Losing a dog or finding your cat missing is a heartwrenching, terrifying experience – one we know all too well. And it’s not an unfounded worry. Each year, approximately 10 million pets get reported as lost, stolen, or missing in the US alone!1 So as a loving dog or cat parent, you might’ve searched pet trackers online – and come across a radio frequency pet tracker as one option.

Short answer: radio frequency trackers might not be the best choice for pets. Their limited range, frequent obstructions, and lack of pet-friendly features fall short of modern GPS dog and cat trackers. Here’s a deep dive why – and how investing in the Tractive GPS could end up saving your pet’s life.

What is radio frequency?

Bear with us for a moment – this is going to get technical. Radio frequency (RF) refers to the fluctuation of electromagnetic energy within a certain frequency, namely 3 kilohertz (kHz) to 300 gigahertz (GHz).

A radio placed on a wooden shelf outdoors

Here is a more detailed definition of radio frequency from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) :

Electromagnetic radiation consists of waves of electric and magnetic energy moving together. Radio waves and microwaves emitted by transmitting antennas are one form of electromagnetic energy, collectively referred to as “radiofrequency” or “RF” energy or radiation.

Source: RF Safety FAQ

Basically, it’s what lets you sing along to your favorite tunes on your local radio station. So how does radio frequency play a role in tracking devices?

What are radio frequency tracking devices?

Exactly like it says on the tin, radio frequency trackers (RF trackers) or radio frequency tracking devices are:

  • tracking devices…
  • that use radio frequency to…
  • send and receive information between two components. (Usually for location tracking purposes.)

So with a radio frequency tracker, you might have to use a separate receiver – like a handheld locator device. Which you’ll have to carry around with you everywhere to locate your pet in case they wander off.

(Sounds pretty cumbersome, if you ask us.)

On the other hand, GPS trackers like Tractive use a combination of other tracking technologies like Bluetooth, GPS, cellular and satellite. So you can safely and accurately track your missing dog or cat with complete peace of mind.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Ivelin-150x150.png

“Your Tractive device’s GPS module receives signals from several GPS satellites. This helps it better and more accurately calculate your pet’s position. These satellites then forward their location to the Tractive servers with the help of the network module. (Which also includes a SIM card.) Once the Tractive servers receive this information, you can quickly and easily check your pet’s location when you open the Tractive app.”

– Ivelin Nenkov, Embedded Systems Engineer at Tractive since 2016

Which means, your Tractive device helps you track your pets with just a glance at your phone. No need for a separate handheld locator, like with most radio frequency trackers.

Discover Tractive GPS For Your Pets

Is radio frequency safe for pets?

Many pet parents wonder if radio frequency pet trackers might be dangerous for their four-legged friend. After all, safety is an important factor when purchasing any product for your pet. So, is radio frequency safe for pets?

Here’s what a 2021 study found2: any radiation exposure as a result of a radio frequency tracker was well below international limits.3 That means negative health reactions in pets or humans are unlikely.

💡 So just like cell phones are considered safe for human use, radio frequency devices are considered safe for pets.4

In fact, using radio frequency technology in household products is nothing new. It’s an essential component of your television, computer, phone, radio and even remote-controlled toys. So if your dog or cat doesn’t mind those, they likely won’t mind a radio frequency pet tracker.

Radio frequency pet trackers: Pros & Cons

Some companies make radio frequency trackers specifically for pets. The radio frequency locator typically comes with one remote and one or more tags, which you can attach to your pet’s collar. As our friends at The Nomad Cats explain:

“It works like a compass: You need to be within a (claimed) distance of 130 meters to pick your cat’s location. A light and / or sound will then increase or decrease to indicate how close you are to your cat.”

– Martina, The Nomad Cats

green check markPros

  • Small size
  • One-off cost, no subscription fee
  • Not dependent on cellular network or GPS
  • Long lasting battery: Up to one year
  • Accurate (within a short distance)

red xCons

  • Limited range. You can only detect your pet’s location within a radius of 426 ft (130m). Some radio frequency pet trackers like Marco Polo have a range of around 2 miles (3 km). Which might not be enough if you’ve got an active pet who likes to be on the move often.
  • Frequent obstructions. Trees and other natural or man-made obstacles can decrease the functional distance of the radio frequency tracker.
  • No back up localization option. You’re out of luck if you can’t pick up your pet’s location signal.
  • Limited device compatibility. Most radio frequency trackers might require you to use a separate receiver, like a handheld locator. They don’t connect to your phone or other devices like most GPS trackers do.
  • No real-time tracking. Which, in an emergency, might even end up saving your pet’s life.

Can radio frequency pet trackers help you track your pet in real-time? And over any range?

Not always. Most radio frequency trackers don’t offer reliable real-time tracking. Some, like the Marco Polo pet tracker might offer real-time distance updates once you’ve triggered the Lost Pet feature. And even then, you’re still stuck to a range of just about 2 miles (or 3 kilometers.)

Which is bad news if you’ve got a dog who can cover a long distance under a minute chasing prey. Or an outdoor cat with a big territory to patrol and defend.

Live, real-time tracking might just end up saving your pet’s life. Like in the cases of:

Kathy, a hunting Beagle, who was kidnapped by dog thieves but rescued by the Tractive GPS

In all these cases, Tractive’s LIVE Mode helped their parents track them down and find them in no time – safe and sound. (Or two hours, if you count Kathy’s high-speed car chase and police rescue.)

And the best part? Tractive works across an unlimited range – connecting to mobile networks in 175 countries around the world. So you can track your pet even while on vacation.

But don’t GPS trackers need cell coverage to work?

Yes, for the most part. But your Tractive GPS includes features that save your pet’s locations, even in areas with poor cell coverage. Like, for example, Location History.

Ivelin Nenkov, Embedded Systems Engineer at Tractive

“If you want to pinpoint your pet’s location or store their Location History, you don’t actually need a cellular connection. So once you’ve equipped your Tractive GPS, there’s no need to worry if your device loses coverage for a little while. Your tracker stores your pet’s positions securely. So you’ll be able to see where they’ve been even if you’re offline.”

– Ivelin Nenkov, Embedded Systems Engineer at Tractive since 2016

Which, in the long run, helps you pick up on where your pets tend to wander off to the most. Helping you better understand their behavior – and pre-empt an escape attempt.

In fact, even Tractive’s Location History has saved the lives of dogs, cats, and even people around the world. Like:

Imogen, a high-energy Borzoi, who bolted her fence – and crashed through the ice in a nearby frozen lake. (Pictured here, safe and sound with her Tractive GPS.) Luckily, her tracker’s Location History helped her mum rescue her from freezing and drowning.

Imogen the Borzoi resting with her Tractive GPS tracker

Keep Your Pets Safe With Tractive

So with all this said, how do radio frequency pet trackers perform in the real world? Let’s look at some user experiences to see how effective people find radio frequency trackers for pets.

User reviews of radio frequency pet trackers

At first, when Martina (who runs The Nomad Cats) received her first radio frequency cat tracker, she tried it out immediately on her cats. It worked generally well outdoors – but only when the cats didn’t venture too far from home.

However, one time, things didn’t go so great.

A cat wandering through an open grassy field

“When Milù went missing, I scouted the immediate and not-so-immediate surroundings day and night, pointing the remote in every direction, hoping to pick up her signal.

Nothing. Nothing, for miles, and miles after that.

Because I had no idea which direction she took off, the task was overwhelming.

On top of that, the amount of trees and other natural obstacles significantly decreased the distance the locator could cover.

And because we like to spice things up with as much bad luck as possible, the remote broke.”

Source: Cat Trackers: Radio Frequency vs GPS

Another pet parent reviewed a RF pet tracker, saying:

Range is nowhere near as far as it says, I’d expect a bit less but I don’t think I even get anywhere close to half with mainly just garden fences and a few trees in the way, even a third seems a stretch.

The signal bars aren’t too great either, it has 5 bars and it seems like 3 bars is 1 garden over, then 2 bars is 2 or 3 gardens over. For something that should reach like 15 gardens over easy you’ll always be on 1 bar if they’re not within earshot.

Finding the right direction can be hard too, it goes green when you’re getting closer but it seems like it can be random sometimes.”

Source: Amazon

A dog running away into a forested area

And a user of the same RF device said:

“It can track up to 4 tags. The hand held tracker is easy to use and works well. It is fun to go searching for the cat and find him so easily.

I am still waiting to have to do a real wide area search for him, but it is comforting to know that with the long, proven, battery life of many weeks I will have plenty of chance with my searching.”

Source: Amazon

Radio frequency trackers are missing out on pet activity features

Besides real-time tracking, most GPS trackers come with Activity Tracking and Health Alerts. and Health Alerts. (All features that radio frequency trackers lack.) So you’ll be missing out on more ways to take an active role in monitoring your dog or cat’s health and wellness.

Dog running with tennis ball in mouth in the grass, Tractive GPS app in foreground

In fact, vets recommend tracking your pet’s activity on the regular – especially how much exercise they’re getting. (And how much they can keep up with you.)

Why? Because one of the first signs your dog is sick or your cat is struggling with pain is a drop in their activity levels. Or if they seem more lethargic than usual.

With Tractive’s Activity Tracking, you can more easily pick up on a dip or a spike in your pet’s daily movement. Enabling you to take action – and get your pet to a vet in time.

Sebastian Raab, Product Manager at Tractive

“It can be easy to miss out on changes in your dog’s or cat’s regular activity – or just if they’re on the move more or less than usual. So we’ve set up Activity Degradation alerts for when your pet’s active minutes drop significantly. They can help you intervene in a situation where your pet might be struggling with an infection or even just pain.”

– Sebastian Raab, Product Manager at Tractive & occasional pet-sitter

Discover GPS & Health Tracking For Pets

So, how does a radio frequency pet tracker compare to GPS?

When it comes down to picking the best choice for a pet, you’re best off with a dedicated pet GPS tracker that helps you:

  • Track in real-time with LIVE Mode
  • Find your pet over an unlimited range
  • Monitor your pet’s health and wellbeing
Radio frequency pet trackersTractive GPS Tracker
Range~2 miles (3 kilometers)Unlimited
Live tracking & real-time updatesNot consistentlySymbol für Vorteile in Pro-und-Kontra-Liste
Weight6-7 g (0.2-0.3 oz)Dogs: 35 g / 1.2 oz
Cats: 25 g / 0.9 oz
WaterproofNot consistentlySymbol für Vorteile in Pro-und-Kontra-Liste
Battery lifeUp to 6 months (sometimes more, depending on the brand)Up to 7 days, up to 1 month with XL
Upfront cost~$100+3$49,99
Ongoing costsNoneMonthly plans priced lower than your Netflix subscription
Area of operationWorldwideWorldwide
Activity & Sleep trackingSymbol für Nachteile in Pro-und-Kontra-ListeSymbol für Vorteile in Pro-und-Kontra-Liste
Health alertsSymbol für Nachteile in Pro-und-Kontra-ListeSymbol für Vorteile in Pro-und-Kontra-Liste
Light & Sound trackingSymbol für Nachteile in Pro-und-Kontra-ListeSymbol für Vorteile in Pro-und-Kontra-Liste
Bluetooth trackingSymbol für Nachteile in Pro-und-Kontra-ListeSymbol für Vorteile in Pro-und-Kontra-Liste

Why radio pet frequency trackers might not be the best choice

While radio frequency trackers have some pros like low cost and long battery life, their cons overwhelmingly outweigh these.

Their biggest downsides? A lack of real-time tracking and limited range.

  • So if your pet roams too far from you, a radio frequency tracker (like Bluetooth trackers for pets) will be useless. Not to mention, you won’t even know which direction to start your search.
  • On top of that, physical obstacles can block the RF tracker’s signal. And that makes it difficult to locate your pet when you need to most.

So in a nutshell: radio frequency trackers might be a good option for pet parents who are sure that their buddy won’t stray too far from their side.

However, isn’t the whole purpose of a pet tracker to be able to find your dog or cat if they really do get lost and run away? Like, lost lost. Why track your pet at all if you can only track them so far?

That’s where GPS trackers for pets come to the rescue.

Always know where your pets are

Follow every step in real-time with unlimited range. Get alerts if they wander too far. Keep them happy & healthy with Wellness Monitoring. And let others – like walkers or sitters – keep an eye on your pet too.

Discover GPS & Health Trackers For Pets

Get 100% peace of mind with a GPS pet tracker

Pet trackers that are built with more reliable and modern technologies, such as GPS, can help you locate your dog or cat anywhere, any time. As the world’s most-trusted pet GPS, Tractive GPS offers nearly all the features of a radio frequency tracker, and a whole lot more.

Cattery owner and trainer, Clair Chesterman

“Tractive is the #1 cat GPS tracker in the industry. And it’s the highest quality cat tracker you can find. I was able to set the safe zone as my house area and once my cat gets outside I get an alert right away.

In fact, it probably saved my cat’s life that time she chased a bird and got lost. She was scared and I was able to find her with the help of the GPS tracker. Tractive’s chip frequently calculates your cat’s location and is updated on the map every 2-3 seconds. Furthermore, the LED will help you guard your furry friend at night.”

– Clair Chesterman, Owner of CFA and CCA-registered cattery and fostering company, FluffyMeowPaws4

Tractive’s pet parent-friendly features – built with you in mind

Besides just live tracking, Tractive GPS Dog and Cat Trackers are built keeping pet parents in mind. Some of the ones we haven’t covered include:

  • Virtual Fence – know if your buddy leaves a safe space, like your garden. Perfect for foiling another dognapping attempt.
  • Adventure-proof – 100% water-proof, shock-resistant and built for four-legged adventure
  • Battery Life – set up Power Saving Zones where your buddy spends lots of time, and go up to 7 day without charge
  • Pet-friendly design – light, compact and made to fit pretty much all collars and dog harnesses

Find the right tracker for your pet

So, now that you know more about radio frequency vs GPS trackers for pets, you can make a well-informed decision about the best option for keeping tabs on your furry friend. Which option do you think is best?

And if you liked this post, share it with a fellow tech-savvy pet parent!