It is not unusual for cats to go missing – some just for a few hours, some for days and some permanently.
The loss of a cat can be very traumatic and it is at this point that an owner often wishes that he or she had taken the time to give the cat some form of identification in case someone finds it and knows who to return it to.
While some cats may be visually individual and identified by photograph, there are many black, black and white, tabby or ginger cats which could easily be misidentified using coat markings alone. Many cats enjoy an indoor and outdoor lifestyle and a very satisfying and active life. However, they could become injured or frighten by something, or wander into an open van and be transported across the country, or shut in a shed or garage or even picked up as ‘lost’ by someone.
Even indoor only cats can escape and get lost outside. Therefore the accurate and permanent identification of pet cats is both important and desirable, and is regarded as an essential component of cat welfare. Having this information is vital in reuniting cats with their owners should a cat ever stray, escape or get lost.
There are different ways to identify your cat – visual identification with a collar and tag, by tattooing, or by using a microchip.
A microchip is a small chip about the size of a grain of rice which contains a unique microchip number. It is inserted under the cat’s skin by a trained person. Using a microchip reader, it can read, identified and matched to the owner’s contact details should the need arise.
In some countries it is now mandatory to microchip cats as well as dogs. Of course there is no point microchipping an animal unless there is a reliable database on which to register the cat and owner details and which can respond if the cat is found by another party and the microchip read and matched a contact address or phone number for the owner.
International Cat Care encourages all cat owners to microchip their cats where possible, as it is permanent and cannot be lost. See our microchipping position statement.
Collars with tags can also be used to identify cats and carry contact information via a tag or a small barrel attachment with information inside.
Some cats wear collars to carry ‘keys’ to a cat flap anyway (some cat flaps can also now be controlled by the cat’s microchip too), so identification information can be attached to this.
Many owners do want to have a form of visual identification either as an alternative to or in addition to microchipping. If a cat is run over on the road and killed, the body may not be checked for a microchip but a kind person might take the collar and let the owner know so that they are not continually searching for the cat.
In an ideal world a cat would not wear a collar because there are risks involved. Cats, being active and inquisitive often get into small or dangerous places and can get caught up by the collar on a branch or fence or even by something indoors, and could potentially choke or be injured. They can also get a leg through the collar if it is too loose and this can cause injuries under the front leg which can be serious if not sorted out immediately.
There are two ways of minimising this problem – choosing the right collar (a snap open safety collar which comes undone if it gets caught – see picture right) and fitting the collar properly – see our information on how to choose and fit a collar for your cat.
The benefits of collars are that it is immediately recognisable that the cat has some identification; the disadvantages are that this could be removed easily or, if not chosen and fitted properly, could be uncomfortable or even dangerous. Collars and identifying discs or barrels are however cheap to replace.
What about a tattoo? In some countries cats are tattooed as identification, however it can be difficult to see easily as the fur can grow over it or the skin colour make it difficult to see; it can also fade or alter in shape as the cat grows and, it is alterable.
The cat may require anaesthesia to have it done (not many cats will sit still to have a tattoo!) on or in the ear or on the inner leg. There also needs to be a registry with whom to liaise should someone wish to check the number.
Some owners opt for several methods, microchipping as well as providing a collar so that all possibilities are covered.