There are a number of products today that allow you to see and hear what's going on in your home no matter where you are. The technology mainly developed around the need to monitor the security of your home remotely and keep an eye on your baby in the next room.
Many of the products developed for home security and baby monitoring can just as easily be used to keep an eye and ear on your cat. Some of these products also allow you to interact with your cat with two-way audio. The pet specific products may also allow you to give treats to and play remotely with your cat using a laser point or such.
The video above shows an example of what a good quality standalone IP security camera has to offer.
All you need in addition to the camera and the phone app (that should come with the camera) is an Internet connection in your home with Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi usually comes automatically set up with your Internet modem (the device that connects directly to your Internet service). Of course you'll also need a smart phone to run the app.
The camera is primarily accessed through a smartphone app. The camera maker may not only provide an app for your smartphone (iPhone or Android) but also your computer (Apple or Microsoft Windows). The app may be supplied on CD with the camera and/or downloadable from the appropriate app store or the manufacturer's website.
What you're minimally looking for in a camera is a way to check in visually on what's going on with your cat and a way to interact. A typical remote security camera will not only have a live video stream but also a microphone and speaker so you can hear and talk to your cat remotely from your smartphone or computer.
Two of the most important factors when purchasing a camera are easy and consistent WiFi connectivity (it's not much good if you can't connect the camera and maintain a consistent connection) and a good software app to make use of the camera (one that's easy to use, has the features you need, and works reliably).
The above camera has all the usual features for an IP security camera that you'd also want for monitoring your cat: good image quality at 1080P resolution, remote pan/tilt for scanning the room, digital zoom to get a closer image, night vision that kicks in when it's dark, and a microphone and speaker for talking to and listening to your cat.
In addition, it comes with a mount for the camera (to mount the camera more permanently instead of just placing on top of something) and you can attach external speakers and a microphone to improve the sound quality beyond the built-in microphone and speaker.
The app is also much more capable than you'll find for similar cameras. It's simple to use for the basics. Later you can spend more time with the app when you're ready to explore more advanced features.
Remember that a camera can only cover so much area (i.e., usually one room). So put the camera in an area where your cat spends a lot of time or set up the room in a way where your cat will spend more time in front of the camera. You can also buy multiple cameras for different rooms and access them all through the same app if you'd like.
While general use IP cameras can be used to monitor and talk to your cat when you're away from home, there are also cameras specifically designed for pets that offer additional functionality.
If you want to take your remote interaction with your cat to the next level then you can set up a video call system where you can actually call your cat for a video chat.
What you do is train your pet to come to the PetChatz unit when you call PetChatz from your phone or computer. The treats the unit dispenses can be used to encourage and reinforce your pet responding to the call.
One thing to note is that the treats for the device are specially made and must be purchased from PetChatz (here's a link to more information about the treats). There's also a calming scent that can be released with each call (here's a link to more about the scent).
Although the product is promoted for dogs, it does work with cats as well.
Below are some of the considerations that went into the product suggestions on this page. They're outlined here in case you'd like to explore other products as well.
There are two major considerations for remote camera usability and reliability.
- Does it connect and stay connected to the WiFi signal (wireless network in the house)? This is one of the major complaints from buyers. Without a reliable connection to the network, a remote camera is basically useless. Sometimes however, the problem may be with your modem's WiFi signal. You can check that by connecting your smartphone to your WiFi network and see if it stays connected.
- Is the software app easy to use, reliable, and sufficient for what you want to do? You can have a high quality remote camera that works great but if the software app is too difficult to use, buggy, or lacking in features then it doesn't matter how good the camera itself is because you're just not going be able to take advantage of it if the software app is lousy. Although some customer reviews may mention how bad the software is, be sure and check if the software has been upgraded and improved since that review. It may be fine in the new product.
The other, less major, considerations mainly have to do with the features. Some of that is preference and some of that is a trade-off in price (the better the features the more it may cost). You just have to ask whether you really need that feature or not.
- Picture quality (resolution) is usually stated as a number similar to TVs: e.g., 720 (HD), 1080 (Full HD), 2K (Ultra HD), etc. Generally, the higher the number the better the resolution. Just also remember that the higher the resolution the more time it takes to send the image to your phone or computer (which could create a lag in movement of the video).
- Video lag is how long it takes between something moving in front of the camera and you seeing it on your device. Expect a little lag when going over the Internet outside the home (up to a few seconds) but no more than that. Some cameras allow you to reduce the resolution which may help overcome the lag (lower resolution sacrifices a little image quality but takes less time for the image to reach your device). If you have a laser pointer on your camera so you can play with your cat, it won't work well if there's too much video lag (you'll be moving the laser without knowing where your cat actually is).
- Where can the software app be run? In other words, what devices can be used to interact with the camera? The software app should be able to run on your smartphone (usually iPhone or Android). You may also want the option of using it on your computer or tablet (usually Apple or Windows or Android). You just need to make sure it works with your device(s).
- Some cameras can rotate and scan the room while others are fixed. One isn't necessarily better than the other. The scanning cameras usually have a more narrow focus (they can't see as much in any instant) but make up for that by being able to scan a much wider range of the room. The fixed cameras usually have a wider focus to make up for the fact that they can't scan. In other words, the scanning cameras can see more but they have to move to do that.
- Night vision switches to a different mode that let's you see in a darker room. Cameras will switch to night vision automatically, manually, or both. Look out for cameras that don't do a good job of switching automatically. They'll go into night vision mode when not needed or may bounce back and forth between modes unexpectedly. Check the negative customer reviews to see if this gets mentioned.
The final consideration is about review ratings and brand names. You can't necessarily trust overall review scores of products (especially if there aren't many reviews). There seem to be a lot of foreign made knock-off cameras that look similar and have high overall customer reviews. If you look closer at the individual reviews you may start to see patterns. The 5-star reviews may all be written in broken English which can suggest they're from a foreign manufacturer or seller trying inflate their rating. With these products the bad reviews may reveal the true nature of the product and the support provided for that product. It's recommended that you stick with the more established brands instead of taking your chances with the knock-offs. You can see what other products are offered by the brand on the shopping site or go to the manufacturer's website to get an idea of whether they're serious about their products and support. If you can't find their website then it may be that they're part of a larger company (which may be OK) or they're not that serious about supporting their products (which may mean you're on your own if you need help or out of luck if the product doesn't work or breaks or they do a bait-and-switch by sending you a product different from the one advertised).