When I realized my cat had escaped, a stream of cold sweat started taking over my body. It was not the first time my cat Mia got lost, but it was the first time it happened in a foreign country with lots of stray dogs. Additionally, we had planned to leave the place the day after, and leaving without Mia was not an option.
Traveling with your cat and taking your cat on adventures comes with risks, and losing your adventure cat is one of them. I created an emergency plan for lost cats so that if it happened again to us, I'd reduce reaction times as every step would be covered. You can find the plan to recover a lost cat here.
I did find her eventually, thanks to an Apple AirTag so I want to share with you how I did it and the pros and cons of this gadget.
Does the Apple AirTag Work With Cats?
I recovered my cat in less than 10 minutes thanks to the Apple AirTag. Particularly for cats, who don't tend to run far away from their territory, an AirTag might be the way to keep your cats on the radar.
What's an AirTag?
The AirTag is a small silver disc that's just slightly larger than a big coin (1.26 inches in diameter, and it has a height of 0.31 inches, or 8mm. It is very lightweight, which allows you to use it on almost any item, even your cat, weighing 0.39 ounces (11 grams). This small device uses the global network of Apple iPhones to track its location.
One of the beauties of the AirTag is that it's under $30 (When I bought it it was about $20, damn you inflation, damn you). This makes Apple AirTags one of the cheapest ways to track your stuff, including your pets.
How does the AirTag work?
AirTag uses a secure Bluetooth signal to connect with any iPhone around. The Bluetooth signal is emitted by the small gadget and can be detected by devices that are within that Bluetooth range.
When any apple device receives the Bluetooth signal from an AirTag it sends the location of the AirTag to iCloud. Then, using the "Find My" app you can go to devices and see the last location where the device was detected on a map.
When you are near the AirTag (within the U1 chip range for Ultra Wideband and Precision Finding) you can get directions to get closer to the AirTag (it will tell you how far and in which direction to go). The AirTag has also a built-in speaker you can use to indicate where to continue looking for it once you are close enough.
Do AirTags Work on Cats?
Yes, AirTags work on Cats (also dogs) — but if you go through Apple's policies, they don't endorse using these devices to track pets or people. The company explicitly communicated that AirTags should not be used for this purpose.
While the AirTags are not flawless and probably Apple said this to protect the company from potential legal action, I recovered my cat using this device and I want to share with you how I did it.
Should I Use an AirTag on my Cat?
I have tried different GPS trackers for cats and they ALL come with pros and CON's. Depending on what your needs are, you should go for one or another.
The main differences between them are:
- Battery Duration
I decided to go for an AirTag because it was (to me) the best combination of the 3 above (I'm working on a post comparing those devices, but will take a little longer to be ready).
From a range perspective, AirTags are not the best as Bluetooth only works within 30 feet but if you layer up the number of iPhones on a certain area, the range that AirTags can cover increases drastically.
AirTags Battery Duration
This is one of my favorite features when traveling with my cat. I know that the AirTag is going to last the whole trip. Well, a little over that because AirTags batteries last for around a FULL YEAR!
So you don't have to worry to charge them mid-trip or the tracker running out of battery when you most need it, which is when your cat is lost.
How did I find my cat using the AirTag?
I am so glad Mia was wearing an AirTag when she decided to go on her little adventure.
Buying the essentials
There are 3 things you need to buy to be able to track your cat using an AirTag:
Once you've got everything, make sure your cat is wearing it every time there's a risk of them getting away from your sight.
Connect the "Find My" app
The first thing I did when I realized Mia was missing was to see if she was nearby.
Most of the time the cat has not even left the location and they are hiding in some corner. Once I realized she was nowhere to be found inside my Airbnb barrack, I took my phone and opened the "Find My" app.
Once you open the app and click on "Find" you will see one of these different screens, depending on how close or how far the cat is.
From left to right, the cat is further to closer. The options you have depending on how far your cat is are different.
The best way (in my opinion) to get your eyes on the cat is by making the AirTag produce a sound, but you can only activate it while your cat is within range (so in all the above cases except the first one)
When I lost my cat Mia, she was nowhere to be seen and she was out of my Bluetooth range. So I could not get closer to her nor I could produce a sound.
There's an option on the "Find My" app to activate "Lost Mode".
Activate "Lost Mode" on AirTag
Activating the "Lost Mode" on an AirTag does 3 things: It sends you a notification whenever a new iPhone device crosses paths with your Cat, and it allows you to leave a message for whoever scans the AirTag with their phone (any phone can scan an AirTag, not only iPhones) and finally, it locks your AirTag, so no other device can use or erase the AirTag.
So there you have me, activating lost mode hoping some phone would find Mia and send me a notification while I was walking with my phone in hand hoping it would detect Mia nearby and I could play a sound.
I grabbed a couple of friends and we started walking up and down kind of covering the area (15 ft apart) so that if Mia was anywhere around us, the AirTag would be triggered.
Without much luck, we swiped the whole Hotel area and spoke to a bunch of guests. I was starting to think of all the alternatives I had to stay in that hotel for a couple of weeks hoping that Mia would come back.
I work in New York and this happened in Mexico, so it was not ideal, but I could make it work.
While I was in my head thinking about all this, I received a notification. Mia was around!
Tracking down a cat using AirTag
My soul just got lit. A notification saying that Mia was detected nearby gave me the happiest moment of the year (probably one of the happiest moments of my life).
I got closer to the location where Mia was spotted last and I turned the "Find" mode again, hoping that my iPhone would get paired with the AirTag and I could play a sound.
After a few seconds of scouting the area, the connection was established. Mia was not only findable, but she was also within 30ft.
Once you establish a connection with the AirTag, you can play a sound, so I did. I quickly could hear the bip-bip from the AirTag.
Then I saw her, in the dark, staring at me as if nothing happened. I had to chase her a little but she soon decided to come to me and we returned to the hotel together.
This is a happy story, but like any gadget, AirTags have pros and cons, that I'd like to share below.
PROs and CONs of Using AirTags to Track Your Cat
I've been selling you this device for a while now and I never planned to recommend it (Apple does not endorse it) when I first tried it, I thought it was good enough for me as a safety net, but not good enough to recommend my audience on Instagram and YouTube.
Now that I know that you can successfully track down your cat using the AirTag, I am confident that if it has helped me, it can help others, but while tracking your cat using a $29 gadget may sound fantastic in theory, it’s a mixed bag in reality.
Let me walk you through the pros and cons of the Apple tag to track your cat (or dog).
PROs of AirTags
- The 3 things you need (An AirTag, A Breakaway Cat Collar, and An AirTag Case) to attach an AirTag to a cat and the cost of using it are much more affordable than GPS collars for dogs and cats, which cost hundreds of dollars or are cheaper but have a fee of 30-40 $/month.
- The AirTag is very light and minimal, which is more comfortable for the cat than bulkier options
- AirTag batteries last for one year, and you don’t have to worry about charging them mid-trip. It also gives you peace of mind knowing that it's not going to run out of battery while you are searching for your cat.
- The device is water resistant, so it is safe under the rain or if your cat falls into a small puddle.
- In close quarters, AirTags are fantastic to find pets. Because cats tend to stay within a small range of the area they know, this GPS tracker is great for tracking down cats.
- In addition to the tracking system, It will display your contact information and instructions to anyone who taps their NFC smartphone against the AirTag when the AirTag is in "Lost Mode".
- The AirTag can produce a sound, allowing you to locate your cat even when it's pitch black outside.
CONs of AirTags
While this list of pros is very appealing, there's a reason why Apple does not recommend them as pet-tracking devices. Here’s a list of disadvantages of using an AirTag on your cat:
- The Bluetooth range is a minimal 30ft. I have been inside my home and the Bluetooth does not point in the right direction or does not even connect to the AirTag.
- In the middle of a forest, without iPhones around, an AirTag is useless unless someone gets near your cat. Also, if you live in a lower populated area with spotty cell phone coverage, it’s unlikely that someone else with an iPhone will pass your cat and activate the Lost Mode notification, so your cat is as good as if they were wearing nothing.
- Cats should not wear collars that are not breakaway, because it's dangerous. The problem with that is that your cat might lose the collar while you are searching for them and in the event of that happening, you would only find an AirTag on the floor (I can't even imagine how heartbreaking that would be).
- AirTags can only be connected to one Apple ID, so only one person at a time can be tracking the device (it's okay when everything goes fine, but annoying when it doesn't).
While it's important to be aware of the limits of the AirTag because It's not a true GPS tracker, it did help me find my cat Mia and for that, I'm extremely grateful.
Get an AirTag. Practice using it while your cat is safe near you. Make your cat wear it when you take them traveling, when you go camping with your cats, or any time there's a slight chance of them getting lost. It will cost you $30 but finding your cat is (I don't need to tell you) invaluable.
Stay Wild, Stay Safe, I'll See You Outdoors!
Albert & Mia