How to choose and fit a collar for your cat

See our You Tube Channel for our video on how to fit a collar for your cat.

The first thing to consider is whether your cat really needs to wear a collar.

Some people need to attach magnetic or electronic keys to a collar in order to give the cat access through the cat flap (now flaps can also be programmed to open with the identification microchip located in the scruff of your cat’s neck). Others wish to have some form of visual identification (rather than just microchipping) in case the cat becomes lost or run over, or just to make sure that the neighbourhood knows the cat is owned. These are all acceptable reasons for wanting a cat to wear a collar. However, wearing a collar for the sake of ornamentation is not acceptable. There are potential dangers and few merits. 

Choosing a collar

This cat caught his front leg in his collar and became badly injured after the collar cut deep into his body

Avoid collars with elastic inserts - these can stretch to different extents and some will allow cats to get a leg stuck through. The collar can then become stuck and cause injuries in what we would think of as the 'armpit', (ie, under the front leg) – see pictures right. Some cats can also get collars stuck over their jaw in the same way. You should also check the overall quality of the collar – there should be no sharp edges, stitching should not unravel and the buckle should be firm and not sharp.

There are flea collars available and many of these contain chemicals which could be toxic to cats. Flea control can be achieved in many other ways other than using a collar – veterinary 'spot-on' products are very effective and safe to use. Flea collars are often left on long after the flea control chemicals have ceased to function. Owners reported hair loss and skin reaction – if you do use a flea collar check it very regularly to ensure there is no reaction to it, choose one which veterinary surgeons would recommend as safe and effective and make sure it is fitted properly.

There are few, if any, reports of problems with 'snap open' collars – see picture at top of page. These have a plastic buckle which snaps together to close it. If sufficient pressure is put on the collar, such as would happen if your cat gets it caught in something or if it gets its leg stuck through, it should simply snap open and release the collar and your cat. Check how easily these buckles open – some are firmer than others. One suggestion is to hang a bag of sugar on the collar and see if it opens.

Fitting collars

Problems arise because collars are either too loose or too tight. Collars do actually need to be quite firmly fitted – you should only be able to get 1-2 fingers underneath. If too loose then the cat can gets its leg through. When you first fit the collar your cat may tense its neck muscles so always re-check the fit after a few minutes and adjust if necessary. 

Likewise it is very important to check the collar fitting if it is on a cat which is still growing. There are problems putting collars on kittens because they are small and very good at turning themselves inside out to get the collar off. They also get themselves into rather dangerous situations in general and can get caught up by the collar. It is probably wise to get kittens used to wearing collars at an early age (about 5 months) but to do so when the kitten can be supervised. It can be removed when the kitten is not being watched. The kitten will then be used to the collar when it is fitted on a more permanent basis when it goes outdoors.

There may be a degree of protest when your cat is first fitted with a collar so do so just before a mealtime or before a favourite game as a distraction. Never take your cat for a walk with a lead attached to a collar. Harnesses that fit securely around the cat’s chest and neck are the only appropriate and safe device for this.

See our video on how to fit a collar:

Bells and bits

Bells, discs and other bits hanging from the collar can also be hazardous – the cat can either become caught on something by one of these attachments or get claws caught in the bell. One owner reported that her cat had become caught in the holes on a storage heater when its disc became twisted in the slot and it could not escape – luckily the heater was not on. Have a look at the type of bell on the collar – decide whether you actually need it there (if you are hoping it will scare away birds then it needs to have a good loud tinkle sound) and if it is the type with large grooves which do not taper and so cannot trap a claw.

Many cat owners are also bird lovers and would like to be able to protect their feathered visitors to the garden. A study by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) found that cats wearing a bell on the collar caught 34 per cent fewer mammals and 41 per cent fewer birds. The RSPB did contact us about the choice of the collar in their research and they used two collars, both of the 'snap open' variety. See, how to stop your cat from hunting.

There will always be a demand for cat collars so while in the ideal world we might feel that cats are better off without them, being able to advise on the best type will allow those who need to use a collar to choose and fit properly the safest available.

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