Should I put a collar on my cat?
There should be an easy answer to the question of whether to put a collar on your cat or not. But there isn’t. Like everything else involving cats, the collar question is complicated.
If your cat currently wears a collar, and if you think a collar is absolutely essential for his safety, then you are in good company. Many veterinary and animal-welfare organizations agree with you.
But, if you don’t put a collar on your cat because you believe collars to be dangerous, then you are also in good company. Other veterinary and animal-welfare organizations are firmly on your side.
My purpose in this post is to present both sides of the argument so that you can make your own, fully informed decision about whether to put a collar on your cat. I’ll share my thoughts at the end of the post.
The argument FOR putting a collar on your cat
Collars keep strangers from “adopting” your cat
The main argument for putting a collar on your cat is that it supposedly increases the chances that your cat will be returned home to you safely, especially if she wanders too far astray.
The idea is that if your cat is out roaming with no collar, a well-intentioned cat lover may bring your cat home, thinking he has no owner. The chances that a cat lover will “adopt” your cat increases if your cat is especially friendly or affectionate.
If your cat is injured, a collar provides contact information
If your cat is injured, having a collar with tags increases the likelihood that a caring bystander will call you to let you know.
Sick and injured cats, unfortunately, do have a tendency to hide. Your cat would probably have to be injured in view of witnesses for this benefit of collars to play out.
A reflective collar can help make your cat more visible at night
Is your cat a nighttime prowler? Wearing a reflective collar can help make him more visible to drivers, especially on dark roads. A reflective collar could theoretically save his life.
A collar could help an escaped indoor cat find his way home
Even cats who love the living-room life can slip through an open door or a broken screen and make a run for it.
Even cats who would never willingly leave the house could find themselves unexpectedly outdoors. In the rare circumstance that your home is damaged due to an event like a hurricane or house fire, your cat may be forced to leave.
An indoor cat who gets outside isn’t on equal footing with cats who regularly spend time outdoors. Indoor cats simply aren’t as worldly as outdoor cats. They’re unlikely to know how to protect themselves from the elements, or hunt and scavenge for food, like their savvier outdoor cousins.
If your cat escapes with a collar and tags, the hope is that someone will find her and call you.
(Read, "Indoor vs outdoor cats.")
Cat collars are safer than they’ve ever been
One of the concerns about cat collars is that they can be unsafe. We’ll discuss this point of view in a moment.
But assuming that you choose your cat collars wisely, and fit them properly, a cat collar can be quite safe.
The safest collars today come with a breakaway mechanism to help prevent cats from getting hung up on branches, or getting a body part stuck in the collar. The breakaway mechanism does exactly what the name says it does: it causes the collar to snap open under pressure.
This video demonstrates how the mechanism works.
If you choose a collar with a breakaway feature, you will likely lose some collars over time. But collar advocates say, it's better than losing your cat.
Since collar safety is so important, one scientific study attempted to assess whether cat collars cause injury. Researchers interviewed 107 veterinarians to ask about the number of cat-collar injuries they’d seen in their practices.
This study found an average of only one injury for every 2.3 years of practice. In other words, an average veterinarian could be expected to see only one cat-collar injury every two or so years. That’s not very many (unless your cat is the one injured).
But the study could not possibly take into account injured cats who never made it to the vet’s office.
Microchips might never get scanned, but a collar is always visible
A microchip is a tiny capsule that is inserted by a veterinarian beneath a cat’s skin that contains a unique number that belongs only to your cat. If your cat ends up in a shelter or hospital, a staff member will use a scanner to read your cat’s number. This number is associated with your contact information in a database maintained by the microchip company.
Every cat should have a microchip. Period. Read, “Should you microchip your cat?” to learn why.
The downside of a microchip is that it requires a scanner to identify a cat’s owner. A well-intentioned person would have to drive to their local animal shelter or veterinarian to get access to a chip scanner.
A collar, by contrast, is visible to anyone.
Cat collars can help save wildlife
According to the American Bird Conservancy, outdoor cats kill approximately 2.4 billion birds in the U.S. every year. It’s believed that housecats have contributed to the extinction of 63 species of birds, mammals and reptiles in the wild. Those are both astounding numbers.
The death of so many songbirds is a tragedy, and not just because it’s sad to think about so much loss.
Birds, according to scientist Pete Marra, the head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, and author of the book Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer, are essential to our ecology. They pollinate plants, spread seeds, control insects, and even help protect the environment from the effects of climate change. Marra is a cat lover, too, by the way.
Just putting a little tinkly bell on a cat collar saves lives. A 2010 study published in Wildlife Research showed that predation of birds and rodents in New Zealand could be reduced by 50% and 61%, respectively, if outdoor cat collars were fitted with a bell.
A small 2006 study published in the Journal of Zoology came to a similar conclusion. Cats fitted with a bell delivered 48% fewer prey “presents” to their owners than cats without bells.
An even better way to keep birds safe from cats
(*Note: as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.)
There’s actually an even better way than bells to keep your cat from killing songbirds, and it does require that your cat wear a collar. Birdbesafe is a brightly colored fabric that cats wear over their collars to takes advantage of the unique eye anatomy of songbirds.
Songbirds have an extra cone in their eyes, and extra rods, too, which makes bright colors appear even brighter to them, even in low light. The bright fabric of the Birdbesafe gives birds those extra fractions of a second to notice a cat and fly away. A study conducted by St. Lawrence University showed an 87% reduction in the number of birds caught when cats wore these products.
The argument AGAINST putting a collar on your cat
Even the safest collar is a potential hazard
The main argument against putting a collar on your cat is that collars can (and do) cause injury and death.
Cats, who climb, slither, leap, and squeeze themselves everywhere, can get their collars hung up on branches, caught in hedges, or stuck on fences. Cats have been strangled to death by their own collars. Even breakaway collars can fail.
Cats have also simply gotten stuck. Bells and tags are notorious for catching on things. What if your cat gets stuck somewhere and simply cannot release himself?
Equally horrifying, cats can get their own body parts stuck in a collar. A cat scratching an ear can get a paw or leg caught up in a collar. Collars can slip over a cat’s lower jaw, or get hung up on a tooth. Cats may compound their injuries in their struggle to get free.
If your cat is an outdoor cat, she may be far from home, and her predicament might not be noticed in time by a helpful bystander. If your cat is an indoor cat, she could become trapped by her own collar when you’re not home to help her.
A 2010 published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association evaluated 538 cats wearing collars of various types. 3.3% of the cats in the study caught a forelimb or mouth in the collar, or caught the collar on an object. Interestingly, the conclusion of this study was that cats should definitely wear collars.
Your choice of collar can increase the safety of the collar your cat wears. More on this below.
Collars don’t necessarily help an escaped indoor cat find her way home
The argument above – that an indoor cat who escapes has a better chance of being returned to you if he’s wearing a collar – might have some holes.
It’s true that a well-meaning person is unlikely to keep a cat with a collar without attempting to call you first. But the problem is that most people who see a cat wearing a collar are unlikely to call you at all.
When people see an off-leash dog wandering around the neighborhood, they know the dog is probably lost or escaped. Dog lovers are likely to attempt to catch the dog and reunite it with its owner. (I’ve done it myself.)
But when people see an “off-leash” cat wandering around the neighborhood, it’s easy to assume that it’s simply an outdoor kitty.
The goal of the Kitty Convict Project is to encourage cat owners to purchase an orange collar for their indoor cats. The orange color, the same shade as the one the jumpsuit worn by prisoners, is intended to indicate to anyone who sees your lost kitty that your cat is an “escaped convict” who should really be inside.
Let’s hope this idea catches on. But until then, a collar and tags might not necessarily guarantee that you’ll be reunited with your escapee.
How to make cat collars safer
If you decide to put a collar on your cat, choose one wisely
- Make sure it contains a breakaway feature. A breakaway mechanism could save your cat’s life.
- Choose a collar without decorations. Buckles and studs can rub. Glitter can be itchy and uncomfortable. Embellishments can fall off and be consumed by a curious cat.
- Avoid collars with elastic. Elastic collars, or collars with an elastic segment, tend to stretch, not break. They can be difficult to fit properly and cats are more likely to get a body part stuck in one.
- Replace dangling tags with a nameplate riveted directly to the collar, or with your telephone number embroidered on the collar.
Fit your collar properly
- You should be able to slip only one or two fingers between the collar and your cat’s neck. If the collar is too tight, it can become embedded your cat’s neck. If the collar is too loose, it may catch on something more easily.
- Check the fit again about 10 minutes after putting it on your cat. A cat may tense his neck muscles at first, and the fit can change once he relaxes.
This video shows you how to fit a collar properly:
Check your cat’s collar frequently
- Check the breakaway mechanism. This life-saving feature can get clogged with dirt and grease and may no longer open as easily as it should.
- Check the collar’s fit at least monthly. Cats can gain and lose weight. Put a monthly reminder in your phone.
- If you have a kitten, check the fit weekly until he is full grown. Kittens grow very quickly, and thus grow out of their collars very quickly.
How to get a cat used to wearing a collar
You may decide that you’d like to have your cat wear a collar, but your cat may have other ideas.
A collar may feel strange or uncomfortable to your cat at first, and she may scratch at it or try to get it off. With patience (on your part), however, she will get used to wearing a collar.
- Start with a plain collar (without tinkling bells or tags), and place it on your cat.
- Reward him with treats and playtime.
- Do not yell at your cat, or punish him for removing the collar, if he does.
- After about 10 minutes, remove the collar yourself.
- Repeat the above sequence many times over the next few days, until your cat begins to associate the collar with great things.
Note that a cat who has never worn a collar should not be left with it on unsupervised until you are certain she has accepted it.
My personal conclusion about cats and collars
Let me say this first: whatever you decide, to collar or not to collar, you are not doing the wrong thing. There are some very bright minds, and some very devoted, professional cat people who will agree with you no matter which way you decide to go.
If you decide to put a collar on your cat, be sure to choose one wisely and check it frequently for sizing. Those two things alone go a very long way toward protecting your cat.
And whether or not you decide to put a collar on, get your cat microchipped. It is the most loving thing you could possibly do for him.
There are compelling arguments for collaring your cats, but I personally have come down on the side of keeping mine collar-free. While the risk of injury from a collar is vanishingly small, the prospect is still frightening.
Whatever you decide for your own cats, the fact that you are reading this post (all the way to the end!) is evidence of how much you truly care about them. And that is ALWAYS the right thing.
Love Pinterest? Here's a Pinterest-friendly pin for your boards!
Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.
 Calver, MC, et al. “Assessing the Safety of Collars Used to Attach Predation Deterrent Devices and Id Tags to Pet Cats.” Latest TOC RSS, Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, 1 Feb. 2013, https://www.ingentaconnect.com/contentone/ufaw/aw/2013/00000022/00000001/art00011.
 “Cats and Birds.” American Bird Conservancy, 25 Sept. 2020, https://abcbirds.org/program/cats-indoors/cats-and-birds/.
 Gross, Rachel E. “The Moral Cost of Cats.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 20 Sept. 2016, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/moral-cost-of-cats-180960505/.
 Willson, S.K., et al. “Birds Be Safe: Can a Novel Cat Collar Reduce Avian Mortality by Domestic Cats (Felis Catus)?” Global Ecology and Conservation, Elsevier, 20 Jan. 2015, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2351989415000050.
 Lord, Linda K., et al. “Evaluation of Collars and Microchips for Visual and Permanent Identification of Pet Cats.” AVMA, American Veterinary Medical Association, 15 Aug. 2010, https://avmajournals.avma.org/view/journals/javma/237/4/javma.237.4.387.xml.
 Moss, Laura. “Should Your Cat Be Wearing an Orange Collar?” Treehugger, Treehugger, 5 June 2017, https://www.treehugger.com/should-your-cat-be-wearing-orange-collar-4862572.
 “Why You Should Put an Orange Collar on Your Cat - the Kitty Convict Project.” Why You Should Put an Orange Collar on Your Cat - The Kitty Convict Project, https://ek.explodingkittens.com/kittyconvict.
 “Why Should My Cat Wear a Collar and Tag?” Petfinder, 18 Dec. 2017, https://www.petfinder.com/cats/lost-and-found-cats/why-should-my-cat-wear-a-collar-and-tag/.