Cat Collar Problems

The Story of Mike and Mattie

My cats Mike and Mattie had collar problems that aren't common, but things can and do happen. Being aware of what can go wrong can help us to prevent those things.

Mike came to our home as a small, sick kitten who was not expected to live. He had pneumonia as a result of being abandoned outside during a very cold winter. His siblings did not survive.

With intensive care, he recovered, but it took quite a while... more than a year. Still, he grew into a very large cat. With his beautiful long coat, he looked just like a Maine Coon cat, and might even have been one.

I had almost decided never to adopt him from my rescue shelter, but then a volunteer fell in love with him and wanted him. I agreed to let her have him on a trial basis, since his health could still be an issue, and my policy was to adopt only healthy animals.

Unfortunately, she broke one of my rules... the one about giving the pet to someone else. It was a family member, however, and I eventually approved the move at her insistence, along with the fact that Mike was already there.

Sadly, though, that family member did not follow another rule... keeping the cat inside. He allowed Mike to play in the yard. And then one day, Mike didn't come home. Several of us spent nearly 6 months searching for him in that neighborhood.

Just when I was ready to give up and accept the probability that Mike had perished, someone spotted him at the local hoarder's house. I went to have a look, and it was, indeed, my Mike. The woman would not let me have him, however. She felt that his appearance was some kind of spiritual sign that Mike was meant to be hers, despite the fact that he was wearing his original collar with my contact information on his tag. (No, local law enforcement refused to get involved. But they did warn me not to trespass.)

Since it had been so long, Mike was not instantly happy to see me and come home with me, so I wasn't even able to entice him to leave her yard. I visited every day to be sure he was doing OK, but then I didn't see him for a while.

Without going into all the details, what happened next was the beginning of the end for Mike.

His collar may have stretched out, or he got caught on something, but his reaction was to try to escape from it by crawling out of it. First one leg, then... nothing. He got his leg stuck. The collar lodged under his arm pit and rubbed for weeks, creating a gaping wound.

The hoarder woman finally took him to the veterinarian, but all that was done was removal of the collar and sending her home with antibiotics to give him.

When the sore would not heal, she lost patience and resented the expense and bother, so she called me. I took him back in a hearbeat. But his sore had become severely infected.

I took him to another vet who had more interest in dealing with small animals. Mike had surgery and stayed in the hospital for a couple of weeks, but it didn't help. It was too late. I got a phone call one morning that Mike hadn't made it through the night. I was devastated. And I felt guilty for making bad decisions... letting someone I didn't fully trust take him as a pet, and I even questioned whether I should have left his collar on. Despite the fateful result, that was actually not the issue and presupposes an ability to tell the future.

Mike is on the right, relaxing on top of the deep freeze with his pals.

Mattie's ordeal had a much happier outcome. She was rescued from a farm where the owners were shooting all the cats on their place in preparation to move into town and give up the country life. They didn't think anyone would want all their cats, so they began methodically destroying them. I managed to get the last two out before it was their turn before the "firing squad."

Mattie was wearing a harness that looked like it had been put on her as a kitten. She grew, it didn't. She had deep grooves in her small chest, which probably did not develop normally due to the restriction. Although she didn't appear to have any trouble breathing, I believe she had adapted to the need to just take shorter breaths.

I took her harness off right away, then took pictures of the damage. She's all black, so it doesn't show well in photographs.

Her fur was in poor shape also... dull, coarse and full of dandruff. The harness also had rubbed off underlying fur, down to the skin, so she had what looked like white stripes around her chest.


After only 3 months on a better diet and being able to exercise to her heart's desire, she transformed into a very beautiful and shiny sleek cat. She's also very happy here and completely gives in to being massaged and petted, writhing in apparent ecstasy, then reaching for you when you try to quit.

So what is the lesson? It's hard to say, really. In Mike's case, removing his collar would have prevented his getting caught in it and leading to his death from infection. But it would have removed his identification. However, just because he had ID tags on didn't guarantee his safe return, either. Clearly, his was a case of humans letting him down. Law enforcement was no help. Appealing to his welfare with the hoarding woman made no difference. And the volunteer who made a huge scene about adopting him demonstrated only human selfishness. Mike, to her, was just a fluffy toy she wanted to possess. These attitudes make rescue work extremely difficult, not to mention, they often prevent a good outcome for most pets in any situation.

Mattie's case shows what indifference can do to a pet's quality of life. If we wish to keep pets, our responsibility is to pay attention to them and ensure their safety and health. Mattie's harness never should have been left on permanently. But I believe Mike's collar was appropriate because in the end, it did clearly identify that he was my cat. Where that case went wrong was in the refusal to look out for his welfare by those who should have taken the reponsibility.

In both cases, microchips would have made no difference, since vets in this area rarely use a scanner, plus, it was not an identification issue. In rural areas, the problem generally is that too many "barn cats" exist, so individual cats have no intrinsic value, which leads to too little concern for all cats. Thus, my mission has been to help people understand cats better so they will learn to appreciate them.

Copyright 2010 - Dr. RJ Peters 
The Problem Cat