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Lost Pets 101: What to Do if Your Pet Goes Missing

By PetcoBlogger on Apr 16, 2014

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Dealing with a lost pet can be one of the most heart-wrenching events you could go through as a pet parent. But with some preparation, you’ll be able to stay cool, calm and collected if that fateful day ever comes. Every situation is different, but here are some basic tips to help you recover your lost pet.


The importance of pet identification


While there is no way to completely prevent a lost pet, your first line of defense is making sure your pet has current identification at all times.


Name tags

This old standby is one of the most popular and economical ways of keeping your pet on the books. A metal tag should be securely attached to a collar and worn around your pet’s neck. This lessens the possibility that your pet will be taken to the local pound or shelter when found.


Although this ID option is the cheapest and most popular, it’s not uncommon for collars to slip off of your pet or become stuck on a fence or branch, so make sure your pet’s collar and ID tags are properly secured. Periodically check the information to make sure it’s still readable. A heavily scratched ID tag is as good as no tag at all.



About the size of a grain of rice, these are inserted beneath your pet’s skin by a veterinarian. These microchips contain contact information, so you can be reunited with your pet. To ensure a speedy reunion, it’s important for you to periodically verify the information kept on the chip.


Although these tracking devices are generally effective, they are not perfect. Not all veterinarians or shelters have the technology necessary to read every kind of microchip out there. They’re also so small and hidden that someone looking to return your pet may not know that one is equipped. Given that microchips are not completely foolproof, they’re best used in combination with a collar and ID tag as an added piece of security.



While ID tattoos are still a bit unconventional, they are a great, permanent proof of ownership. There are a wide range of tattoo registries available, but that still doesn’t mean every shelter or veterinarian is able to recognize all types of tattoos. Also, average good Samaritans may have trouble recognizing a tattoo as a means of identification. This means that just like microchips, tattoos are best used in combination with a collar and ID tag as an added piece of security.


Proactive prevention

Carry out these simple steps to keep your pet from wandering away:

  • Your pet can easily become confused or distracted, even in familiar surroundings, so always keep your pet on a leash when outside a confined area like your backyard.
  • Train your pet to not go through open doors and gates until you have given the verbal permission to do so. Accomplishing this takes a little time, but it is well worth the effort.
  • Never leave your pet outside at night or tied up unattended. Doing so leaves your pet susceptible to abduction.

If your pet is lost or stolen

If your pet ever becomes lost, a quick and active search is your best bet for a happy reunion. Be persistent, be optimistic and be proactive. There are many instances of pet parents who, after months of dedicated searching, are finally reunited with their lost pets.

  • Photos: Always have a recent photo of your pet to show your neighbors, mail carriers, meter readers and gardeners.
  • Kids: Ask parents if you can enlist the neighborhood kids. They’re amazingly observant, and are often happy to search for missing pets. Make sure the kids come to you if they find your pet. They shouldn’t try to catch your pet themselves.
  • Search: A two-mile radius of your home is a good area, paying particular attention to sheds and abandoned buildings.
  • Signs: Use big dark letters on a light background. Keep the information short and easy to read while driving, including a photo if possible. Something along the lines of "Lost Pet: Big Brown Dog 555-1212.” Post them on your street, major cross-streets, schools, veterinary clinics, Petco stores, boarding, grooming and training kennels and talk to the staff so they'll remember you.
  • Facebook and Twitter: Using your social network profiles to share information about lost pets can also be helpful. Choosing to go this route requires minimal legwork on your end and can reach a surprising amount of people (especially if you ask your friends to help spread the word).
  • Ads and rewards: Think about placing ads in your local newspapers or on radio or TV stations. Many of these sources often have a free "lost and found" section. You can also offer an incentive for the pet's safe return.
  • Parks: The activity and food often found in parks may attract a lost pet that is lonely and hungry.
  • Local organizations: Check local animal shelters, veterinarians, emergency clinics, local rescue groups and the laboratory animal department of local universities and hospitals. File a report with each location, and continue checking each. Going to these locations in person is the best way to positively identify your pet, and visiting them every other day is best way to do so quickly.
  • Log onto petfinder.com where you can place a free Lost Pet classified ad, and frequently check ads placed by people who have found pets. While you can use this site to search local shelters, it may take several days for a shelter to post a newly found pet.
  • If you have any reason to think your pet may have been stolen, contact the police immediately and file a report. The theft of a pet is a felony or misdemeanor under all state laws and the police must take action on such a complaint.

If you find a lost pet

A successful reunion is dependent on the help and charity of others. If you have the opportunity to rescue a pet, here’s how you can help return a lost pet to grateful and relieved pet parents.


  • Be careful when approaching an unfamiliar pet. If a pet seems afraid or backs away as you approach, let the pet come to you or call Animal Control for help.
  • Go to or call your local animal shelter and report that you have found a stray animal. Many times they will take a “found report”. This is a report that will be made available to pet parents looking for their pet.
  • Post flyers in your neighborhood and check with your neighbors to see if they may know the pet parent.
  • Never go near a strange animal that is caring for their young. Animals instinctively protect their young from strangers, and even normally friendly pets can become aggressive.
  • Keep unfamiliar pets separate from any of your own pets.
  • Put a pet ID tag with your phone number on a pet in your care for an extended period of time. Attaching this temporary tag can help prevent a pet from getting lost a second time. You can purchase these instant ID tags at your nearest Petco. If you can't find the pet parent, you may want to turn the pet over to an animal shelter.
  • Want to adopt the pet you’ve found? Most shelters will give you first chance if the pet isn't claimed. If the pet parent calls you after turning the pet in, refer them to the shelter. Local laws vary as to how long you must have a pet before it is legal to keep the pet yourself. Animal control or the police department can tell you about such laws in your city. Never spay or neuter a pet until legally yours.


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