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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.


Have you ever considered what would happen to your cat if he were to become lost? How would he find his way home to you? After all, accidents can happen and even strictly indoor cats can sneak out accidentally.

There are two forms of identification that I consider to be extremely important for cats. The first is an identification (ID) tag or, alternatively, some other form of identification that can be attached to a collar. The second is a microchip.

Even if your cat lives strictly indoors, it’s worth considering an ID tag. In the event that your cat does somehow accidentally slip outside, it’s likely to be one of your friends or neighbors that finds him. By wearing an ID tag that contains your contact information (including your address and phone number), your cat can be easily returned to you. Consider including your cell phone number (instead of or in addition to your home phone number) on the ID tag, particularly if you travel with your cat.

The second form of identification that I believe is worth considering is a microchip. A microchip is a small device that is embedded under your cat’s skin, usually between his shoulders. The microchip itself is about the size of a grain of rice. It is implanted with the aid of a needle which is used to deliver the microchip through your cat’s skin and deposit in the desired location. The procedure itself is fast, simple, and relatively painless.

Encoded within the microchip is a number that corresponds to that individual microchip. The number is read from the microchip through the use of a scanner which deciphers the encoding and displays the number on the scanner’s screen.

One of the most important things to remember about a microchip is that the microchip must be registered once it has been implanted in your cat. Registration of the microchip links your personal information (name, telephone number, address, etc.) with the microchip your cat is now carrying. Without registration, a microchip is useless. Remember to keep your information up-to-date if you move or change phone numbers.

Another thing that is important to remember about microchips is that they are not GPS devices. They cannot be used to pinpoint the location of your pet through a remote device. These types of devices exist for dogs but, at the current time, they do not exist for cats. GPS devices for dogs are generally attached to the collar of the pet and are currently too large to be worn by cats or very small dogs. That may change in the not-too-far-distant future though.

Which type of identification do I recommend for most cats? I recommend both an identification tag and a microchip. Because microchips require a scanner to be detected and read, an identification tag is a simpler means of providing the appropriate information to any neighbor who does find your roaming cat.

However, collars and tags can fall off and get lost. Or they can be removed. A microchip provides a permanent means of identification. In the event that your cat ends up in a local pound, shelter, or rescue, the microchip should send him safely on his way back home to you even if the collar and tag are gone.

Whatever form of identification you choose to use for your cat, providing some means of identification greatly increases the chances that your cat will be returned to you. Too many cats without proper identification never find their way home.

Do you have a favorite method of identification for your cat? Does your cat wear a collar and tag religiously? Is your cat microchipped? Do any of you have stories to share about being reunited with a lost cat because he was properly identified? If so, please share. We’d love to hear from you.


Dr. Lorie Huston

Image: Miska: Stance by Tomi Tapio K / via Flickr

Comments  5

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  • Collars are dangerous!!
    04/16/2012 01:59am

    It is so dangerous for a cat to have a collar on , weather inside or outside .. A cat was found dead in my yard(a few years ago) with his head stuck in the fence by his collar !! Cats are so curious and climb into tight places , Ill never put a collar on a cat ever again !

  • 04/16/2012 02:10pm

    Responsible cat owners know to use a breakaway collar, and that is what veterinarians recommend. Additionally, it is also recommended to have cats live indoors whenever possible; indoor cats statistically live longer and healthier lives than those who must survive outdoors. A collar is always a wise idea, but should be a safety one, not one that is likely to hang or trap a cat.

  • 04/16/2012 11:04pm

    Im even afraid of the breakaway collers. Ive had many cats in my life , and have always left my cats go outside. Until about 13 years ago , I found my cat on my porch dragging his back end . His legs and tail were broken. I have no idea what happened to him . I live on a quit deadend street. We rushed him to the Vets ,he gave him some pain med, and xrayed his whole back end . but there wasnt anything the Vet could do for him . We had to put him to sleep. My Vet at the time was very understanding , and only charged me for the meds ! My Vet had a heart and understood that I was a single parent. He didnt even charge me for the office visit!
    That Vet is long gone , bless his sole . I wish todays Vets ; could be so thoughtful.

  • Lost!
    04/16/2012 07:18am

    Before my critter were chipped, they wore breakaway collars with a tag with my info on one side and the other said, "IF I'M OUTSIDE I'M LOST". Most times when people see a kitty outdoors, they mistakenly assume it has been allowed out.

    If a kitty wears a collar, it's important that it's a breakaway. Unfortunately, if that's the only means of identification, if it comes off, a person has no way of knowing if the kitty is owned.

  • chip
    04/16/2012 08:32am

    all 6 of mycats wear collars & 2 are chipped. Break away collars do just that & are safe.A tag would just be lost with the collar. Still working on getting the others chipped.

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