Finding a missing kitty can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. Proper ID helps ensure she gets home safely.

A lot of cats are skilled escape artists. Like Houdini, they can be quite ingenious if they’re really determined to get outside. A persistent kitty can easily poke a hole in a window screen or slip unnoticed past your feet as you carry in the groceries. Every two seconds, in fact, an animal companion gets lost, and that includes thousands of felines. If your cat becomes one of these statistics, how can you improve the odds of getting him home?

The answer is identification. Without ID, nine out of ten missing companion animals won’t be reunited with their families. Animal organizations such as the ASPCA strongly recommend microchipping in addition to a collar with current identification tags.

Tagged for safety

A collar and ID tag provide more visible information than a microchip. They’re also inexpensive and user friendly, and cats with a collar and tag are seen as more approachable than those without. On the minus side, collars can get caught and either trap the cat or break away and leave her with no identification.

It’s important to choose a quality product when shopping for an ID tag. Engraved make-your-own tags from the pet store come in a variety of sizes, colors and shapes with room for up to three lines of information. They’re convenient and quick to make, but the tags show wear after long use and may become unreadable.

Companies like ReturnMoi do more than sell tags – they also offer a service to help get lost animals home. Each tag reads, “I’m lost, reward to get me home” (finders receive $50 worth of products), while the reverse side includes a 24-hour toll-free number, web address and the cat’s unique identification number. The company offers lifetime registration, worldwide protection, alerts sent to shelters and veterinarians, and postings on lost pet websites. “Shelters say out-of-date information is the biggest obstacle to reuniting cats with their families,” adds CEO and President Suhail Niazi. “We send update reminders every six months.” The tags are weatherproof and guaranteed readable for life.

A microchip is not a GPS. It won’t bounce a signal off a satellite to say the cat is under a bush behind 310 Adams Street.

Microchipping 101

A microchip is a radio frequency identification system (RFIS). As the name implies, it is small – the size of a grain of rice. Each microchip is first registered to a veterinarian, who injects it into the cat’s shoulder area. The microchip company maintains its own database with client information; it’s your responsibility to update the chip to your own name in the database. Shelters always try to reunite lost cats and families, but are not always successful because half of all microchipped animals are not properly registered. So this is an important step. A microchip is not a GPS. It won’t bounce a signal off a satellite to say the cat is under a bush behind 310 Adams Street. It only works on a found animal, scanning like a bar code at the grocery store. The scan shows the cat’s unique identification number, and a call to the microchip company leads to your contact information.

Dogs are four times more likely than cats to be microchipped, according to statistics from HomeAgain, a pet recovery and protection service. The reason given is: “My cat never goes outside.” But one in three calls to the company’s hotline is to report a missing cat, so it’s clear they are going outside!

Here are some of the advantages of microchipping:

  • A chip cannot be altered, removed or lost.
  • Getting chipped is no more painful than a rabies shot.
  • With no battery or moving parts to wear out, a chip lasts a lifetime.
  • A chip presents no health risk to your cat.
  • Microchip companies maintain a database with your cat’s information – medical history, vet’s name, description, photo, microchip number and contact numbers to call when he’s found.
  • When you report a missing animal, the company will send an alert to veterinarians and shelters. Many have a “lost pet” template to use with the cat’s photo for printing fliers to post in your neighborhood.

Microchipping does have a couple of drawbacks. Microchips work on radio frequencies, and scanners might not read all frequencies. As well, a microchip may migrate or move within the muscle, although improvements like HomeAgain’s Bio Bond keeps their chips in place. Either way, veterinarian Dr. Mark Lux doesn’t believe migrating is a problem. He routinely scans animals during their first office visit. If no microchip is found near the shoulders, he scans from head to hips, side to side and the chest area. “In years of checking, I’ve only found two or three microchips that have migrated,” he says. “I recommend microchipping to all my clients.”

Microchips are no health threat, adds veterinary oncologist Dr. Jeff Bryan. “The one thing I would say about microchips is that the association with cancer is minimal,” he says. “There’s a single case of a cat with a microchip near the tumor, not in it. Given the number of microchips, this is rare. In my opinion, the chip did not cause the tumor. There was no reaction at all in the tissue around the chip.” If you’re still in doubt, discuss microchipping with your own veterinarian.

“Shelters say out-of-date information is the biggest obstacle to reuniting cats with their families.” – Suhail Niazi, ReturnMoi

Microchipping is affordable with prices ranging from $25 to $40 (the fee is set by the veterinarian). The chips are usually either 125 or 134.2 kilohertz (125 is more common in the U.S. while 134.2 is global). To help avoid scanner problems, companies such as AVID, HomeAgain, and Bayer resQ make universal scanners to read both frequencies; the scanners are donated to shelters to make sure chips can be read. To further avoid problems, Banfield, the pet clinic within PetSmart, injects two chips at both frequencies.

Unlike a lot of dogs, lost cats are unlikely to approach people, are most active at night and don’t always come when called. A properly labeled ID tag and a microchip work together to help your feline find his way home again, should he ever go missing. After all, he’s family!


Bayer resQ,