This article starts out with some quick tips for what to do when you loose, then provides more detailed advice for what to do when you’ve lost or found a pet. An ounce of prevention is worth days, weeks, or months of a cure: If you’re reading this to prepare just in case, be sure to check out our article on how to Prevent Your Pet From Getting Lost.
3 Tips To Find Your Lost Pet
- For dogs, check along routes where the dog is walked
For cats, check inside neighbor’s garages. Cats often hide nearby. Read our detailed Lost Cat Tips
- Post flyers immediately
- Visit all local animal shelters, at least every other day
Read on for our more in-depth what to do below.
Lost Pet Guide
If your pet is lost, there are only a few possibilities: Your pet is either on the streets; your pet has been found and taken somewhere like a shelter, someone’s home, or to a rescue organization, or your pet has been stolen. Since you may not know, the best chances of getting your pet back is to cover all the possibilities:
Go out looking for your pet:
- If you have a regular route where you walk your dog, comb that route on foot. Bring along a leash, strong-smelling food, such as a hamburger patty, hot dog, or an open can of wet cat food, and your dog’s favorite noise-making toy. Keep in mind that your dog may be hiding out of view, especially if he or she is afraid, so walk slowly and alternate between calling your dog’s name and listening quietly for any movement or response.
- If you’ve lost your cat, he or she may not have roamed very far. Try leaving some food out at night, when cats are most active, and note if the food is being eaten. If you’re not sure if it’s your cat or a wild animal eating the food, here’s a tip: place the food on a mat, and sprinkle baby powder on the mat. In the morning, you’ll be able to see paw prints in the powder, which will let you know the size of the animal that’s been chowing down! Also see our detailed Lost Cat Tips.
Post and hand out flyers:
- Flyers should always include a photo, ideally a close-up photo made as large on the page as possible.
- You can use our free Lost Pet Flyer template.
- Keep in mind that most people who see your flyers will be driving by quickly or will see your flyer from a distance, so make them as easy-to-read and as eye-catching as possible. Make the flyer with brightly-colored paper. Use the largest photo and letters possible.
- Keep the information very simple. Include the word “Lost”, a large photo, the pet’s name, the date, your phone number, and the word “reward”, if one is being offered (see below). Do not give out too much information. You will want to make sure anyone who calls you is actually in possession of your dog or cat, especially if you’re offering a reward, and you can do that by asking them for more specific information, like color of the collar your dog was wearing or the location of your cat’s three brown spots.
- Always include the date so people know it’s a current flyer will actively be on the lookout.
- Consider offering a reward. The word “Reward” on a flyer is very eye-catching and may cause more people to look at your pet’s information and photo. A reward is also a good incentive for people to be extra vigilant in keeping an eye out for your pet. Be sure you have your pet back in your possession before you give out the reward—there are unscrupulous people out there willing to scam a heartbroken pet owner out of reward money, so be careful.
- Place flyers not just on telephone poles and signposts, but also on car windshields in your neighborhood, on local public bulletin boards in retail stores and parks, and in the lobby of apartment buildings nearby. If the apartment lobby is locked, don’t be shy about asking a resident to let you in so you can post a notice.
- Hang your flyers in a wider area than you’d think necessary. Dogs and cats can end up quite far away in a short period of time.
- Bring flyers to all local veterinary offices. If someone has found your pet, there’s a chance they’ll take him or her to a vet to be checked out and scanned for a microchip.
Visit all your local animal shelters:
- Immediately call and visit all local animal shelters, even those you think might be farther away than you think your pet would have traveled. A phone call to the shelter is a first step, but should always be followed up by a visit; sometimes the volume of animals in the shelter is so high that the staff may not be aware of new pets that have been brought in. Call and visit the shelters very frequently, daily if possible, keeping in mind that in shelters that euthanize, your window of opportunity to claim your pet may be limited
- At the shelter, make sure you check in all areas, including the infirmary. Also, a more unpleasant task that we hate to mention: check the shelter’s list of dogs that have been impounded deceased.
- Call and email all the animal rescue groups in your area. Often, the first thing a well-meaning person who found a dog or cat will do is call no-kill rescue groups to see if they can take the pet. Ask your local rescue groups if they’ve taken in a pet matching your dog or cat’s description or if they’ve been contacted by someone who found such a pet.
- Keep actively searching and visiting your shelter for at least two to three months.
- Place a Lost Pet ad in your local newspaper’s classified section, post on social media and in Facebook lost and found pet groups for your specific area, and post on the neighborhood website Nextdoor too. Check all those places for a Found Pet ad, too.
- There are many web sites that specialize in lost and found pet postings. Be sure to check these out and utilize their service as well.
Found Pet Guide
Don’t assume a pet you found was abandoned. Pets can be lost for a long time and be found in terrible condition, but may still have a loving owner who will be overjoyed to have their pet returned.
- SCAN FOR A MICROCHIP: This is one of the most important things you can do! Take the pet to any veterinarian office, Petco grooming salon, or animal shelter to have the pet scanned for a microchip for free.
- Call your local animal shelter to report the found pet but also be sure to ask what are the laws are governing what you must do if you find a pet. Every city has different laws.
- Post flyers. See the section above for detailed advice. Keep a couple of key details off the flyer. Give out only enough information so the pet’s owner will suspect it’s their pet. For instance, if you find a Bichon Frise with a red collar, you might advertise “Found: Small white dog with collar”. When the owner calls, ask him or her to describe the collar and ask what breed their dog is. Beware of unscrupulous characters who will try to claim dogs for nefarious purposes.
- If you can safely house the pet while you attempt to find the owner, that’s wonderful. If not, call local rescue groups to see if anyone has room to foster the pet for you and to help find the pet a new home if the owner cannot be located.
- If there are children playing in the neighborhood where you found the pet, talk to them! Children are an incredibly valuable resource in this situation—they tend to know all the pets in the neighborhood by sight, since they spend so much time outdoors.
- Call all local shelters to see if anyone has reported their dog missing. Post flyers in all shelters.
- Take flyers to all veterinary offices in the area. If they don’t recognize the pet as one of their patients, ask if they can post the flyer in the waiting room.
- Place a Found Pet ad in your local newspaper classifieds, and check for a Lost Pet ads as well.
- There are many web sites that specialize in lost and found pet postings. Be sure to utilize their services as well.
If you’ve followed your local found pet laws and looked for the pet’s owner for the minimum required (30 days) and you are unable to keep the pet yourself, you can list the pet for adoption through Rehome by Adoptapet.com