Registering Your Purrfect Companion. How to Get Your Cat Licensed in California

Introduction

In California, county and city laws require that all cats over the age of four months be licensed as a way to ensure rabies vaccinations are up to date and provide identification if a pet gets lost (Source: https://www.longbeach.gov/acs/programs-services/pet-licensing/). Getting a license for your cat provides several benefits, including quickly reuniting lost pets with their owners, funding animal control services, and rabies monitoring and prevention.

Obtain Proof of Rabies Vaccination

While there is no statewide rabies vaccination requirement for cats in California, many local cities and counties require it for licensing purposes (1). Check with your local animal control agency to see if your jurisdiction requires proof of a current rabies vaccine in order to license your cat. If so, you will need to provide documentation from your veterinarian showing your cat is up-to-date on its rabies shots (2).

Even if not strictly required, rabies vaccination is highly recommended for all cats in California. The rabies virus is present throughout the state and can be fatal if transmitted to humans or other animals. Keeping your cat current on its rabies vaccine protects your pet, your family, and your community (1). Consult with your veterinarian to ensure your cat receives its initial rabies vaccine around 12-16 weeks of age and booster vaccines every 1-3 years per label instructions (3).

When registering your cat, be prepared to provide details from the rabies certificate or vet records showing the vaccine name, date administered, and expiration date. This will satisfy local requirements and allow you to obtain your cat’s license.

(1) https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/pages/rabies.aspx
(2) http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/vet/docs/2022VetManual/CatRabiesVaccLicensing.pdf
(3) https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/CDPH%20Document%20Library/CARabiesLawsandRegulations.pdf

Microchip Your Cat

Microchipping your cat involves implanting a small chip under your cat’s skin that contains a unique identification number. This provides permanent identification if your cat ever gets lost or separated from you. As of January 1, 2022, California state law requires that all cats over 4 months of age be microchipped before they can be legally registered with a county animal services agency (see § 10.04.140 MANDATORY MICROCHIPPING OF DOGS AND CATS).

Microchipping is a quick and easy procedure that is performed by your veterinarian. A specialized needle injects the tiny microchip, about the size of a grain of rice, beneath your cat’s skin between the shoulder blades. The process is similar to getting a routine vaccination shot for your cat. Once implanted, the microchip lasts for your cat’s lifetime.

It’s highly recommended to get your cat microchipped by your vet before registering them with your local animal services agency. The microchip allows your cat to be identified if they ever get lost or separated from you. Your contact information registered with the microchip company allows your cat to be reunited with you.

Fill Out the License Application

In order to register your cat for a license in California, you must fill out a cat license application form. This form can typically be obtained online or from your local animal services department.

To get the form online, visit your county’s animal services website. For example, Los Angeles County residents can download the cat license application directly from the county’s website. The form can also be filled out and submitted electronically.

If you prefer a paper application, you can pick one up in person at your local animal services office. In Los Angeles, forms are available at all animal care centers and adoption partner locations.

The license application will require you to provide the following information:

  • Your name, address, and contact information
  • A description of your cat including name, age, breed, color, and markings
  • Proof of your cat’s current rabies vaccination
  • Proof your cat is spayed/neutered, if applicable

Make sure to fill out the form completely and legibly to avoid any processing delays. Double check that all required information is provided before submitting.

Pay the License Fee

The license fee you pay will depend on which county in California you live in. Fees are generally determined by the licensing period length (1 year or 3 years) as well as whether your cat is spayed/neutered or not.

For example, in Contra Costa County an unaltered cat with a rabies vaccine that expires in 3-12 months costs $65 for a 1 year license. But a spayed/neutered cat with a rabies vaccine that expires in 12-36 months only costs $28 for a 1 year license (source).

In Placer County, a 1 year license for an altered cat is $17 while an unaltered cat is $25. Three year license fees are $46 for altered and $70 for unaltered (source).

And in Anaheim, an unaltered cat license for 1 year is $159 while a spayed/neutered license is just $28 (source).

So be sure to check with your local county animal services department for the specific licensing fees in your area.

Submit the Application

Once you’ve filled out the cat license application and obtained the proper vaccinations and microchip, it’s time to submit it. There are a couple options for submitting your cat license application in California:

In Person: You can bring your completed application, proof of rabies vaccination, and payment to your local animal care or animal control office. For example, in Los Angeles County you can submit your application at any LA County animal care center (https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/licensing/).

By Mail: You can also mail in your completed cat license application, proof of rabies vaccination, and payment to your local animal licensing department. Make sure to check the mailing address for your specific county or city. For example, in Placer County you would mail your application to “Pet Licensing” at 2236 Fair Oaks Blvd, Suite D, Sacramento, CA 95825 (https://www.placer.ca.gov/1921/Licensing-Fees).

The deadline for renewing a cat license is typically the same month the previous license expired. For new licenses, submit the application as soon as possible after obtaining the rabies vaccination and microchip.

Receive the License

After submitting your cat’s license application and fee, you will receive the license tag and certificate in the mail within 2-3 weeks (Pet Licenses – Los Angeles County Animal Care). The license will arrive as a small metal tag that must be securely fastened to your cat’s collar. This collar tag displays the license number and current year, serving as proof your cat is licensed in California.

Having your cat properly wear the license tag is important for several reasons. First, it allows animal control or shelters to quickly identify your cat if he/she gets lost. The tag number can be used to access your registration information and contact you. Second, it shows you have complied with state licensing laws requiring all cats over 4 months old to have a current rabies vaccination and license.

Renew the License

Cat licenses in California must be renewed annually. According to the Los Angeles County Animal Care website, “The license period is 12 months from the date of issuance” (https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/licensing/). This means you will need to renew your cat’s license every year to keep it current.

It’s important to renew on time because late fees may apply if the renewal is not completed by the expiration date. For example, in Long Beach, a $20 late fee is charged for license renewals more than 30 days past the prior license expiration date (https://www.longbeach.gov/acs/programs-services/pet-licensing/). To avoid late fees, mark your calendar and renew your license before it expires.

The renewal process is quick and easy. Typically you can renew online, by mail, or in person just as you did for the initial license registration. Be sure to have your renewal notice or prior license number handy to reference during the renewal process.

Exceptions and Special Cases

There are some exceptions to the general cat licensing requirements in California. Kittens under 4 months old are exempt from licensing requirements, as the rabies vaccination is typically not given until a kitten is at least 12 weeks old. Once the kitten is vaccinated, a license can be obtained.

Feral and community cats who are part of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs may also be exempt from licensing laws. TNR programs work to humanely reduce feral cat populations through sterilization, vaccinations, and returning cats to their outdoor homes. According to CA Consolidated Cat Laws, feral cats may be euthanized or relinquished to a non-profit animal organization. Local ordinances may also provide exceptions for TNR cats.

Conclusion

Registering your cat in California provides important benefits to you as an owner and to the community. By licensing your cat, you help ensure rabies vaccinations are up-to-date, provide a way to identify lost cats, and support local animal services. The registration process involves obtaining proof of rabies vaccination, microchipping your cat, filling out the license application, paying the license fee, and submitting the application to receive the license tag. Licenses must be renewed annually. Registering your cat is one way responsible cat owners can follow local regulations and do their part to support pet health and safety.

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