2010-10-06 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Lost cats, especially indoor ones, have a terrible recovery record. Does your indoor cat wear a collar with ID? Probably not. Mine doesn’t. We feel keeping it on is impossible. However, new findings suggest that our defeatist attitudes may actually prevent lost cats from returning home.

Almost three out of four cats wore collars consistently during a six month study, suggesting that most cats will tolerate a collar, even if their owners are skeptical about its success. The following details of the study come from an Ohio State University (8 Sept 2010) press release:

In almost 60% of the cases, the felines’ tolerance of the collars exceeded the owners’ expectations that the cat would keep the collar on without much trouble. The researchers say that these results suggest that veterinarians should discuss with cat owners the importance of a collar ID along with a microchip as a backup recovery method.

Another lesson from this study was that proper fit (with room for two fingers between the neck and collar) is essential. Owners should observe cats’ behavior the first few days, when problems of the cats adjusting to the neckwear are more common.

Convincing cat owners that their pets, even indoor only cats, need identification is “a tremendous uphill battle,” said Linda Lord, assistant professor of veterinary preventive medicine at Ohio State University and lead author of the study. “A lot of people start out with the dogma that cats can’t wear collars, that they won’t tolerate them or that they’re dangerous. Now pet owners can look at this research and if they own a cat, maybe they will now consider that they will be able to put identification on them. A collar with an ID tag is probably a cat’s greatest chance of ever being re-homed or brought back if it is lost.”

Indoor-only cats can get lost easily. Lord’s recommendations from this study are informed in part by her previous research, which has found that 40 % of lost cats in one community were indoor only cats, or that free-roaming cats without collars are very likely to either be fed by strangers – reducing the likelihood that they will return home – or to be ignored as strays.

“The return-to-owner rate is abysmal for cats. Fewer than 2 % of lost cats are returned to their owners,” she said. “If we could get cat owners to try using a collar with identification, it would be a big deal.” [Let me interject here: I agree. In 28 years visiting LI town shelters, I only recall seeing one lost cat reunited with his family. However, I wouldn’t recommend putting a collar on a tiny kitten for safety reasons.]

The researchers recruited cat owners from veterinary colleges at Ohio State, the University of Florida, Texas A&M University and Cornell University. Cats were randomly assigned to wear one of three types of collars: plastic buckle, buckle collars designed to detach if they become caught on something, or elastic stretch safety collars. A total of 538 cats with 338 owners participated in the study. Of those, 391 cats, or 72.7%, wore their collars for the entire six-month study period.

Thirty-two animals were withdrawn from the study for various reasons. Owners of the 115 cats that did not successfully wear collars for six months reported the following reasons: The cat lost the collar (7.1 %); the cat scratched excessively at the collar (4.8 %); the collar continued to come off and the owner chose not to replace it (3.3 %); or the collar got stuck in the cat’s mouth or on another object (1.5 %). Relatively few collars did come off, however. A total of 333 cats wore their collars without incident for the entire six months.

“Part of the success of a cat wearing a collar is the expectation of the owner. For some owners, if a collar came off once, they were done. Some put the collar back on their cat five or six times,” Lord said. “For the Houdini cat that can constantly get the collar off, it may just not work for them. A cat can also lose a collar, and then an owner has to decide whether or not to replace it.”

For those pet owners who are concerned that collars on cats can be dangerous, Lord noted that the study did indicate that there can be some risk associated with the collars. In 3.3 % of cases involving 18 cats, the collars got caught on the animal’s mouth or forelimb, or on another object.

“I would never say that something like this can’t happen,” Lord said. “I would make an argument that a cat is much more likely to get lost and not be recovered than it is to be injured by a collar.” Lord said that, especially for cats that cannot tolerate a collar, a microchip is an important and reliable form of identification in case the pets are lost.

Owners of 90% of the cats told researchers they planned to keep the collars on their cats after completion of the study. To me, that’s one uphill battle won. Now to persuade the rest of cat-owning public. Then, onto the next campaign – to convince all shelters to scan every incoming pet for a microchip-dog or cat, owner surrenders and DOAs too; then to re-scan them, using all available models, since scanners can be temperamental and their accuracy dependent on the persistence of the people and batteries behind.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Snuggle” a friendly charcoal declaw in C-10 is one of many adult cats and kittens available. This young male Chihuahua/Dachshund #93588 is part of a mysterious duo- two dogs found tied up in N. Amityville. He came in with a female Boston Terrier.

Male: “Cinnamon” another declaw in C-7; “Blue” Retriever mix #93487; Clumber Spaniel mix #93531; sweet buff Cocker Spaniel found at Belmont Lake #93598.

Female: Jack Russell #93556; “Sugar” #93242 blue Pit”; “Katie” #93562 adorable Terrier pup; “Lydia” #93376 tan Pit.

•Reminder-Last Hope’s FREE Rabies Vaccine & Heartworm Test Clinic- Sun. Oct. 10 from 11 am to 3 pm at Pampered Paws, 325 Union Ave., Holbrook. Dogs must be leashed; cats in carriers. More info: 516-223-6673 or feralpats@yahoo.com.

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