Cats have surpassed dogs numerically as the most popular pet in the United States, with 38.4 million households owning an estimated 88.3 million cats.1 With this seemingly growing popularity has come a proportional increase in the number of cats entering animal shelters. Although exact estimates do not exist, it is believed that between 3 and 4 million cats enter animal shelters in the United States each year and nearly 75% of them are euthanized.2 The number of cats entering shelters in Ohio was reportedly 20% higher in 2004 than in 1996.3
Of cats entering shelters with an unknown ownership status, < 2% are reunited with their owners, compared with as many as 15% to 19% of lost dogs.4 One reason for this low reunion rate may be that many owners fail to provide any form of identification for their cats. In 2 studies5,6 conducted to evaluate methods used by owners to search for lost dogs and cats, only 14% of the cats were wearing any visual identification such as a collar or tag with owner contact information at the time they were lost and only 7% had a microchip, compared with 43% of dogs with visible identification and 8% with a microchip. In Ohio, only 17% of 217 surveyed cat owners reported they use visual means for identifying their cats and only 3% use microchips.7 Reasons for not providing visual identification included their cats were kept exclusively indoors (51%), their cats did not get lost (24%), and their belief that cats do not tolerate collars or may be hurt by them (11%). Reasons for not providing their cats with a microchip implant were that their cats were kept exclusively indoors (36%), their cats did not get lost (18%), and microchips are too expensive (16%). Other research6 involving a cohort of lost cats revealed 40% were considered by the owners to be exclusively indoor pets, only demonstrating that being kept indoors does not prevent cats from accidentally escaping and becoming lost.
Despite the growing recognition of the importance of permanent identification of pets, visual identification remains the easiest and fastest way to reunite lost pets with their owners. Particularly with cats, the presence of visual identification helps to distinguish that a particular cat is owned and immediately provides the owner's contact information for anyone that recognizes the cat is lost and is willing to try to locate the owner. In addition, not all animal shelters routinely scan for microchips, particularly when cats are stressed or behave ferally. Presumably, the most reliable long-term method of identification is microchip implantation because microchips cannot be lost or altered. Microchips serve as an important backup form of identification and can be detected by scanners should a lost cat be taken to an animal shelter or veterinary office. The extremely low rate of cats being reunited with their owners through animal shelters coupled with high euthanasia rates for cats in shelters represents a serious welfare concern. Shelters have limited space, and many are only able to keep a select few to offer for adoption; the remainder, if they are not promptly claimed, are often euthanized.
A general dogma apparently exists among cat owners and veterinarians that cats cannot wear collars or will be injured by them. The specific goals of the study reported here were to determine the percentage of cats still wearing a collar 6 months after placement, to compare differences in the percentages among collar types, to document problems (if any) with cats wearing collars, to describe owner perceptions regarding their cats wearing collars, and to determine the percentage of cats with functional microchips 6 months after implantation.
Aspen Pet Small Adjustable Collar (3/8” single-ply nylon with plastic buckle, adjusts from 8” to 14”), Aspen Pet Products Inc, Denver, Colo.
Aspen Pet Safety Collar (3/8” single-ply nylon with breakaway plastic buckle, adjusts from 8” to 12”), Aspen Pet Products Inc, Denver, Colo.
Licorice Strip Safety Stretch (3/8” single-ply elasticized nylon with stainless buckle, fully adjustable 10” collar), Coastal Pet Products Inc, Alliance, Ohio.
HomeAgain microchip (unencrypted 125 kHz), Digital Angel Inc, distributed by Schering-Plough HomeAgain LLC, Kenilworth, NJ.
Microsoft Office Access 2003, Microsoft Corp, Redmond, Wash.
STREG, StataCorp, College Station, Tex.
Stata, version 10.1, StataCorp, College Station, Tex.
American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. 2007–2008 national pet owners survey. Available at: www.appma.org/press_industrytrends.asp. Accessed Aug 25, 2007.
Humane Society of the United States. HSUS pet overpopulation estimates. Available at: www.humanesociety.org/pets/issues_affecting_our_pets/pet_overpopulation_and_ownership_statistics/hsus_pet_overpopulation_estimates.html. Accessed May 23, 2009.
Lord LK, Wittum TE, Ferketich AK, et al. Demographic trends for animal care and control agencies in Ohio from 1996 to 2004. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2006;229:48–54.
National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy. The Shelter Statistics Survey 1994–97. Available at: www.petpopulation.org/statsurvey.html. Accessed May 23, 2009.
Lord LK, Wittum TE, Ferketich AK, et al. Search and identification methods that owners use to find a lost dog. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2007;230:211–216.
Lord LK, Wittum TE, Ferketich AK, et al. Search and identification methods that owners use to find a lost cat. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2007;230:217–220.
Lord LK. Attitudes towards and perceptions of free-roaming cats among individuals living in Ohio. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2008;232:1159–1167.
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Lord LK, Ingwersen W, Gray JL, et al. Characterization of animals with a microchip entering animal shelters. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2008;235:160–167.