Cats, like dogs, need identification

Posted: Sunday, February 08, 2009

A heartbreaking percentage of cats accidentally separated from their people don't make it back home.

Unlike dogs, cats usually are not required to wear pet license and rabies inoculation tags. That's the main reason why only 53 percent of cats, as compared with 71 percent of dogs, are reunited with their families.

My cat, Annie, has an identifying microchip, compliments of the Gastineau Humane Society. All dogs and cats adopted through the local animal shelter come with a chip the size of a grain of rice implanted beneath the skin at the scruff of the neck. Each chip bears a number that's unique. If the pet is lost, that number will identify the animal and the person who adopted him or her.

Local veterinarians also insert microchips. However, it is up to the owner to send the identifying information to a national pet ID data bank - and to keep that information up to date. I keep a note in the file folder I use for income tax, an annual reminder to report any changes in my address or phone number.

Currently, there are six different pet-ID registries in the United States. There is a movement afoot to combine and cross-reference data, which will make the system more efficient in reuniting owners and pets.

The way it works now, animal shelters and veterinarians use a hand-held scanner to check a stray animal for a microchip. If the brand of chip matches the scanner, they can immediately access the information on who owns the pet. If the brand doesn't match, there's a delay in retrieving the owner's name.

A local cat owner recently told me he didn't want his cat microchipped because of a story he had seen on TV about a chip that migrated within the cat's body and cost several hundred dollars to retrieve. I checked veterinary sources and learned that an occasional chip may move away from the insertion site. However, that rarely requires any treatment other than putting a new chip in the right place.

Another cat owner once cautioned me that extra-terrestrials use microchipped cats to maintain surveillance over humankind.

In addition to a microchip, every cat needs a collar with your current telephone number on it. At the very least, put the collar on the cat when he is traveling. I had a friend whose cat went missing after an auto accident en route to the veterinarian. Helpful motorists stopped to assist, opened the car door, and the cat split.

I used to have nightmares about my old cat Clementine wandering around Sea-Tac Airport. Clem was a veteran traveler who probably would have used a white courtesy phone to have me paged. However, every time we flew, she wore a collar with a tag bearing both my Juneau phone number and the one at Granny's house, where we spent holidays.

Veterinary experts say the safest kind of cat collar is the breakaway type. These have a clasp that comes undone under unusual stress. The collar will break if the cat gets hung up.

A close second in safety, according to the vets, is a stretchy collar. The best ones are made of wetsuit material, neoprene. Others have an elastic expansion joint. A cat whose collar gets caught can wriggle free.

Although it is theoretically possible, I have never heard of a cat who became entangled in a standard collar, with a buckle. When fitted properly (so you can insert two fingers beneath the collar when it is clasped), the cat can squirm out of it.

I'm not keen on tags that dangle from the collar. It isn't that hard to print your phone number in waterproof marker on a fabric collar. Better yet, order an engraved plate that lays flat on the collar or buy a collar with the number embroidered on it. Both are sold on line. You can also do it yourself by hand or with a sewing machine.

Flexible leather collars can be marked by carving or with a wood-burning pen.

The critical information is an up-to-date telephone number - though few of us can resist adding kitty's name.

People who keep their cats indoors often think an ID collar isn't necessary. Granted, those cats may not be as likely to get lost. But sometimes a house-sitter accidentally leaves a door open and there is always the risk of a fire or medical emergency in which kitty flees the confusion.

Yeah, I know some cats are not keen on collars. Most get used to them. And if a collar is lost every now and then - better the collar than your cat.

• Linda Daniel can be contacted at

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