The moral of the story is - keep a close watch on the tightness of collars especially on growing cats. Do not rely on elasticity to save the day, because there is a limit to the amount of stretch possible before the material fails completely. Kittens grow very rapidly, so that a collar that is loose when first secured can become too tight within a couple of months. Another problem with elasticised collars is that they can still cause strangulation if they get twisted before the cat is able to get out of them. A solution is to use a breakaway-type collar, which has a safety buckle that should release when placed under tension, although failures reportedly occur.
Other horror stories regarding collars include cats getting a bottom jaw or tooth caught in them or even a leg, with very unfortunate consequences if no one is there to help the cat. The RSPCA in Armidale (Australia) rescued a cat with a collar caught around its middle - the cat had ghastly wounds as a result and was starving. Another though lesser problem is that some cats end up with so many tags on their collars that they find difficulty in resting their chin/neck comfortably on their paws, as they like to do. Of course there are the rodeo exhibitions as well, cats just don't like collars initially at least, and unless necessary for ID purposes would be happier without them. Reports are that cats take more kindly to very soft elasticised collars than any other type.
A fact sheet put out by the Mammal Society but unfortunately no longer
available on their website showed that putting
bells on cats does not limit their hunting ability, in fact belled cats in one
study caught more wildlife than their unbelled equivalents. Some reasons given
were that belled cats learn to move even more stealthily, the bells are not loud
enough to alert wildlife of danger anyway, and inertia holds the clanger
stationary and therefore silent when the cat makes the final attacking leap. At
least two other studies have highlighted that the belling of cats has no effect
on number of birds caught. "The efficiency of fitting cats with bells is
contentious. Barrette (1998), found that belling of cats has no significant
effect on the amount of prey caught. The result of the longer study by Woods et
al. shows that fewer mammals (mainly rodents) were killed and brought home by
cats that were equipped with bells BUT bird capture rates were not affected.
Bells may serve as a warning to rodents and other mammals of a predator's
approach, but birds may rely largely on visual cues in predator avoidance
behavior or they may not hear the bell due to its acoustic qualities (Woods et
al.). Coleman et al. (1997) suggests that wild
animals don't necessarily associate the ringing of the bell with danger and that
some cats with bells on their collars learn to stalk their prey silently."
Barrette D.G. (1998). Predation by house cats, Felis catus (L.), in Canberra, Australia, II. Factors affecting the amount of prey caught and estimates of the impact on wildlife. Wildlife Research. 25: 475-487.
Woods M., McDonald R.A. and Harris S. (2003). Predation of wildlife by domestic cats Felis catus in Great Britain. The Mammal Society.
Of considerable concern is the behavioural changes that bells may cause. They might sound innocuous to human ears but cats have more sensitive hearing and it is easy to understand how some could become deeply affected by a constant tinkling noise next to their ears every time they moved. Noise, even slight noise, has a cumulative effect in humans and this could well apply to other species as well. Reported problems caused by bells include cats repeatedly managing to get their collars off until the bells were removed; bottom jaws getting caught in collars for this reason (with a potentially disastrous outcome for the cat); another cat that exhibited depression and reluctance to move until the bell was removed; still another that would only creep about very slowly and even stopped eating until the bell was taken off the collar. And finally some truly sad stories about belled cats being killed by dogs alerted to their presence by the tinkling of the bell.
Birds and other prey are usually very much aware of the presence of a stalking cat, belled or unbelled. It has frequently been observed that birds will deliberately taunt cats, swooping at and screeching at them and not moving any great distance away, or by sitting out an attack that is obviously going to occur until the very last moment before flying out of harm's way. It is very much a "catch me if you can situation" and one has to wonder whether this is nature's way of ensuring that the prey/predator cycle continues. The silent approach is not the whole secret to being a successful predator; other factors are at work, some of which may be contributed by the prey itself.
As an adjunct to the preceding paragraph, some birds actively terrorise cats to the point of almost physically attacking them. Plovers certainly do this when nesting, making most cats run for their lives, also magpies, mynahs and choughs have been observed behaving similarly.
For the really genuine bird killers out their (and they do exist) the CatBib might be the answer. It would appear to be a much more effective solution than bells. Kinder to cats, too - provided it is used in the recommended way and removed when it is not necessary e.g. when puss is indoors. A criticism is that it could get caught on sharp objects (e.g. wire fences) therefore extra care needs to be taken to ensure that collars really will come off cats in such an emergency - check the collar is not too tight and/or that there is still elasticity in elastic inserts, check functioning of break-away mechanisms.
More cat welfare topics
TheCatSite.com - The Place on the net for cat lovers!