots are saving the sanity of new parents the world over.
Don't get the hump
Those hot-blooded Parisians! While they're out philandering with their mistresses over a cup of espresso and a pack of Gitanes, their chiens can be enjoying the pleasures of the boudoir with the world's first canine sex toy -- Hot Doll, £400. The French-made 'animal companion' has 'no-slide' legs for stability and is made from silicone and high-density polyurethane for durability and easy cleaning. The Web site's well worth a visit, if only to read warnings that this designer toy is definitely not man's best friend: "Hot Doll is reserved exclusively for dogs."
Health club for hounds
The excitement of throwing a slimy rubber ball can pall after the 115,000th time. The Hyperdog Tennis Ball Launcher, £21, is a high-power catapult that allows you to propel balls over 50m with minimum effort. An even simpler way to work off your pet's excess energy is to plop it on the Jog-a-Dog motorised treadmill, £750-£1,800 (depending on the breed). With an electric motor capable of reaching speeds of up to 10mph, Jog-a-Dog will quickly have mutts too dog tired to even chase those famous gym bunnies.