2011-11-16 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Editor’s Note: This week’s “Pets” was first published on 10/7/10 and is nominated in the newspaper article –health & general care category in the 2011 Cat Writers’ Association Communication Contest as is the 3/31/11 “Pets” titled “Reducing Stress for Shelter Cats.” Winners will be announced this weekend at the CWA Conference in White Plains.

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 press release (Sept. 8, 2010):

In almost 60 percent 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 collar ID along with a microchip as a back-up 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 for 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. Lord’s recommendations from this study are based in part by her previous research, which has found that 40 percent of lost cats in one community were indoor-only cats. Also, freeroaming 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 percent 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 percent, wore their collars for the entire sixmonth study period.

Thirty-two animals were withdrawn from the

November 16, 2011, MASSAPEQUA POST • 13 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 percent); the cat scratched excessively at the collar (4.8 percent); the collar continued to come off and the owner chose not to replace it (3.3 percent); or the collar got stuck in the cat’s mouth or on another object (1.5 percent). 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 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 percent 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 the 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 is dependent on the persistence of the people and batteries behind them.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631- 643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Bailey” the Beagle #94508 showed up as a stray at a garage sale in Farmingdale a few weeks ago. He played with all the kids there but no one has shown up to claim him. “Frankee”, #20981 a handsome cat and “Sarah” #94539 his Shiba Inu/Border Collie sister lost their home due to an eviction.

This week’s Pit Picks: “Sidney,” “Mae” and “Buddy” marched in the Pit Parade at the Bully Breed Brigade hosted by Last Hope and Hempstead Shelter last Sunday. They are still hoping for homes.

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