When it comes to my own health, I’m not a hypochondriac. But if we’re talking about Daisy, my 4.5-pound, 17-year-old Yorkie? Every sneeze, every meal she doesn’t finish, or any time she loses a fight that she started with our 18-pound cat — I’m convinced she’s embarking on her inevitable journey across the rainbow bridge. In 2020, I outfitted her with the Whistle Go, a fitness tracker for pets, to encourage her to walk at least 10 minutes a day. It did not go as I’d planned. Two years later, I haven’t learned my lesson. For the past two weeks, Daisy has been rocking the $44.95 Whistle Health on her collar.
The Whistle Health is, as the name suggests, a more health-focused tracker than the Go. It generates a wellness score, which gives me a big-picture view of Daisy’s health. I also got to see how frequently Daisy scratches, licks, eats, or drinks. Plus, it also tracks her sleep quality — not just the duration. Other helpful features include a food portion calculator, pet-related to-dos, and access to Whistle’s televet service. The last three weren’t options when I previously tested a Whistle tracker, and it was nice to consolidate my pet-related tasks within a single app.
Before I go any further, there are a few things you should know about Daisy. People have always been surprised by how old she is because she’s a spry lady prone to snootily huffing when things don’t go her way. She has, on multiple occasions, faked a limp to get out of a walk and pretended to be sick so I’d give her a little extra turkey. Her favorite activities are eating, sleeping, and doing things she’s not supposed to do. She’s basically running CatOS on Dog hardware.
But, in the two years since I tested the Go, that’s started to change. Daisy’s not as wily as she used to be. She’s starting to go bald in some areas. She has cataracts, and she sometimes slips when walking on hardwood floors. She stares at walls a lot more than she used to. At a recent checkup, our vet said that Daisy was showing signs of cognitive decline and suggested I focus on “maintaining her quality of life.” It was part of the reason I was interested in trying the Whistle Health in the first place. Maybe it’d give some insight into her health and help me figure out what was worth freaking out over and what was natural aging.
Design-wise, I appreciated that the Health is lightweight, thin, and small. Battery life was also strong. I’ve been testing this device for two weeks and still haven’t had to recharge it. Attaching it to Daisy’s collar was easy thanks to the velcro backing. Though, when I put it on her, she gave me eyes that said “not this again.” In my defense, this has been a less arduous experience because of the smaller size. The Whistle Go was simply too big and heavy for her and was probably a big reason why her metrics were so wonky. The smaller size of the Whistle Health might also be due to the fact that it doesn’t include GPS tracking. That’s fine if you have a dog that doesn’t walk much. It’s less fine if you have an active pupper who’s constantly escaping your backyard.
I wasn’t surprised when the Whistle Health told me Daisy mostly sleeps about 14–18 hours a day. I was more impressed that the Health could pinpoint when Daisy goes on her midnight patrols. When I compared my sleep data to hers, you could see that we wake up around the same time each night because I have to help guide her to her pee pad or rescue her from a corner. (No, nightlights haven’t helped.)
It was also accurate at detecting how often Daisy licks and scratches. This wasn’t the case when I tested the Whistle Go. At that time, she basically licked any textile she could find as a nervous tic. Now that she’s senile, she sticks to licking herself. As for scratching, I’m not sure she remembers how to anymore.
It was less accurate when it came to eating and drinking. I’ll cop to being a helicopter dog mom because I keep track of how much food Daisy’s eating in a spreadsheet. Aside from the times when she’s not feeling well or traveling with me, she eats each perfectly proportioned meal with joyous gusto. (Occasionally, she steals the cat’s food, too.) Because she’s toothless, it takes her quite a while to lick her bowl clean. The Whistle Health, however, says she only spends an average of 7.5 minutes eating per day and eats less than the average dog. Sounds fishy to me.
As for drinking, Daisy does her best to imitate a cactus. (Probably because she gets most of her water from wet food.) Frankly, the only time I see her drinking is on long summer road trips or because she feels like antagonizing the cat by sullying the purity of his water fountain. However, the Whistle Health says she drinks much more than the average dog. Again, fishy.
Nothing was quite as egregious, however, as her daily activity. Earlier this week, the Whistle Health said Daisy walked 8.6 miles. This is impossible. She has teeny legs that she has zero desire to use for anything other than transporting herself to her food bowl. The most she does is a few laps around the apartment, sniffing shoes and crying because she got stuck behind the TV console yet again. On average, the Health reported she walked somewhere between 3 and 4 miles a day. That is the equivalent of a lap around a local park. It takes me, a healthy person who walks a 15-minute mile, a whole hour to do that. Daisy will not, I repeat, will not walk more than 50 feet outside. I mapped her usual route in our apartment. It’s roughly 25 feet. My napkin math tells me that she’d have to make approximately 845 laps to hit four miles.
Even so, this is still a marked improvement over the numbers I got with the Whistle Go. That tracker once said she walked a mile in a minute. Despite my best efforts, Daisy has not walked a mile continuously in years.
While I liked what the Whistle Health brought overall, I had a couple of gripes. For instance, the tracker dropped Bluetooth or was unable to sync fairly often. It usually sorted itself out, but it makes you less likely to open the app. Also, the last thing I need is to wake up again at 4AM with Daisy hovering over me, the Bluetooth light flashing in my eyes for no reason. My other gripe was that, because the device is Bluetooth-only, I was unable to see her metrics while away on a weekend trip. Did it ultimately matter? No, but my anxiety would’ve appreciated any evidence she was doing fine because my pet sitter only sporadically sends pics.
The average pet owner probably doesn’t need this device, especially since you have to sign up for a subscription: $9.95 monthly; $60 for one year; or $108 for two years. This is mostly useful if your dog has chronic health issues or you need a little help reducing their weight. If you like to have your vet on speed dial, this can also be a handy alternative since you can text, chat, or video call a vet to see whether you actually need to head for emergency care.
At the end of the day, I recognize this is more for me than for her. Daisy is getting older and nearing the end of a Yorkie’s life expectancy. No device can change that. I don’t need data to understand that. I probably should just spend as much time with her as possible instead of trying to figure out every supplement, food, or fitness tracker that might extend her already long life. But pets are family, and in Daisy’s case, she’s all I have left of my dad. It’s easier to lump all of this baggage into a tracker and app that helps me feel productive. It momentarily eases my anxiety — even if I know it’s just a placebo.
As for Daisy, the geriatric bugger did a little dance when I took the tracker off her.
Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge