Consumer Watch: Dog tag keeps tabs

By Susan Edmunds

A diagnostic dog collar that feeds data to vets is expected to trim owners' costs.

Susan Edmunds' rascally dog, Cheddar, models the Heyrex monitor.
Susan Edmunds' rascally dog, Cheddar, models the Heyrex monitor.

Dog owners who fret over their pets have a new tool that promises an insight into the inner workings of their canines.

Heyrex is a health monitor that clips on to a dog's collar and sends information to a receiver, reporting on the dog's activity levels, scratching, shaking and resting. The information is stored and can be used anywhere in the world.

It has been available in New Zealand for a couple of months. Its makers claim it is the first of its kind in the world.

Callum Irvine, vice-president of the NZ Veterinary Association, said the technology was still new and vets were yet to get a true sense of its merit.

Its developers claim it can pick up on joint disease, cardiac conditions and behavioural disorders earlier than usual.

A vet can also log in to monitor a dog's behaviour. Some vets offer Heyrex on lease so they can check whether post-operative dogs are resting as they should and being cared for properly. It also shows reactions to medication.

Heyrex chief executive Nathan Lawrence said changes in dogs' behaviour sometimes went unnoticed. Research by his firm had shown more than half of dog owners left their animals alone for up to seven hours a day, and 12 per cent longer than that. Two-thirds left their dogs in kennels or with a pet-sitter while they went on holiday.

Lawrence said the pet industry was growing quickly and had experienced 6 per cent year-on-year growth, even through the recession. Half of New Zealand owners spend up to $100 a month on their dogs. The market is worth $52 billion a year, worldwide.

Lawrence said people who acted quickly on Heyrex data could save money. "If you can find out a dog has an illness earlier, you can save time and suffering and money as well in operations and treatments."

Only 10 per cent of dog owners have pet insurance, which covers the cost of expensive operations.

He said some purchasers were buying Heyrex because they were worried about a specific condition. Others just wanted to know more about their dogs.

Lawrence said: "The longer the unit is on the dog, the better service they will get from Heyrex because the longer the data stream, the more in-depth the analysis."

Two major vet chains had expressed interest.

Heyrex is owned by 20 shareholders, 19 of whom are New Zealanders.

It sells for $149, plus a monthly subscription of $9.95. Lawrence said the company was planning other products and more functionality for the Heyrex. A cat version is being developed.

Hey Cheddar, chill out

I woke on Saturday to an alert in my email inbox about my dog, Cheddar. Over the past 24 hours, it said, she had shown levels of activity and scratching that were outside the normal range.

Was she due for a flea treatment, it asked. Had her routine changed?

Cheddar's activity was a couple of hours herding a pair of visiting dogs around on the lawn.

Cheddar wore her Heyrex collar for about a fortnight. I can see the benefit of it if a dog is recovering from an illness or operation - you'd quickly know if it wasn't moving around as much as it should. For older dogs, it could be a good indicator of problems such as arthritis.

But, for a healthy young dog, I'm not sure Heyrex helped my peace of mind. Checking on my iPad while out at dinner and seeing a spike of vigorous activity from a dog who was meant to be asleep on the couch just made me wonder what she was up to.

- Herald on Sunday

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