Lets See Some ID

Even an indoor cat can dart outside and get lost. Here are the types of identification that can help get her back home again.

It happens all the time: You see one of those posters stapled to a pole in your neighborhood with a picture of a beloved pet. The owner is pleading for its return. Some of these notices are written by children, desperately seeking their beloved feline which has been lost to the outside world. Most families never see their lost cat again. Ninety-nine percent of cats who are brought into a shelter do not have any identification on them, says Carmine DiCenso, manager of the Boston Animal Care and Adoption Center in Boston, Massachusetts.


Its not just outdoor cats that get lost. Indoor cats can dart out an open door in a moments time – without their owners even realizing what has happened until theyve searched the whole house over and over. Many cats that are allowed only on a deck or in an enclosed yard squeeze through a tiny space and escape.

If you want to prevent the heartbreak of losing your cat, you must take steps to make your pet identifiable. Its probably one of the easiest things you can do for your cats safety. Here are several ways available to you.

The Most Reliable Method
The ID tag is the simplest, most common and least expensive form of pet identification. It is also the most reliable method, says Ms. DiCenso. It is the fastest way of giving your pets contact information to someone who finds your cat. The most important bit of information is your telephone number. (You should include the area code.) If space permits on the tag, engrave your cell phone number, too. Also remember to change the information on your cats ID if you move. Identification tags are available in pet stores, veterinary offices and on the Internet (where you can often order designer tags for your pet). Rabies tags on collars also serve as IDs, because they display a traceable serial number and the name of the clinic where the rabies vaccination was given.   

What kind of collar should you get for your cat? Make sure its a break-away collar, says Ms. DiCenso, so your cat can escape from it if the collar gets snagged on a fence. How large should the collar be? You should be able to fit two or three fingers in between your cats neck and the collar. If you put a collar on a two-month-old kitten, you will probably have to change it to a larger size two or three times before adulthood.

Permanent Methods
The one problem with ID tags is that they can fall off the collar, so plan on having another form of identification on your cat. A microchip is a permanent identification method that has proven very successful in identifying lost pets. A microchip is a tiny device that is implanted by injection just under the skin between the shoulder blades, says Ms. DiCenso. The procedure, which is usually performed in a veterinarians office, is relatively pain-free, but some pets may require a local anesthetic.

The microchip, about the size of a grain of rice, contains all the pertinent information about your pet – stored with a central registry – so that your cat can be returned to you. Unlike collars and tags, microchips cannot fall off or out, and they last for the life of your cat.

However, a microchip should not replace a collar and ID tag, because whoever finds your cat may not even realize your pet has a microchip; it is invisible to the naked eye, says Ms. DiCenso.

If your cat is lost and brought to a veterinarian or a shelter, the staff will probably scan your cat and retrieve the microchips data. But the average person who finds your cat will not have access to a scanner. Another drawback of microchipping has been that not all scanners can read all microchips, but the technology is becoming more standardized. The procedure costs about $60.

The tattoo is another permanent way to protect your cat if he ever gets lost. Tattooing pets is a routine and relatively painless procedure that has been performed since the 1960s. The practitioner will usually tattoo a number on the cats groin. In order for this identification method to be effective, however, you must register the number. But a central database has not been as readily available as it has with the microchip, says Ms. DiCenso. If your cat ever gets lost, post a lost-and-found notice and let people know that your cat has been tattooed. Then the tattoo is more likely to be traced.

Another disadvantage of this method is that some tattoos may fade and become difficult to read. Expect to pay $15 to $20 for the tattoo and $25 to $40 to register the number in a database.

Remember that all of these methods depend on you to update the information on your cats ID or in an ID database any time you move or change phone numbers. Hopefully, you will never have to worry about your cat getting lost. But if your cat is missing, Act quickly. Dont wait even a day to see if your cat will come back, says Ms. DiCenso. Start making calls to shelters and veterinary offices immediately and post signs right away.

You will have the best odds of getting your feline back if you tag your cat with a couple of forms of identification. An ID collar and a microchip make a good combination. And the best time to protect your cat is now.