Building a Wifi-Enabled Dog Treat Dispenser

Last week, my wife and I were Skyping with our 14 year old Bichon Frise, Max. Max lives with my wife’s family in Maryland, while we live in the San Francisco area with our younger dog, Jack. Through the miracle of video chat, we can stay in touch with Max virtually, and watch him do exciting dog things–usually sitting on the couch, or standing on a chair.

We love being able to see Max through Skype, and we can even make fawning dog noises at him remotely. The problem is that Max’s eyesight is not what it used to be, so he can’t really tell that it’s us on the screen. And he’s never been much for visuals anyway. He much prefers food.

This gave me an idea. Why not build a remotely-operated pet treat dispenser which we could trigger through the internet? We could Skype with Max, and when we felt like giving him a treat, we could press a button in San Francisco, dispense a treat in Maryland, and watch him enjoy it in realtime.

A quick Googling of the topic revealed that several people have already had this idea. A company called Petzilla staged a successful Indiegogo campaign to build such a product, and the company Pet Net is building an ultra-luxe $250 pet treat dispenser to many accolades from the likes of Forbes and Popular Science.

The Petnet dispenserThe Petnet dispenser

The Petnet dispenser

Neither of these are shipping yet, however. So I figured, why not build a DIY version?

My plan is to take an existing auto pet feeder, and then mod it using either a Raspberry Pi or an Arduino board so I can trigger it through the Internet. My first move was to see what Amazon has on offer. The site has a couple of higher-end pet feeders which are already designed for remote control using a little handheld clicker. These tend to be expensive, though, and reviewers complain that their motors are noisy and they jam.

The other option are auto feeders designed for people who leave their pets home alone for days at a time. These have multiple small chambers which you fill with food. A cover then rotates at set intervals, exposing a new chamber each time.

auto feeder.jpgauto feeder.jpg

These feeders are much less expensive, and the mechanics seem less complicated. All I need to do is hack the electronics so I can rotate the cover on demand, though a web interface. Each chamber can be preloaded with treats, so Max gets a specific amount each time.

I ended up purchasing a Qpets feeder for around $35. I’ll post an update when it arrives and I start hacking! Would anyone else be interested in a tutorial for this DIY remote pet treat dispenser?

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