Collar injuries

Introduction

Walk into any pet shop, or even supermarket, and you will see a variety of different collars for cats – from reflective to diamante, leather to fabric and, of course, some flea collars too. This can make it confusing and difficult to know what type of collar to buy your cat, so we have compiled some information and advice on cat collars, looking at if your cat really needs one, what injuries they can potentially cause and which collars are the safest option for cats.

Does my cat need a collar?

Owners put collars on their cats for a variety of reasons:

Identification
Although microchipping is the safest and most permanent method of identification, some owners use collars and tags as a means to visibly show that a cat has an owner. Tags are used to list the owner's details - some owners worry that if the cat was lost or injured, that the cat would not be checked for a microchip, so the tag gives a quick easy way to contact the owner.
 
Cat flap activation
Until recently the only way to make a cat flap selective (so that only your cat could open it and no intruder cats could enter ) was to use a magnetic or electronic key attached to its collar. Now there are cat flaps which are activated by the cat’s microchip, allowing selective entry and negating the need to wear a collar.
 
Reducing hunting
Some owners also want to minimise the number of birds and other wildlife their cats catch and work done by the RSPB has shown that attaching a tinkly bell to the cat's collar can reduce the number of birds which cats catch. Using a bell may not entirely stop cats catching wildlife, but in some cases it can be an option.
 
Flea control
Many flea collars available through pet shops or supermarkets contain permethrin or organophosphates.  Although the concentration of these chemicals is low and the collars are licensed for use on cats, in principle, International Cat Care would not recommend putting permethrin or organophosphates on a cat. There are now many new flea products which use alternative chemicals which are safer and more effective. Many can be applied as spot-ons – small volumes of liquid put onto the skin after parting the hair at the back of the neck.  They are highly effective and usually last for a month.  For more information on flea control, please click here.
 
Increasing visability
Collars with reflective strips can helps cats that are out in the dark be seen, especially if they are crossing a road. 
 
Looking pretty
International Cat Care does not agree with collars for cats which are purely for adornment – there is no added benefit and the risks are still there. Besides, cats are beautiful enough!

What injuries can collars cause?

  • minor problems, such as hair loss due to rubbing or a reaction to a chemical in a flea collar
  • injuries caused by the cat getting the collar caught around its jaw
  • injuries caused by the cat getting one front leg stuck through the collar (this allows the collar to cut into the skin, resulting in a serious and painful injury that is also particularly challenging to treat)
  • strangulation by becoming hooked on something and the collar not coming off or breaking open
  • problems cause by attachments (bells, discs etc) or poor stitching.

Why do injuries occur?

Problems occur with cats and collars for a variety of reasons:

The collar is fitted poorly
A collar that is too loose can allow the cat to get its leg or jaw stuck through Collars that are too tight can also cause injury, so owners should be aware of how to fit a collar correctly

Collars with elastic inserts
Collars that have a length of elastic as part of the design (allowing them to expand) can also cause serious injuries. While, many years ago, this was thought to be a safety feature that would allow the cat to wriggle out of the collar should it become hooked on something, in fact what happened was that there was enough ‘give’ for cats to get one leg through the collar and then get stuck, causing serious injuries.  Collars also got caught around cats’ jaws. International Cat Care would advise never to put a collar with an elastic section on your cat.

Poor quality collars
The stitching on poor quality collars can become loose. This can then be swallowed or become wrapped around the cat’s tongue, which is dangerous. 

What can owners do to help keep cats safe?

Choosing the right collar
If you have decided that you do want or need your cat to wear a collar, ensure you pick a collar with a ‘snap open’ mechanism – a plastic buckle (see image) which comes apart and releases the cat if it becomes trapped. Owners of adventurous cats may lose a few collars but will keep their cats! Some snap open fastenings open more easily than others, so try them out and choose one that doesn’t require excessive force to open.

Fitting the collar properly
Knowing how to fit a collar correctly is important. You should be able to get 2 fingers between the collar and the cat’s neck. Check this on a regular basis, especially if your cat is growing or its weight is changing. For more advice, see the iCatCare video on fitting a collar: www.icatcare. org/advice/how-choose-and- fit-collar-your-cat

Getting used to a collar
As with many things, getting your cat used to wearing a collar as a kitten is much easier than putting one on an adult cat for the first time. 

Conclusion

Collars can cause injury to cats, but if your cat needs to wear a collar, then a snap-open one (which will release quickly if your cat become stuck) is best. iCatCare also recommends getting your cat microchipped as this is permanent and cannot be lost. 

Cases

We were contacted with several collar injury stories by veterinarians, veterinary nurses and technicians and owners that show the importance of correct collar use (warning: some images show serious collar injuries)

Case 1: Collie

Collie came into the RSPCA Central and North London Branch at the end of September 2015.  He had been found as a stray with a collar caught under his front leg causing a nasty wound. The RSPCA staff took him straight down to the Royal Veterinary College Beaumont Sainsbury Animal Hospital (BSAH) in London for treatment.

‘Collie’ when he was first brought into the hospital with the collar cutting into the skin andmuscle under his arm. Photo courtesy of Anna Gales

Nathalie Dowgray, BSAH Vet for the RSPCA said 'Collie was one of the worst collar injuries I have seen in over 10 years of practice, his front leg had become trapped in the collar when he tried to pull it off and sadly for Collie it was not a quick release (snap-open) collar so it did not open when this happened. Instead it became stuck and started cutting into the skin and muscle in the equivalent of his armpit. We don’t know how long this lovely boy had been straying but his body had tried to heal around the cut so it will have been at least 3-4 weeks if not longer that he had been suffering.'

Collie was immediately treated with pain relief and then a short anaesthetic to remove the imbedded collar and clean up the wound.  Unfortunately Collie had no microchip and the imbedded collar contained no information so sadly his owner was never traced.  Collie had surgery on his wound two weeks later after the infection was treated. The outer areas of the wound healed well but the centre of the wound did not.  'Unfortunately this is typical of collar injuries, the blood supple to the centre of this wound is compromised and the skin is also very mobile so healing is often problematic' explained Nathalie Dowgray. 'We left the centre to heal by itself and it did shrink over the next few weeks but then it stalled.' Further treatment included daily iodine impregnated dressings held in place with a comfortable bandage. The iodine reduced surface infection but also stimulated his tissue to start healing on it’s own. 

Collie's wound at the start of dressing changes (top left), Collie in a vest to keep the dressing in place – he pulled it off after 12 hours! (top right), Collie wearing his padded vest and enjoying cuddles with one of the nurses (bottom left) and Collie's would 22 days later! (bottom right). Photos courtesy of Nathalie Dowgray and Anna Gales

After 3 months over £1000 in veterinary fees Collie’s wound has finally healed and just after Christmas he headed off to a new home, after being neutered of course!

Collie’s case highlights the challenges animal charities like the RSPCA face every day. Collie’s owner put a ‘cat collar’ on, which had no fast release mechanism, he had no microchip and he was not neutered. A microchip is a safer and more permanent way of identifying a cat than a collar.  Cats that are not neutered will have a larger territory and are more likely to be come lost or be injured on the road. In Collie’s case his straying resulted in an even more severe injury from the collar. Thanks to the quick action of the RSPCA and the veterinary care provided by the BSAH, Collie has made a full recovery and should be spending the rest of 2016 with his new family. 

Case 2: Dimka

This owner tells us about a terrible experience of losing their cat, made worse by the collar injury she was later found with. 

Dimka wore a collar with a tag as in the rural area of France in which she lived microchipping was not yet popular. During a journey break in a motorway rest area, Dimka had been frightened by a sound and managed to slip out the car. She disappeared and was rescued in the close countryside 2 weeks later, thin and weak, with her the right front leg entrapped in her collar (a standard collar without a quick release mechanism). She had probably tried to struggle for a long time because she had induced a wide and deep wound in her armpit area.  Her owners felt terribly guilty and the wound was treated with bandaging, changed every other day for over a month before the wound healed. 

Dimka during her treatment (left) - notice also how thin she became during the period she was trapped in her collar – and fully recovered, microchipped and wearing a quick release collar (right).

Case 3: Cookie

Cookie lives in Australia and her owner told us:

‘My cat is an outdoor/indoor cat, who was wearing at the time a 'safety collar' with an elastic insert near the clip. One day, she did not return home for dinnertime. In fact, she did not return to several days. Eventually, she came home in terrible condition, with a large wound under her armpit, and collar-less. We rushed her to the vet, thinking she had been attacked by something, only to discover that her injury was a pressure-wound, most likely cause by her 'safety-collar' becoming entrapped under her arm, and likely caught on a tree branch or similar, given the length of time she was away from home. She was prescribed antibiotics, and thankfully did not require surgery. I shudder to think what might have happened to her if she had not been able to somehow free herself from her collar completely. I now do not collar my cats if they are allowed outside, and only use snap open, quick release collars indoors.’

Cookie at home with her owner and fully recovered after a lucky escape

Case 4: Bill

Bill is a lovely little cat found as a stray with his collar embedded under his arm. He had multiple surgeries to try and close the wound in the ‘armpit’ or axilla region including skin flaps, bandaging and slings. After nine months of failed treatment his front leg had to be amputates amputated. Happily Bill, who had no microchip or collar tag on his collar, found a new and loving home with Jenny who now ensures none of her cats wear collars as she feels Bill's injury was preventable and she doesn't want any of her other cats to go through what Bill went through. 

Bill is coping well with life on three legs after his collar injury. Sadly someone cared enough to put a collar on him but they were probably not aware of the dangers on non-quick release collars

Case 5: Mog

Mog’s story comes from a kind veterinary nurse, Laura, who cared for her while she was being treated for a collar injury. Laura tells us:

‘I am a veterinary nurse and a stray cat was brought into our clinic as an emergency with a large wound under her arm where she had got her leg caught in her collar. There was no identity tag on the collar and she was not microchipped. She was very underweight and in poor condition, so had obviously been missing for a while. After no one came forward to claim her I helped nurse her back to health. Daily bandaging did not become effective enough for the wound to heal so she had elbow fold reconstruction surgery and a drain placed, and thankfully the wound healed in no time!

I cannot stress the importance of cat owners having their cat microchipped and keeping their contact details up to date and the importance of quick release collars as a situation this like could have been avoided.’

Mog recovering from her collar injury
Mog during her treatment for a collar injury, with an Elizabethan collar on to prevent her licking the wound as it healed. Luckily Mog was able to make a full recover and found a new home too! 

Case 6: Silky

Silky is a cat living in New Zealand. She is very friendly and kept coming into a friendly cat owner's house to play with the young cat who lived there. Silky was so friendly it was assumed she must have a home somewhere, so the local rescue group recommended putting a paper collar on her with a note so that the owners could get in touch and find out where she was (she was not microchipped). Unfortunately a normal collar was put on Silky with no snap open mechanism. Unfamiliar with wearing a collar Silky became very scared, tried to get it off and got it caught in her mouth before running off. Three days later she was found with horrific injuries. The local community were so fond of Silky they raised money for her treatment. She had a large wound on her chin where the collar had cut into her skin and it took a long operation to repair it. Thankfully Silky recovered well and found a new home with the kind lady who’s cat she liked to play with. 


Silky after a long surgery to repair the wound on her chin caused by a collar (left) and recovering in the veterinary clinic - still as friendly as ever! (right). Photos courtesy of Orla Fitzpatrick

Case 7: Tatty

Tatty was taken to the vets by her owner after going missing for 3 weeks. She returned with her left leg stuck through her collar, resulting in a nasty wound in her left armpit.  Such a large wound required extensive reconstructive surgery and her vets (Blake Veterinary Group of Somerset, UK) removed all the unhealthy tissue from the area and took a flap of skin and its blood supply from the side of her chest down to cover the wound. The vet who treated Tatty, Sarah King, said ‘Tatty did really well following her treatment but all that she went through could easily have been avoided. Ideally avoid using collars of any description on cats but if this is unavoidable, ensure they will undo or break easily if they become caught and make sure they are correctly fitted.’

Tatty after her surgery (left) which involved moring a flap of skin from her back to cover the wound. A drain can be seen in the photo to reduce fluid build up and help the wound heal. Tatty recovered well after surgery (right) but treatment was complex, expensive and avoidable

 

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