Is a collar and tag better than a microchip for a cat?

Eighty percent of pet owners believe that it is important for cats and dogs to wear personal identification tags but a much smaller proportion actually do what they think is important.

Cat collar and tag
Cat collar and tag. Photo by Greencolander (on Flickr)
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

We identify the collar and to tag as something that dogs wear. And we believe that the best way to identify a cat is through micro-chipping. Both methods of identification carry some risk. Micro-chipping (a) can cause cancer at the site of the microchip (b) it can move inside the cat’s body and (c) the insertion of it can result in injury to the cat, while the collar and tag can get snagged on something, the cat can panic and suffocate herself. Which risk is the greatest? Do we know? I do not think we do know because no studies have been carried out to the best of my knowledge.

An advantage of the collar and tag is that some veterinarians may still not have the devices to read a microchip. Also, and this is obvious, anybody is able to identify a cat if the cat is wearing a collar and tag whereas the microchip requires a special device which is usually available in veterinarian’s clinic. That means taking the cat to the vet’s clinic, which is a barrier to bringing the cat and the owner together.

The argument is that all “pets”, indoor or outdoor or both, should have some sort of identification on them. Even full-time indoor cats sometimes escape.

There is a 3rd method of identification which may be the best, in point of fact, and that is tattooing. Tattooing poses no danger, whatsoever, medically to the cat.

One argument against tattooing as a means of identification is that it fades and becomes illegible or is covered by hair and therefore invisible.

As for fading, there is a nice story in the online media, currently, about a cat that went missing for 12 years. The cat was tracked back to her owner because of a tattoo in her ear.

The cat’s name is Maxine. She was found not far from the Vancouver SPCA shelter. Maxine’s owner lives in Florida. Even with my limited knowledge of North American geography, that is one hell of a distance. Perhaps her owner moved from Vancouver to Florida.

Maxine’s condition was poor. The Vancouver SPCA believe that she must have fended for herself for almost all of the 12 years that she has been missing. As an aside, it makes you wonder why this cat, that was presumably living in a reasonable home, decided to stay away for 12 years and live rough on the streets. Perhaps we don’t have the full facts. However, some well loved cats do prefer to live wild.

I know that our family of cat lovers on PoC will dislike the idea of the cat collar and tag. I dislike them and I believe them to be dangerous sometimes but, at the end of the day, it is all about risk and benefit. One has to measure the risk of being injured when wearing a collar and tag against the potential benefits and one has also to make a comparison with the alternative methods of identification and the risks those methods carry for the cat.

Having thought about those factors, I cannot say that I have definitely changed my mind about cat collars and tags but I am much more open to the idea because I believe that the benefits outweigh the negatives. There is no doubt a general resistance to placing a collar and tag on a cat or using any other form of identification because as mentioned despite liking identification the majority of people do not ensure that it takes place.

There seems to be two competing objectives from cat owners. One is that they like their cat to appear natural and live as natural a life as possible, which is laudable and understandable. I am in that group. The other is a more pragmatic and practical approach and one that is seems to be more concerned with safety and the rare possibility that their cat may go missing.

I believe though that the best cat caretakers use their best efforts to avoid their cat going missing in the first place. They supervise their cat and take prompt action if there is any likelihood of their cat disappearing. This makes identification less critical. It is the cat owner who has a more relaxed attitude to caretaking who has a greater need to ensure that their cat is identified.

11 thoughts on “Is a collar and tag better than a microchip for a cat?”

  1. Yea it be great if microchips be heap at 50.00 each over here in nzl would cost me at least 200+ So im not sure on it. But maybe a collar with details be a good idea. Though know they gonna hate it.

    • Like Babz said, collars are not infallible, some are dangerous to cats and safe ones can come off, then the identity tag is lost, a microchip is permanent proof of who the cat’s caretaker is.
      A neighbour’s cat wearing a so called safe collar was found hobbled with it trapping her front legs, I’d be terrified to let a cat out of my sight wearing one!
      Thankfully she was found quite quickly.

  2. I can’t add much to what Barbara said because we think alike in all aspects of cat care and welfare.
    I think at present the best option is a microchip and I expect eventually they will be made much more safe and fool proof.
    This world is full of dangers to cats and to all other species too, but we either have to live our lives or hide away and restrict our pets too in fear of what ‘might’ happen.
    There is talk of all babies being microchipped at birth, so microchips will no doubt be made safe and infallible for them, so surely animals will benefit from that too.

  3. yea well i tried putting cat collars on with no luck as they usually rip them off and our animals are always around home, it would be nice to have just a tag with a phone number in case an animal goes missing

  4. Of the three I prefer the microchip, apart from not liking to see cats with collars round their necks (or dogs either, I’ve got these days so it really pains me to see a dog being led by the neck, in the unlikely event of me ever having another dog in my life it would have to be a harness for when he/she had to be on a lead)I think they’re dangerous and unreliable because a good cat collar is made to come off if it gets snagged on anything, so there goes the ID, a bad cat collar can be an instrument of death of course as we all know, and I’ll never forget the sight of the cat who we helped rescue who had been forced into a studded dog collar and had got a front leg through the collar and was in a distressed state. Tattooing is something I hate the thought of, let humans decorate themselves all they wish but I don’t like animals tattooed with ID/numbers, it makes me think of prisoners of concentration camps. I think vets and most animal welfare organisations have scanners nowadays, there are courses that the public can go on to learn how to microchip and scan and I think scanners have come way down in price, it’s worrying though that there is an element of danger from microchips and I don’t know how serious that is, but as things stand I would opt for chipping by a good, kind, qualified vet if ever I was responsible for a new animal again.

  5. Yes, well, usually, IMho. The microchip is misleading, to say the least. Even if you do keep up with it, the microchip is subject to too many misleading subjugations, and I surmise they do more harm than good, all thing considered.


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