9 Things to Do When Your Pet Goes Missing

Losing your pet is a scary experience. Here’s what to do when you can’t find Fluffy or Fido.
A pet owner's worst nightmare.
A pet owner's worst nightmare. / Jeffrey Coolidge/Stone/Getty Images

No matter what precautions you take and how careful you are, sometimes pets slip out. Losing an animal is a very stressful situation, but it’s important to stay calm, act fast, and prepare a comprehensive plan of action. Here are nine things you should do if your pet ever goes missing. 

Thoroughly check your home. 

Search places in your home where Fluffy or Fido may have become trapped, including the basement, garage, closets, cabinets, crawl spaces, sheds, and areas that may be under renovation [PDF]. If you have a fenced-in yard, head outside and check for any holes in or under the perimeter that your pet may have escaped through. It wouldn’t hurt to shake a bag of your cat or dog’s favorite treats and call out their name while you look.

Contact local animal shelters to report your pet missing.

photo of a cat crouched under a car
Hopefully your pet didn't wander far. / Catherine Falls Commercial/Moment/Getty Images

Call and visit local animal shelters and fill out a lost pet report at each of them. Program their number into your phone so you can make follow up calls—even if your pet isn’t there when you visit, it may be dropped off there at a later time. You should also contact your local animal control officers.

If your pet goes missing when traveling, use the lost and found function on Petfinder or search Google to find local shelters or rescues. Ask if there are any other places in the area that may take in lost animals. 

Call local veterinarian offices.

Some vets take in lost pets and may care for them for a short time before the animals are transferred to shelters. Make sure veterinarian offices in your area have a description or photograph of your missing animal, as well as your contact information.

Contact your local pet licensing authorities. 

Your local dog licensing authorities should be made aware that your pet is missing. Verify that the contact information they have on file is up to date. 

Prepare a lost pet poster.

photo of a missing cat poster
Make sure the poster includes all relevant details. / Vstock LLC/Vstock/Getty Images

Fill out a lost pet poster with a recent photo of your pet, making sure to mention any distinguishing features, the name of your animal, and your contact information. Put the posters up over a wide radius—a lost pet, especially one that is frightened, disoriented, or confused, may travel farther than you expect. 

Make a smaller version of your lost pet poster or print outs and leave them at local businesses, place them on car windshields, and hand them out to anyone you run into. 

Canvas day and night.

Some lost pets may stay hidden during the day and only come out at night. Use a flashlight when searching at night and call out your pet’s name while looking for them. Bring a can of food with you—the smell may lure them out. 

Use the power of the internet to locate your pet.

Post a recent photo of your pet and all relevant information—its name, physical characteristics, your contact info, and where it went missing—on community forums, Facebook, Instagram, or any other platforms you think might be effective in your search. People online often unite far and wide to find missing animals. Sites like Petfinder and Petco Love Lost can also help you relocate your lost four-legged family member.

Make sure someone is at home. 

photo of a lost dog in the rain
Some missing pets may come home on their own. / Alberto Menendez Cervero/Moment/Getty Images

If your pet’s ID has an address on it, make sure at least one person is present at your home at all times. Someone may return your pet, or your animal may come home on its own. 

Start thinking about preventative measures.

Consider getting your pet microchipped. The tiny chips are inserted under an animal’s skin; vets and shelters will often scan pets upon intake to see if they’ve been chipped. A GPS collar is another option, although this wouldn’t be helpful if your pet manages to wiggle free of it or if the battery runs out. 

Make sure your contact information on your pet’s identification tag is up to date (even cats should wear collars with ID tags). Keep a recent photo of your pet on hand in case you need to make missing pet posters or online posts, and register your pet with a lost and found agency like Petfinder.

If a firework-filled holiday is approaching and you’re worried your pet may bolt out of fear, consider talking to your veterinarian about which calming medications you can use, and ensure your animal is securely contained in an area they can’t escape from.

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