A Matter of Life and Death

Providing even your indoor cat with reliable identification is important. Heres why.

As a responsible cat owner, you know that cats are safest when kept indoors. But no indoor cat is so safe that it doesnt need identification. A playful kitten can sneak out an open window, or a placid homebody can be let out accidentally by a visitor. An accident during transport could spring a cat carrier door, suddenly releasing a frightened feline into parts unknown.

Cat collars and tags are the simplest identification method. I do think an indoor cat should be identified, urges Jane Brunt, DVM, of the Cat Hospital at Towson in Baltimore, Maryland. You never know what might happen.

When cats are lost, finders will likely seek the owners when they see identification. One study by the American Humane Association (AHA) reported over half the nine million cats entering the nations animal facilities each year are classified as strays with no identification. Only two percent are reclaimed. Cats without I.D. may be euthanized or put up for adoption, sometimes immediately. But animal control agencies are required to keep pets with I.D. longer than un-owned strays. That gives owners a fighting chance for a reunion.

Animal shelters know the main reason lost or stray pets are never reunited with their families is lack of current identification, says Jodi Lytle Buckman, AHA director of shelter services. If you love your pet and consider him or her a valuable family member, spend a few dollars to get an I.D. tag. Its the best way to keep your pet safe.

In addition to tags, some owners also write a phone number in waterproof ink directly on the cats collar. Collars are essential for displaying rabies, license or medical tags. Collars with bells allow people to keep track of their cats wherever they hide.

Some owners reject a collar because it may crush or wear down a cats fur. Others say their cats scratch at the collars and irritate their skin. But the biggest reason owners give for not using cat collars is the fear that the cat will get trapped, injured or hanged if the neckband catches on something. Todays break-away collars virtually eliminate that problem, says Dr. Brunt.  However, the different style clasps on the break-away collars include some adjustable clips that can slip open fairly easily.  For those, Dr. Brunt advises clients to put a little stitch over the clasp so it wont be able to slide.

She feels the biggest challenge is that people just dont know how to fit (collars) on a cat correctly. The cat can get into problems if its too loose. When cats are grooming themselves or scratching, they can get hung up in a loose collar and then become frantic when theyre caught in it.

Pay Attention to Fit
A collar fits correctly when you can squeeze just two fingers between the band and your cats fur, she adds. If you can fit two fingers and a thumb, its too loose. Be sure to adjust the collars fit often, especially as your kitten grows or if your cat gains weight. When grooming or petting or brushing your cats teeth, you should always check the collar.

Its usually simple to get a kitten used to a collar, but an older cat may require more patience. Try putting the collar in with the cats toys and bedding, and let an older cat sniff it and rub its face on it. Then put it on the cat for gradually longer periods of time.

Dr. Brunt prefers microchipping for permanent identification but says the most important thing is that indoor cats have some I.D. You never know when a cat will slip outside. You could have a worker in the house, or a burglary or a fire.

Many strays in shelters are indoor pets that escaped, concludes Buckman, who suggests additional permanent identification as well. This can be especially important for cats as many cat collars are designed to slip off easily.