What to Do If Your Pet Is Lost
Plus, the reason why 90 percent of animals run away from home.
Many pet owners will tell you that they can't imagine being away from their furry friends for too long, which is why most people go straight into panic mode should they find that their beloved dog, cat, bird, or even a reptile has suddenly gone missing. The stress associated with losing a pet kicks in so fast that most of us don't know where or when to start searching.
That's why understanding what to do before you ever find yourself in this unfortunate situation is important. To understand exactly what owners should do in the case of a missing pet, we asked Amy Nichols, vice president of companion animals for the Humane Society of the United States, to share her top tips, as well as the most common reason why pets leave home in the first place.
Why Pets Run Away
First and foremost, it's important to consider why animals run away from home in the first place. There's one common cause that can be easily prevented by simply having your dog or cat spayed or neutered: "Studies show that neutering will decrease sexual roaming in about 90 percent of cases," Nichols noted, adding that intact males may continue to roam after being neutered if they have established a prior pattern. "Intact cats are more likely to try to escape when they reach sexual maturity, which can happen by four months old while female cats in heat may dash."
Another means of prevention? Keep your dog leashed when outside and being watchful of them even in fenced areas. "Even the most well behaved dog may get startled or chase something unexpectedly," said Nichols. If they aren't strictly indoors, supervise cats when outdoors or implement contained outdoor access with a leash or a catio. "Take extra precautions on holidays such as July 4, or when you have friends and family visiting who may not be as mindful of the door and risk of your pet darting, and when visiting new environments," said Nichols.
Beginning the Search
Even with proper prevention, animals can go missing. If your pet is lost, always start your search immediately and plan to do more than simply put up fliers. Checking municipal and other area shelters is critical, and you should do so in-person as no one knows your pet better than you do. You can find your local shelter on Shelter Pet Project using your zip code. "Many shelters have a holding period of less than a week so it's crucial to check if your pet is there daily," Nichols explains. "If you can't visit the shelter daily due to work or other scheduling issues, ask your friends and family."
Don't rely on a single local animal shelter to find your pet. Studies have found that cats are 13 times more likely to get back home by means other than being brought to an animal shelter. Be sure to contact animal control agencies and file a report at shelters within a 60-mile radius of your home. "Don't restrict your searches to a specific breed, as others may describe your pet differently," Nichols adds.
Different search methods exist for different pets. If you're looking for a bird or reptile, the Humane Society recommends contacting local veterinarians who provide care to those kinds of animals, wildlife rehabilitation centers, local rescue groups and Facebook-specific groups. For horses, a site like NetPosse is a great source.
Spread the Word
Post notices in your neighborhood and public places like grocery stores, veterinary offices, and traffic intersections. Consider making neon posters instead as standard 8 1/2-by-11 inch sheets of paper can be overlooked by passersby. Describe your pet by age, sex, weight, breed, and color. If your pet is shy or fearful, add language like "do not chase," and ask people to call or text you-stating the time so you know it's current-with sightings.
Nichols also suggests being wary of people who request money for the return of your pet. "If a stranger claims to have found your pet, ask them to describe the pet thoroughly before you offer any information," she advises. "Leave out an identifying characteristic on fliers. If the stranger who claims to have found your pet doesn't mention this characteristic, they may not really have your pet, so be cautious."
Search the Neighborhood
Ask neighbors, delivery workers, and letter carriers if they have seen your pet. Hand out a recent photograph of your pet along with your contact information. Cats are usually found within five houses of where they were lost. Check under a neighbor's porch, in their sheds, or garages. Unsupervised outside cats are likely to travel further than indoor cats. Shy cats may hide while highly curious cats may make friends and invite themselves into someone's home.
Large, youthful dogs can run five miles or more while small dogs may only go about a half a mile. Generally, dogs are found within a two-mile circle of their home since they normally will never run for extended periods in a straight line regardless of ability. Outgoing dogs may seek out other dogs and friendly humans likely to comfort, feed, and shelter it. Search neighbors' yards and public spaces where your dog may like to roam. Dogs that are shy, older, or untrusting of strangers may hide in places like bushes or under cars.
Bringing Your Pet Home
If your pet is found on the streets, it may be a hassle to get them to come towards you due to stressors such as contact with a would-be rescuer, predators, or outside noises. Avoid calling, walking towards, or making eye contact with your pet as it may associate those reactions with the fear and adrenaline. Let your pet come to you.
To lure a cat that's likely to stay hidden and won't roam as far, heat up pungent foods like sardines or tuna and place outside to appeal to their sense of smell. Consider pairing with a humane trap or wildlife camera pointing at the food to capture photos of animals that come and go. To lure a dog, you'd want to take a crinkly bag (of chips, for example) with treats inside it, crinkle the bag and make lip smacking noises or "nummy, nummy" sounds as you pretend to drop food on the ground, and lastly kneel down to show you're non-threatening and pretend to pick up the dropped treats, allowing the dog to within arm's reach.
Consider a Microchip
A microchip will increase the chances of a happy reunion. An easy and quick procedure, your vet and local shelters may offer the service and can advise on the brand of chip they prefer to use. Be sure to register the microchip and keep your contact information up to date as shelters will scan for chips. If your adopted pet is already microchipped, you can look it up on this free universal microchip tool.
Set yourself up for success by having your pet wear an ID tag with your name, address, and telephone number. A GPS collar is also great for pets with special needs or are likely to be a flight risk. "Don't be discouraged if something-like being out of town-delayed you from doing so," said Nichols. "Pets have been reunited with their owners months and even years after they have gone missing!"