Denise is a freelance writer of many genres, an animal rescuer and advocate, and a spirituality and paranormal enthusiast.
If you have a lost or missing beloved pet dog or cat, time is of the essence. Begin your search immediately, as soon as you notice your pet is missing. The more time that passes, the farther away your lost animal companion can travel, and the more dangers he or she can encounter. Keep in mind that lost or missing pets can become so frightened and confused that they may wander a great distance and/or hide in precarious locations. Therefore, your search should reach far and wide.
Above all, do not lose hope or give up on your search. There are many accounts of pets being lost or missing for months, even years, who have been found and reunited with their owners. The following tips offer in-depth, practical advice and resources that may help you find your beloved pet dog or cat quickly and safely.
There are several reasons why a pet dog or cat might run away, as well as why they may choose not to return home even if they are able.
Common if they are not spayed or neutered.
Hunting and acting upon their predative instinct.
Loneliness or Boredom
Seeking interaction with other animals or people, or a desire to explore their environment.
When a door, window or gate is left open or is broken.
Something or someone frightened them.
Neglect and/or Abuse
They are, or were, routinely neglected and/or abused.
If they are continuously chained, tethered, or confined.
Overcrowding and/or Competition for Resources
If there are too many pets in the household (Note: you are also a resource).
They are new to the household and are searching for their former home or habitat.
Privacy and Safety
They wish to hide from meddlers or predators in order to give birth, or they wish to die in peace.
They wish to return to a location where they recently gave birth and/or are searching for their litter.
Domestic dogs and cats are generally social creatures who desire and deserve interaction and affection, activity or stimulus and to be cared for properly. People who keep a pet dog or cat continuously tethered, chained or confined to a limited space and deprive the animal of exercise or positive stimulation, interaction, affection and proper care simply should not own a pet.
Denying an animal appropriate mobility, attention, affection and proper care is actually considered neglect and/or abuse. Pet dogs and cats who run away from neglect and abusive situations will probably not wish to return home. Quite honestly, they should not be returned to such an environment.
Immediately notify the microchip company that your pet is lost and make sure that your contact information is up-to-date. Animal control officers, animal shelters and veterinarians routinely check stray animals for microchips in an effort to return lost pets to their owners quickly. Some individuals who find lost pets will take them to a veterinarian or animal shelter in order to have the animal scanned for a microchip. A few microchip companies such as HomeAgain® provide a lost pet alert service that notifies local animal shelters, vet clinics and area residents about lost microchipped pets in their community.
Although the chances of your lost or missing pet being found and reunited with you are much greater if the animal is microchipped, do not rely solely upon a microchip to recover your lost or missing pet. For various reasons, microchips can occasionally fail and not all brands of microchip scanners can detect or read all brands of microchips. Plus, not all individuals who find a lost pet will know to have the animal scanned for a microchip. Therefore, you should be proactive in the search for your lost or missing pet dog or cat.
Heed the saying: “Leave no stone unturned.” Thoroughly search your home, your property and community property, including any and all buildings or structures on the property. Remember to check under beds, in closets, under vehicles, bushes, in alleyways, crawl spaces, attics, compartments, cubby-holes—inside, beneath, overhead and behind any and all potential hiding places. Cats, in particular, can leap or climb very high as well as squeeze into very tight spaces.
Ask your family members or roommates where and when they last saw your pet. If your pet is hiding or sleeping somewhere, shaking a food bowl with a little pet food in it or a container of treats might lure your pet out of hiding. If the animal is frightened, he or she may not answer your call or come to you willingly.
If your pet is not found at home, you should still search your home and property periodically. Even if you are notified that your lost pet was seen in a distant location, if he or she is on the loose, continue to search your home and property regularly in case they are willing and able to return home on their own.
If your pet dog or cat is apprehended by an individual or an animal control officer, he or she will most likely be surrendered to an animal shelter or rescue organization. Many animal shelters house stray animals for a very brief period of time before offering the animal for public adoption or, unfortunately, eliminating the animal. So, time is of the essence!
Call or visit each animal shelter to register your pet as lost by filing a lost pet report. (You may be able to register with some shelters online.) Provide the shelters with a photo of your lost pet and identifying information or a lost pet flyer. Be sure to contact all the animal shelters in all surrounding or adjacent cities and counties within a 60-mile radius. Pets can wander a tremendous distance or be picked up and transported/relocated by another person. Animal shelters service limited jurisdictions and, unfortunately, there is no central database connecting all shelters and their inventory of animals.
You may need to call or visit the animal shelters every day or as often as possible. It is best if you can visit the shelters every day to personally view the animals they have on-hand and to inquire about animals who "did not make it." Animal shelters receive many animals every day and they are generally under-staffed, overworked and overwhelmed. Information about your lost pet dog or cat will probably not be communicated to every staff member and volunteer at the shelters. Even the staff and volunteers who are informed about your lost or missing pet may not recognize your animal and make the connection, but you will.
Animals of the same breed can often look very similar, and the appearance of loose and wandering animals can change drastically from weight loss, hair loss/matting, injuries, being soiled, etc. So, do not expect or rely upon the animal shelters to contact you. Take the initiative in your quest.
Was Your Pet Stolen?
Immediately contact the police if you believe your missing pet dog or cat has been stolen!
Immediately contact the police if you believe your missing pet dog or cat has been stolen! If there are no animal shelters or rescue organizations within the area or region where your pet went missing, then you should contact Animal Control at the local police departments within a 60-mile radius to initiate a lost pet report or obtain further instructions.
Your lost pet flyer should be printed on brightly-colored paper and contain a clear, full-body color photo of your pet as well as a brief description such as breed, color, age, gender, weight and any identifying markings or apparel, i.e. collar, sweater, etc. Also, include the date and address or name of the last known location and your contact information. If the last known location was your home, for safety reasons, DO NOT include your house or apartment number, only the street name and/or building name.
The Humane Society recommends that you leave out one identifying characteristic and ask the person who claims to have found your pet to describe it.
To increase the chances that someone will pay attention to your lost pet flyer and be motivated to assist with locating and returning your lost pet, you should place the word “REWARD” at the very top of the flyer in big, bold letters. You do not need to advertise the amount of the reward or disclose it to anyone until your lost pet is found and reunited with you. If possible, it is best to laminate the lost pet flyers that you will post at any outdoor locations.
Your lost pet posters should be printed on brightly-colored paper, laminated and large enough to be visible and readable from a vehicle traveling through the intersection. Since drivers will have limited time and attention to devote to reading your lost pet poster, you should keep the information brief and direct. At the top of the poster, place the word “REWARD” in big, bold letters, then state “Lost Dog” or “Lost Cat.” In the center of the poster, display a large, clear picture of your pet, and below that list your telephone number in big, bold numbers.
Walk or drive around your neighborhood and surrounding areas. If you are driving, DO NOT call out your pet’s name. If your pet is within hearing range by the time they reach the location they think your voice originated from, you will have moved on and they may be reluctant to respond to your voice again.
Inquire with all neighbors, businesses and any people you may encounter on your search. Show a photo of your pet, or better yet, hand a lost pet flyer to everyone you speak to so they will have your information on-hand and may be able to share it with others. Get permission before searching a neighbor’s property. If a neighbor is not at home, leave a lost pet flyer at their door. Ask local businesses to post a lost pet flyer in their establishments, especially vet clinics, pet supply stores, grocery and hardware stores.
You may want to carry a little of your pet's favorite food or treat with you in case you do encounter them on your search because food could motivate them to come to you.
If you do find your pet, here's what not to do:
Instead, slowly and calmly approach your pet. If possible, squat or kneel, and if you do speak to them do so in a soft, calm, loving voice (while projecting thoughts, feelings, and intentions of love and safety). They might come to you, especially if you have a favorite food or treat to offer. Slowly and gently attach a leash or pick them up.
Important: Once you have your pet in your possession or in your car or home, DO NOT yell, scold, hit or kick them. Not only is such behavior abusive, unnecessarily cruel and counter-productive, but the emotional and psychological trauma could cause them to want to run away again.
Most newspapers and general classifieds circulars offer a free listing for lost-and-found pets in their classifieds section. Even if there is a cost involved in advertising your lost pet, it may well be worth the expense. If possible, title your ad “REWARD” for the same reasons as your lost pet flyer. Utilize the circulation expanse of as many newspapers and classifieds circulars as possible because animals can become so frightened and confused that they wander far from home. And, if they are picked up by someone along the way, they could end up many miles or several cities away.
The Humane Society recommends to omit one identifying characteristic when describing your lost pet on flyers and in advertisements. Ask the person who claims to have found your pet to describe your pet thoroughly, and if they fail to mention the identifying characteristic you omitted, they may not really have your pet.
Make a note of each newspaper and classifieds circular that you advertise in and their individual publication dates. Some may be willing to run your lost pet ad indefinitely until you request that they discontinue the ad. For most publications, you will have to resubmit your lost pet advertisement periodically according to their classifieds publication schedule—be it 5 days, 7 days, 10 days, bi-weekly, etc. Don’t forget to also routinely check the "Lost and Found Pets" classifieds section of the newspapers and classifieds circulars in case someone listed your lost pet as being found.
Free online classifieds such as Craigslist, eBay Classifieds, ClassifiedAds.com, etc. offer another venue for advertising your lost or missing pet dog or cat within your region.
Never underestimate the power of social networking. Send descriptive emails about your lost pet to your local family, friends and associates and ask that they share the email with anyone they can. You can create a descriptive digital card about your lost pet and share it on all your social networks such as Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc. Ask your friends to share the digital card with all their friends.
You could also create a temporary Facebook page dedicated to finding your lost pet and enlist the help of potentially hundreds of people. Also, consider listing your lost pet on established lost and found pet pages on Facebook. Search for a Facebook page that services your state and/or city or region. Examples: Lost and Found Dogs—Virginia; Lost and Found Dogs—Richmond, Virginia; Virginia Lost and Found Cats.
Once your lost or missing pet dog or cat is reunited with you, remember to delete your temporary Facebook page and/or update your social networks and your posts so that people do not continue to search for a pet that is no longer lost or missing.
There are several companies and organizations dedicated to reuniting you with your lost pet dog or cat. In addition to free advice, many companies provide free or inexpensive assistance with creating and circulating lost pet flyers, posting classified ads, lost pet database listings, alerting neighbors and community pet businesses and organizations. They also provide professional lost pet locating and recovery services.
Remember to make a list of any companies and organizations that you enlist help from so when your lost or missing pet is found, you can quickly and easily update your pet’s status as found or cancel your listing with each company and organization. Otherwise, your community’s resources, time and effort will be wasted continuing to search for a pet that is no longer lost or missing.
Humane catch-and-release animal traps can be very effective for capturing cats and small dogs. Set a trap on your property and/or in the area of the last known location of your lost pet. Place several layers of newspaper or cardboard or an old towel or blanket in the bottom of the trap(s) for comfort, to prevent injury to an animal’s paws, and for easier clean-up should an animal relieve themselves while trapped.
To camouflage the fact that the trap is a trap, you can hide the trap between bushes or arrange tree branches or straw on the top and sides of the trap or drape a towel or blanket over the trap. Bait the trap(s) with your pet’s favorite food or treat and an item that has their scent or your scent on it, such as a favorite toy or a shirt you have worn. The bait used in the trap(s) should be changed daily or as often as necessary to prevent it from becoming saturated, spoiled or moldy.
Traps should be checked at least once a day but ideally various times throughout the day and evening. (Dogs are more active during the day and cats are more active at night.) It is possible that other unexpected, uninvited critters may land themselves in your trap(s). Should this happen, they should be compassionately released by you or an animal control officer as soon as possible. If the trap is successful in capturing your pet but is left unattended for a long period of time, your pet will be without food or water and exposed to the elements during that time as well as other potential dangers.
Some animal welfare organizations, such as a local Humane Society, will loan or rent humane animal traps to individuals. If you decide to purchase humane animal traps and, after procuring your pet, you choose not to keep the traps, please consider donating the traps to a local Humane Society, an animal shelter, an animal rescue organization or a wildlife preservation organization.
There is always the risk of possible injury to your pet or another animal when using humane traps. Be sure to monitor the trap carefully and refrain from releasing any aggressive wildlife without the supervision of a licensed handler.
When talking to a stranger who claims to have found your pet, ask them to describe your pet thoroughly before you offer any information. If they do not include the identifying characteristic you left out of your lost pet flyers and advertisements, then they may not really have your pet.
Be particularly wary of people who insist that you give or wire them money for the return of your pet if you have not offered a reward. If you have offered a reward, it would be wise to wait until you actually have your pet in your possession before paying the reward money.
The following resources provide additional tips to help find lost pets as well as (free or inexpensive) assistance with creating and distributing lost pet flyers and notifying the community about your lost or missing pet dog or cat. Also included are professional lost pet locating and recovery services:
© 2014 DC Ziese
DC Ziese (author) from Virginia, USA on September 08, 2020:
peachy, thank you for your comment. I am glad to know your cat was reunited with you!
peachy from Home Sweet Home on September 05, 2020:
Great tips, my cat was once lowt for 2 weeks. She lost her way because she cannot hear, slightly blind. Luckily she was found at the backlane of shophouses
Donna J. Coffelt on April 24, 2018:
Thank you for giving advice on how to find my cat. I will use the valuable resources to help find her. Wish me good luck and say a prayer that I will find my cat " Cuddles". Thank you!
DC Ziese (author) from Virginia, USA on January 24, 2015:
Hello Bryan. Thank you for your comment. I did invest a lot of time and effort in the research and composition of this article, but if it helps even just one person to find their beloved pet, then it is worth it.
DC Ziese (author) from Virginia, USA on January 24, 2015:
catlady, thank you for your comment. I did try to be thorough, and I do hope the info will be helpful.
Bryan on January 23, 2015:
I know it took a lot of time and effort to write this, and I want you to know it is truly appreciated! Contains tons of helpful advice. Many folks will not think of some of these tactics on their own, especially while consumed with concern and grief for their lost pet. Thanks so much for composing this article. :-)
catlady on January 23, 2015:
Very thorough and helpful. Thank you for writing this!
Submitting a Lost Pet Form is the fastest way to schedule on-site assistance or receive an on-site estimate.
Danielle Robertson, owner of Lost Pet Research and Recovery, has been helping people find their missing pets since 2009. Her cat detection dog Dante has been finding missing cats since 2010.
She has a B.A. in wildlife ecology and received training as a Missing Animal Response Technician through Missing Pet Partnership and the Missing Animal Response Network.
To learn more about Danielle and Dante, visit the About page or click on the tabs above.
Visit the Testimonials page to see what past clients have to say.
Unlike many pet detectives, I am currently focused full-time on finding lost pets and can often schedule services the same day or the following day. A Lost Pet Form is the fastest way to schedule on-site services.
Phone Consultations are available anywhere in the United States. Beyond the US, consultations may be conducted via web conference. Consultations can often be scheduled the same day or the following day after they are purchased. Email consultations are available anywhere in the world.
On-Site Assistance is primarily available within 25-miles of South Hadley, MA (near Springfield). This includes parts of Hampshire, Hampden, and Franklin Counties in Massachusetts and parts of Hartford County, Connecticut. Limited availability up to 50-miles. For current availability, please submit a Lost Pet Form.
Many volunteer and even professional lost pet recovery specialists (a.k.a. pet detectives) have minimal knowledge and training in both domestic and wild animal behavior. Danielle Robertson has a B.A. in Wildlife Ecology and has worked as a wildlife biologist, environmental consultant, and veterinary assistant. She became certified as a Missing Animal Response Technician through Missing Pet Partnership in 2008, and she continues to study dog and cat behavior through seminars and the scientific literature.
Search your neighborhood every day until your pet is found. Post notices throughout the neighborhood using a clear, up-to-date photo. Talk to your neighbors and any neighborhood businesses. Offering a reward can also be helpful.
It’s every pet parent’s nightmare: Your dog or cat has gotten loose and you don’t know where he or she is. Don’t panic—there are steps you can take to locate your pet. Swift action, coupled with major neighborhood networking, will increase the odds of having your furry friend back in your arms. The key is to get the word out to as many people in as many places as possible, so don’t be shy about enlisting the help of your friends and family in the search efforts.
Remember, identification can be a lifesaver for a lost pet. It’s a good idea for all your animal companions—even indoor-only pets—to always wear a collar with an ID tag that includes your name, current phone number and any relevant contact information. If you’ve chosen to microchip your pet as a means of permanent identification, keep in mind that microchips are only as good as the information provided to the chip’s company. If you’ve moved or changed your phone number since registering your pet’s chip, be sure to submit an update as soon as possible. July 1 is National ID Your Pet Day, which serves as an annual check-in to make sure your pets’ identification information is up to date.
If your pet does go missing, below are actions you can take to begin the search process.
Search Your Home and Alert Neighbors
As soon as you notice your pet is missing, talk to your family members or housemates and ask where they last saw your pet. Search your home carefully—under beds, in closets, dark places, small places, behind bulky furniture—in case your pet may be hiding or sleeping somewhere. Shaking a food dish, treat jar or favorite toy will sometimes lure animals out of a hiding place. If you are sure your pet is not in or around the home, take a slow ride or walk around your neighborhood. Bring along a recent photo of your pet and ask neighbors if they’ve seen him or her. Check under porches and shrubs, and ask neighbors to check in sheds and garages in case your pet was accidently locked in.
Work the Phones
Calls should be made to the local animal control agencies, veterinary hospitals, shelters (both municipal and private) and rescue groups in your area. One of them may already have your pet in custody. Check in with shelters daily—and pay these visits in person with photos of your pet to distribute to shelter staff. If there are no shelters close to your home, contact the police.
Tell Your Social Media Networks
Send an email about your lost pet to local friends, colleagues and family members and ask them to pass on the information to anyone they can. Then, be sure to share the news with your social media networks. Most communities have local “Lost Pet” Facebook pages where they will post information about missing pets. Reach out to those page administrators and see if they will share information about your pet. You can create your own Facebook page or digital card for your lost pet, and share it across your social networks—and ask friends and family to spread the word to their contacts.
Create a “Lost Pet” Flyer
You’ll want to create a flyer that will stand out and get noticed by people who may have seen your pet. Repeated viewings of a consistent message are more likely to stick in people’s minds, so we recommend sticking with one design for your flyer.
Start with a big, bold headline that people can read from a distance, like “LOST DOG” or “MISSING CAT.” Include a clearly printed, recent photo of your pet and list the breed, sex, coloring, age, weight, any distinguishing features and when and where he or she was last seen. Provide your name and two phone numbers: yours and a friend or family member’s in case you cannot be reached.
Blanket the Neighborhood
Good places to post your flyers include dog parks and runs, pet supply stores and pet grooming shops and veterinary offices. Various commercial establishments like grocery and convenience stores, gas stations, laundromats, bars, cafes and restaurants are other good high-traffic options.
Cover lampposts and trees near where you think your pet was lost, and around busy commercial and pedestrian sections of town. Put up flyers around schools or at kids’-eye level. Children can be more observant than adults, especially when it comes to animals.
Don’t Give Up!
This one is important! Remember that many lost animals have found their way back home.
Pets Located uses a proprietary matching engine to continually match 'lost' pets against 'found' pets on the database. This takes place 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Whenever a lost pet's details are deemed to be a good match to a found pet's details, an email is automatically sent to the owner of the lost pet alerting them of the potential match. Communication can then be made with the Finder through this site's secure messaging service.
At Pets Located we have a menagerie of animals between us and understand how distressing it can be when a pet goes missing. Who's to say when your pet might turn up? Even if you have given up hope, we will still be searching and matching on your behalf during the whole time you have an active registration.