What to do if You Lose Your Pet

That moment when you realize your pet is lost can be among the most terrifying experiences of your life. There are a number of things you can do to increase the chances that you’ll find your lost pet, but time is of the essence, so it’s important that you swing into action immediately. This particular article will focus on cats and dogs, but we’ll have future articles on lost birds and small animals like hamsters and gerbils, who may get lost inside your house.

The first step is to double check inside your home to ensure that your pet is not indoors. Check in closets, the garage, rooms that are typically off-limits, the attic, the basement, under beds and in cabinets. Twice I’ve “lost” pets inside my house. Once, my “lost” cat was cozied up inside a cabinet (with a child safety lock! The door opened just enough to allow her to slide inside.) In the other instance, our cat found her way into a hole in a crawlspace and she wandered into the “dead space” within the ceiling and walls. We had to open up a portion of ceiling to get her out!

Once you’ve determined that the pet is not inside your house, immediately search your yard and the area around your home. Most indoor cats and many dogs won’t go too far. Many stay within a block of home. So the sooner you search, the more likely it is that you’ll find your pet nearby.

Call out the pet’s name using a happy voice. It’s difficult, but you must keep your tone happy and light. Your pet may be hiding and scared; she’s not apt to emerge from a hidey-hole if your voice sounds frightened or angry!

When you’re searching the area around your home, look under cars, in drainage tunnels, in bushes and shrubbery and other areas where a pet is likely to hide.

If this initial search does not lead to your missing pet, return home and get your pre-made lost pet flyers. I’ll provide directions in a separate article, but you should have a quantity of lost pet posters on-hand for each and every animal in your household. The minutes and hours following your pet’s disappearance are a critical timeframe and you don’t want to waste time printing up posters! You need to have them on-hand so they can be distributed immediately!

The following locations are ideal spots for a lost dog poster:

  • On stop sign poles at intersections
  • On phone poles, especially near intersections where cars will stop or pause.
  • Place the posters on car windshields
  • Go door-to-door to distribute posters to neighbors so they can contact you in the event that they find your pet.

As you’re distributing posters, keep your eyes peeled for the pet and continue calling for him or her. Talk to your neighbors and anyone who’s working outdoors. Provide them with one of your missing pet posters, which should include a description, a photo and your contact info.

If you don’t find your pet within the first few hours, don’t give up hope. Search again late at night. Night time is quiet and many shy and frightened pets are more apt to leave their hiding spot at night. What’s more, the quiet can work to your advantage — your pet is more likely to hear you as you’re calling and you’re more apt to hear a “reply.”

Also, when you’re searching, bring along a favorite squeaky toy or even a bowl of food that you can shake — think of a familiar sound that attracts your dog or cat.

In addition to searching, there are a few additional things you should do within the first few hours of losing a pet:

  • Fax or deliver lost posters to local veterinary clinics
  • Call Animal Control to report your pet as missing
  • Check the “Found Pets” section of your local Animal Control website
  • Contact local animal shelters to report your pet as missing and to inquire about whether your pet has been found
  • Post “lost pet” advertisements on websites like Craigslist (in the “lost and found” and in the “pets” section), Petfinder, FindToto.com, MissingPets.net, FidoFinder.com, PetAmberAlert.com and LostPetUSA.net.
  • Put up lost posters at local pet shops, groomers and other pet-related businesses, along with the local dog park.
  • Put up lost posters at popular locations around town like the supermarket, city hall bulletin board, coffee shop and so forth.

To maximize the chances that your pet will be found, it’s wise to get your pet microchipped. In addition, there are now a vast array of pet GPS collars that will enable you to pinpoint your lost cat or dog’s location on your smart phone or computer.

See our related article for info on what to do if you find a lost cat, dog, bird or another pet and review our tips for making up your lost pet posters!

Photo Source: Nenad Nerandzic on Sxc.hu

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Mia Carter is a professional journalist and animal lover. Her furry family members include 6 dogs and 12 cats. She is also a feral cat colony caretaker. Carter specializes in pet training and special needs pet care. All of her animals have special needs such as paralysis, blindness, deafness and FIV, just to name a few. She also serves as a pet foster parent and she actively rehabilitates and rescues local strays and feral kittens.

7 Responses

  1. Catherine
    | Reply

    I’ve always had a pet. Mostly cat or a dog. But recently I’ve became an owner of a fancy rat. Has been so.much fun training her and watching her. Very smart very clean very lovable. And the best part..

  2. Greg
    | Reply

    It’s our first time to have a pet so we’re very careful with how we handle him. Fortunately he hasn’t been lost but there was an instance when the dog got out and followed my brother to run some errands. Since then we’ve been very careful locking doors and securing our gate.

  3. Janet
    | Reply

    Having a missing/lost pet is soooo stressful… We had a cat that found it’s way underneath a kitchen cabinet through a gap in the kick plate. It was actually moving day, the movers were moving our boxes and furniture out. We thought the cat got spooked and darted out the open front door. Only when the entire house was cleared, and we were about to turn in the keys, did we hear the faint meow. Thank goodness! We searched all over the neighborhood… Great blog post – it brought back this very stressful memory to me ;-)

  4. Cheryl Thomas
    | Reply

    Mostly cat or a dog. But recently I’ve became an owner of a fancy rat. Has been so.much fun training her and watching her. Very smart very clean very lovable.

  5. Lynda
    | Reply

    Excellent advice Mia! When we lost our old lab back in 1988 we did everything you’ve advised here to find a lost pet, with the exception of Craig’s list of course. Our friends rallied together to help us as well. We covered a huge area distributing pamphlets and putting up signs on poles. (Make sure signs are weather proof, and don’t forget to take them down once you’ve found your pet.) It was amazing the number of phone calls we received from people who had seen Sam. He was so stressed no one was able to catch him, but from the calls we were able to get an idea of what direction he was heading. Finally 9 days later, after searching non stop, my husband found him. Your tip to go out late at night when all is quiet and rattling a food tin, is a great one for finding cats. Early morning is good as well, before the birds start chirping and making a racket. Lost cats often reply when they hear you calling them, and if it’s very quiet you can hear them meowing back to you even if they’re a long way from you. If they do find their way back on their own and your asleep or at work make sure they stick around till you find them by always leaving out their bed and a plate of food, undercover of course. Not knowing what’s happened to them or if they are suffering…that’s the hardest thing to deal with when you lose a pet. Just don’t give up too soon. One of my kitties, Jessie, came back after being lost for 2 months. She was 10 yrs old when I rescued her and I’d only had her for a couple of months. Cats can be very traumatized if they’re away for a long time and may not recognize or trust you straight away, which is what happened with Jess. Leaving food out definitely helped me to gain her trust. It took a while but I finally got her back. She’s 18 now. :) Thanks again for a very helpful article.

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