So You’ve Lost Your Pet…Now What?

Your heart skips. Your stomach drops. Panic sets in. You begin shouting your pet’s name as you get short of breath. You are already running through a million scenarios of what is happening to your beloved pet—until you find your dog or cat lying on the couch you’re sure you already checked.

However, that scenario does not always end with such quick relief. According to the APPA’s 2011/2012 National Pet Owners Survey, more than 20 million pets go missing every year.

Preventative Measures
The same APPA survey also shows that one out of every three pets will get lost at some point during his or her lifetime. Here is what you should do to prevent your animal companion from becoming one of those statistics.

• Get your pet microchipped. This is usually done when your pet is spayed or neutered. If not, be sure to inquire about this easy procedure at your vet’s office. If someone finds your pet, shelters, rescues, animal control centers, and vets can scan the microchip to bring up your contact information.

• Have your vet scan the microchip at each checkup to make sure that it is in the right spot and that the information is up to date and correct.

• Have pictures of your pet either printed out or saved digitally so you can make fliers without wasting valuable searching time.

• Replace and update your pet’s ID collar tag. Some tags become difficult to read due to wear and tear. You should have two phone numbers on the tag, and at least one should have voicemail enabled.

• Have contact information printed directly on collar. Tags can fall off and information can be difficult for a person to read if the animal is wary of strangers.

• Secure fences and gates. Dogs can dig underneath fences and can escape through unlatched gates. Make sure your yard is enclosed to prevent your outside cat from escaping.

Next: Steps to take if your pet gets lost

What to Do if 
Your Pet Gets Lost
Here are some key resources to help with your search:

Stay positive––if you keep at it and take these steps, you have a good chance of recovering your pet one way or the other. Remind yourself that 90 percent of pets are returned safe and sound.

• Call all surrounding police departments, veterinary clinics, emergency animal care clinics, animal control centers, humane societies, shelters, and rescues. Nearly a third of all lost pets are found more than 10 miles away from home, so alerting a wide circle is important. Give them your pet’s name, breed, size, color, sex, and where she was last seen. Email or post photos, make sure they have your contact info, and call daily for updates. Don’t rely on them to call you.

• Alert your local park district. Dogs and cats will often wander to parks or open fields. If there is an alert out amongst park district workers, the chance of your pet being found increases.

• Register your pet on an online database. Websites like LostFoundPets, HomeAgain, LostPetUSA, etc., allow you to enter your pet’s information into a national database and search posts on found pets.

• Create “LOST PET” fliers that you can post around the neighborhood, at shelters, businesses, or hand out as mailers. The more eyes and ears you can alert about your lost pet increases your chances of being reunited. (Download our one-stop “LOST PET” flier template online at

• Create an ad that can be placed in the local newspapers and websites (such as Craigslist). This should be short and to the point with necessary information for identifying your pet and contacting you. These usually run between $5-$30, and sometimes you can add a photo.

• Check lists of animals on the websites of shelters, rescues, and other animal welfare agencies. You cannot always depend on people to remember your pet even if you’ve taken the previous steps, so looking through the lists of found pets should be a daily task.

• Check lists of deceased animals that have been found by shelters, rescues, and other animal welfare agencies. While this may be the last place you want to check, if your pet is on that list, it is important for your own well being that you know.

• Make sure that you are diligently checking your voicemail and/or email. You want to be notified immediately if your pet has been found.

• Walk and drive around your neighborhood and places you visit with your pet. Your pet may follow the path you take on your walk or find somewhere familiar. Bring a toy to squeak or a bag of treats to shake. Use words that bring your pet home besides just her name.

• Take breaks to allow yourself to recuperate and process the information you have.

Next: What to do if you find a lost pet

When You Find A Lost Pet
The majority of lost pets are found by people other than their caretakers. If you happen to come across a lost pet, here are the steps you should take:

• Get the animal to safety. If the animal has wandered into the street, try to get him/her off the road without putting yourself in harm’s way.

• Think “Lost,” not “Stray.” Don’t assume that the animal has been abandoned. The chance is that there is a family out there looking for their beloved pet. If it is a cat, it may be feral.

• Look for ID tags. If the animal has a collar with contact information on it, try to get a look at the tag and then call the phone number. A pet license can be traced by animal control.

• Notify the authorities. If there are no tags or you cannot get close enough to the animal, call animal control or one of your local humane shelters. These places can scan the animal for a microchip and then contact the caretaker.

• If you don’t keep the animal yourself while you look, do keep up-to-date on the animal’s status once you drop him off with animal care and control or a shelter. If the animal does not have a caretaker, is not claimed, and may possibly be put down, you will want to know. Let them know if you are potentially interested in adopting the animal if that is the case. You can also foster the animal until the caretaker is found.

• Place an ad in the “Found Pets” section of your newspaper. You should do this for at least two weeks. The notice should contain your contact information and identifying information about the animal.

• Create a “FOUND PET” flier that you can post around the neighborhood, at local businesses and shelters. (Don’t forget that you can visit to download an easy “FOUND PET” flier template.)

• Check the “LOST PET” sections in local newspapers and websites of local animal welfare agencies. This should be done every day.

• If someone contacts you to claim the pet, ask for verifying information from them. Contact information for the person’s veterinarian will allow you to confirm that the person is indeed the caretaker of the animal.

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Selected by Laura Drucker, TAILS Editor


Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla5 years ago


Carrie Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Rama H.
Rudy V6 years ago

This is really good information. I rescued four Rottweilers the day after July 4th. They
had traffic backed up in both directions, because they were standing in the middle of the
road. These poor guys did not know what to do. Being a dog trainer, I figured the best way to get them to come
to my car was to offer treats and water. Once they realized what I had, all four of them jumped
in my vehicle. They were so heat exhausted and thirsty.
So, what to do next ? Well, we went to the nearest veterinarian and had them scanned for
a micro-chip. Thank goodness they had one. Within the hour, they were back home.
The micro-chip is the way to go.

Angie B.
Angela B6 years ago

My dogs ran off a few times and it always meant a paniced few hours of driving around the area to find them. They usually stayed together, thank goodness, with the younger one following the older one.

Terry V.
Terry V6 years ago


federico bortoletto
federico b6 years ago

Grazie per i consigli.

galina m.
galina Med6 years ago

Thanks for the advice and comments!

Yvette T.
Past Member 6 years ago

So difficult to lose pets! I found only one, and later, she got lost again, and I was too shy to knock on doors on the neighboring street when I heard that she was inside one of the homes there! Also difficult to try to help when pets are lost, especially when their "owners" show up and are vicious and disgusting, and the reason becomes all too clear why the pet was roaming the streets or highways to begin with! They run away from cruel and insane people.
This is such a good article, and the comments are also helpful. I hesitate to chip my cat, due to health concerns. Thankfully, she prefers to remain indoors 99% of the time.

Beth Talmage
Beth Talmage6 years ago

The Missing Pet Partnership is a great resource for lost pets. They have incredibly useful tips about the behavior of pets that go missing--the best information I have ever seen, and I spent a year looking for my brother's missing cat. I encourage everyone to take a look at their website, bookmark it, and go there IMMEDIATELY if your pet is missing: Their recommendations may help bring your pet home--I am sure they will change the way you search.

Kara C.
Kara C6 years ago

More things you can do is ensure that your dog knows where their home is and the area you live in, take them for daily walks letting them go where they want to and up all the side streets. Then when you come home watch for them walking towards your house when you get there, this shows they know where home is.

Also if your dog does get out tie a recently worn shirt or item of clothing that will smell like you to the front fence or letter box and place another at the door, they do by smell and they often wander home on their own.

On another note it is important to teach dogs road safety so if they do get out they won't go charging down the middle of the street, only allow them to walk in gutters or on footpaths; and when you cross the road make them stop, wait then say cross and make them cross quickly without stopping. They should treat bituman like lava.