A Review Of Apple’s AirTag To Find My Cat!

Updated October 17, 2021

Like most kitties these days, my cat is supposed to be indoors. I say supposed, because despite my best efforts, he does not always agree.

Fast asleep he may appear, but as soon as a door or window opens, up comes his periscope head. If you aren’t quick enough, or the lock doesn’t click, he’s gone. Next thing, the whole family is out with torches (not the flaming kind but it feels that way) until he’s found and returned.

We do this because outdoor cats run a high risk of road trauma, fight abscesses and FIV infection. But sometimes he’s impossible to find. So I’ve always been interested in smart tech to help me, and recently I invested in an AirTag.

However, it may not be the best option.

Cat Tracking Options

Here’s a summary of the cat trackers available in Australia and their pros and cons. Please note that microchips do not have any tracking ability and must be actively scanned by a hand-held reader.

GPS Cat Trackers

These are devices that use satellites to fix your cat’s position to within metres. The signal is then usually sent back to your phone via a sim card and mobile phone connection. Therefore you need to make sure that anything you buy will work in the country where you live.

Pros are:

  • Work anywhere there’s mobile reception
  • The only reliable way to get real time information

Cons are:

  • Require an ongoing subscription to pay for mobile telephony
  • Relatively expensive (from $100)
  • The heaviest option (from 30g)
  • Require frequent recharging (every 5 days or so)

Bluetooth Trackers e.g Tile & BlaqWolf

These trackers use a downloadable app and the bluetooth signal on your smartphone to locate your pet. The tracker is located in one of two ways:

  1. If it’s within bluetooth range, by using the app on your phone
  2. When someone else with the app comes within range

Pros are:

  • Lightweight and can be attached to collars in most cases
  • Less expensive
  • Good battery life (around a year)

Cons are:

  • Limited range but probably more than AirTag
  • Once the cat is out of your bluetooth range, you are relying on other users of the same system to be near it

Apple AirTag

Apple’s tracker also uses bluetooth. It shares the same pros and cons as Tile and other bluetooth trackers, with one important exception: there are many more users. When marked as ‘lost’ it is picked up by iPhones within range using the Find My feature and a signal is sent back to your phone.

airtag location arrow
The direction arrow only appears for iPhone 11 and above. Otherwise it shows the distance.

AirTag can be used with non-Apple phones as well. An iPhone user who finds it can also tap it to reveal contact information.

Here are my personal experiences:

  • Its bluetooth range seems very short; inside the house I only get around 10 metres before it is unfindable, or 20 metres outside.
  • It weighs 18g including holder which is probably heavier than Tile but seems well tolerated (more on this later)
  • I left it on a park walking track and received a message about every 10 minutes with its location but this will depend on the number of passers by
  • In real life many notifications will be out of date by the time you receive them as your cat will have moved
  • It does not work when in motion; your cat needs to have stopped to be located
  • It only pairs to one Apple ID (this is a key difference with app-based Bluetooth trackers); other devices can use the FindMy feature as long as they are logged in as you
  • It uses a CR2032 button battery, which are extremely toxic if swallowed (this hazard would mainly apply to dogs)
  • The shiny side gets very dirty (or do I just have a dirty cat?)

Update 2 Months Later…

My cat has escaped once. The AirTag pinged off a neighbour’s phone. However, until I marked him as ‘lost’ the notifications were only if I opened and checked the FindMy app.

He didn’t ping again and waltzed back home an hour later. The AirTag didn’t help find him but did confirm that he had escaped. So a partial success.

An Apple update since release means that AirTags now beep at a random time between eight and 24 hours when separated from an iPhone. This is to prevent them being used for stalking, but it has the unintended consequence of your cat beeping unexpectedly.

How much this bothers them I cannot say but I would definitely warn anyone who looks after your cat while you are away, especially cattery owners.

Apple are also releasing an Android app later in 2021 so that the tags can be detected by non-iPhone users.

AirTag Cat Collar Attachment

I bought the ‘Belkin Secure Holder with Keyring for AirTag’ for $20. The supplied keyring is too big so I replaced it with a small one and it hangs well at my cat’s neck without too much swinging.

The holder can be written on but writing tends to rub off. I plan to lightly engrave the plastic with my phone number and address instead. I’m avoiding engraving the AirTag itself until it’s out of warranty (Apple offer free engraving but only four characters or emojis).

I have seen special cat collars with inserts for AirTag available online but have no idea how secure or comfortable they are.

Is The AirTag Worth Buying For Cats?

Although the AirTag is not designed for tracking cats and has many serious flaws, it is inexpensive and well-tolerated. As long as people understand what it cannot do, its great advantage is being detectable by the large number of iPhone users in your suburb.

If your cat goes outside regularly, and you want to know where they go, a GPS tracker would be a much better option. As a backup system for an indoor cat, my view is that it’s a worthwhile investment.

But my golly, how grateful will I be for your views (in the comments below) if you use any trackers!

Disclaimer: I’m no tech-head and could have made some basic errors so please don’t rely solely on this information! Perhaps I should stick to my day job instead…

Now read: Why Slamming The Door On Cats Is A Bad Idea

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia.

Andrew

11 Replies to “A Review Of Apple’s AirTag To Find My Cat!”

  1. We put one on the collar of our cat who travels a bit and often disappears for days. It is pretty useful as we can get regular positions when he is near a house with an iPhone. If we needed to get hold of him we could probably go to that area and ping his collar (or have directional search if I had an iPhone 11 or later).
    What is really good is that it’s low maintenance, with batteries lasting over a year – it will help us track him down if he decides to stay away for too long

  2. The apple tag on my cat works awesome. Sure, it only updates find my iPhone if he is near another apple device, but that’s far better than no tracker at all. My cat reached 6 houses down on the map and I was able to head down there, call around for him and then he showed his stinkin’ face. He’s an adventurer for sure but fortunately always finds his way home lately. When he’s run out the door and I’m not sure where he’s gone, I’m checking the app a million times on his location and sometimes after 15 mins it’ll show he’s home again so I open the door and there he is! Very nice to have it attached to his collar (not the hanging attachments, the one that is laid up against the collar) so I can somewhat know his whereabouts.

  3. I have a very small (2.9kg) older indoor/outdoor cat. I’ve tried the Tile Sticker attached to a large circle name tag which has very limited range, 4m outside (if there’s a brick wall in between you and your cat) – very disappointing. I also ordered a Tile Mate which is meant to have a greater range, but it’s too big for my cat to tolerate and when tested it didn’t seem to have much more range than the Sticker. And I bought the AirTag (stupidly, a 4 pack because I was so hopeful) and it is basically the same.
    If you’re in very close range you can hear the sound the tile/tag plays (if your phone is able to connect to it) however it’s useless if your tag/tile is somewhere in your garden or your neighbours garden unless you walk around that area very slowly, hoping to pick up a signal. The map is not detailed enough either – it just shows the address it’s at, for cat finding purposes, I was step by step directions to find her in my neighbour’s yard under a bush or stuck in the apartment’s garage.
    All options seem to only work if there’s a clear field between your phone and the tile/tag, which defeats the point. I don’t even think I’ll be using these products on other items.
    I am incredibly disappointed, frustrated and now out of pocket quite a bit. Surely someone can make a GPS tracker small enough for a cat – the only one’s I’ve seen online are big and bulky – I’d have to attach it to a full harness and make my cat where that 24/7.
    If anyone has a small tracker they can recommend – please post it!

    1. I have a Pawtrack GPS tracker which is well-designed for a cat. The tracker is built into the collar and isn’t too heavy. It will only give you a general location to look in if your cat is lost so it won’t give the exact bush to look under! I looked at a lot of trackers and think it’s the best for cats. *However* you do need a subscription for the GPS coverage and I’ve found the Pawtrack customer service to be very bad.

  4. Hey I too have gotten an airtag for our cat and have been attempting to train him with treats to return when the sound is played. It’s early days but he seems quite freaked out by the sound. Do you know whether the frequency of the sound might be in an uncomfortable range for a cat at all?

    1. Hi Giles. I too have wondered this, but I don’t think so. It’s more likely that the random and unexpected nature of the sound is the problem for some cats. I’m interested in how the latest update (where it beeps when separated from its owner) might also be a problem.

  5. Which option does not require other iPhone or Android users to have Bluetooth switched on because I feel not many of us choose to run Bluetooth constantly. I know I never have it on.

  6. I’ll be keeping an eye on this thread in relation to dogs. Thankfully we have only had two escapes thanks to visitors not shutting the gate properly. If only we could get gps tracking microchips!

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