We all know that our cats aren't big fans of the unknown. Even the bravest adventure kitty comes hardwired with a deep mistrust of anything new - whether it's a new visitor to the house or a new brand of food, everything must be sniffed, checked and vetted before being mentally filed in one of two mental boxes...
'OH THIS IS ACTUALLY OK'
'HOLY SMOKES THAT IS NOT OK!'
This wonderful cautiousness is a great thing, because it keeps our cats safe and balances out their natural curiosity. But what can you do to make sure 'collars' end up in your cats 'OK' mental box?!
1. CALM DOWN & BREATHE
2. GET THE COLLAR READY
If this is the first time your cat will be wearing a collar, or if it's worn them before but has had a bad experience and is already not a fan, there are a few things you can do to help this go smoothly.
The number 1 most important thing to do is to remove anything dangly from the collar before trying to put it on. This includes bells, identity tags, charms...anything but the plain band of the collar. Once your cat has adjusted to wearing a collar you can put all of that stuff back on. But first, let's keep it simple, and make sure that this collar gets kitty's mental seal of approval.
Note: Don't skip this step! Almost every time I've encountered a cat that struggles with wearing a collar, that difficulty can be traced back to the fact that they wore a bell or ID tag too soon.
If your collar is adjustable (like our Supakit ones) you can also make your life easier by getting it as close to the correct length as possible, so that you don't have to fiddle around with it too much once it's on. If your cat has an old collar lying about, then you can measure up off that one. If it's their first collar, you can sneakily use your fingers to measure your cat's neck while stroking them, and then use that as a rough guide when adjusting the length of the collar.
If your cat is an outdoor cat and it's possible to lock your cat flap it might be a good idea to do so, so that you can supervise them whilst wearing their collar indoors for a little while at first.
Now, just gather together a few kitty treats - whether it's dry snacks, ham, cheese... whatever gets your cat going. And you're good to go!
3. KITTY, MEET COLLAR
It's time to introduce your cat to their new collar. At this stage don't even think about trying to put it on (honestly, don't even think that thought because who knows cats can probably read minds).
Just unclasp the buckle of the collar and hold it up to your kitty, about 30cm away from them, so that they can choose whether to engage with it.
Because you're now holding a dangly new thing in front of them, almost all cats will wander over to give it a deeply suspicious sniff. If despite your best efforts your cat does nothing, it's probably so chilled out that it won't care about a collar anyway, and you can proceed cautiously to the next step.
If your cat does respond, let it sniff and inspect the collar. It is mentally crunching the numbers here. Does this look like something that is OK or not OK? Your cat might rub the side of its face on the collar. This is a really good sign.
Or it might try to claw at it or play with it. Don't let go of the collar if it does. Just progress smoothly to step 4.
4. PUTTING THE COLLAR ON
Staying very relaxed about the whole affair, get into a position where your cat is facing you head on. I know this is a ridiculous thing to say because the chances of a cat staying still for even one second are slim. But, you know, try your best.
Then, holding the far ends of the collar in each hand, you want to slide the collar under your kitty's chin and WHOOP! do it up at the top, with as little hesitation as possible.
This manoeuvre will take some practice so don't worry if you get it wrong the first few times. Honestly, your cat will forgive you.
The crucial thing is that you START UNDER THEIR CHIN and buckle up AT THE TOP. Why? Well, it's much less scary from the cat's perspective to have something approach it from the front than to swoop down on from above / behind.
If you just cannot get this method to work because your cat keeps running away or wriggling free, you can try asking someone to hold your cat in their arms while you execute the same manoeuvre. The same principle still applies - always approach your cat from the front, and do the collar up from their chin to the top.
However, I'd suggest that you only try the 'held' method second if you really can't get the 'floor' method to work. The reason is that being held might make your cat slightly less disposed to think of this as an OK experience.
At the end of the day, you know your cat. If it has a mortal fear of being picked up, then picking it up AND introducing it to a collar is probably not going to go well. On the other hand if it doesn't mind being held at all, then this might be an easier option.
5. TAKE STOCK
If you have a cat that is very relaxed about life, it might not have batted an eyelid at this entire experience. But it is equally possible that you will now be on the receiving end of a kitty death stare. I know, it's horrible - but don't worry, it won't last! It's just your cat telling you how much it hates having to work out how it feels about new things.
On that note, how is your cat feeling? Give them a few moments to take stock. Don't crowd them.
What happens next generally goes one of two ways. They might be a bit disgruntled for a moment, but then quickly relax into wearing their new collar. Congratulations, it's gone straight into the 'OK' box!
Alternatively they might run around like a crazy thing, roll around on the floor, or paw at their new collar. Let them do all of these things, it's part of the vetting process. Don't rush over in a panic thinking 'I'm the worst cat parent in the world' and take the collar off again. They'll soon calm down.
When that calm descends and you sense that they are teetering on the brink of a decision about whether this is going in the 'OK' or 'NOT OK' box, it's time to pull out the big guns. DEPLOY THE TREATS!
Give your kitty some of the treats you've brought with you and watch their mistrust start to melt and soften. 'Oh, this collar thing comes with snacks? Well then...'
As they start to come round you can pet them and reassure them that everything's OK.
6. CHECK FIT
Whilst stroking your cat see if you can surreptitiously check how the collar is looking. Make sure you haven't trapped any of their fur in the buckle when you did it up (if you did, just unclasp it and do it straight back up again, taking care to clear their fur out of the way).
Check the fit too - you want to be able to just about slide two fingers (next to each other) between your cat and its collar. If the fit is off, try to estimate how much longer/shorter you need the collar to be, take it off, adjust and put it on again (following the exact same process as above).
It's important that you get the fit right. Don't leave the collar too loose because you're worried about your cat. In fact, a loose collar is a dangerous collar as it's much more likely to catch on things in their environment, and could get stuck in their mouth.
7. BASK IN THE SUNSHINE OF YOUR SUCCESS
If you've managed to get to this stage all you have to do now is shower your kitty with love and affection and pat yourself on the back for doing so well! Try to leave the collar on your cat for an hour or so before removing it on this first encounter, and then build up over subsequent days until they are wearing their collar full time. Continue to offer your cat treats and lots of praise while you do so.
Eventually, if their collar is comfortable enough, they'll soon forget it's even there! Then you can finally start to add things back to the collar, like bells or ID tags - remembering that each one of these will be vetted by your cat. The good news is that you can use the exact same process you used for the collar to reassure them that these things are OK too.
Good luck, and let me know in the comments how you get on!