Theft and straying: how to keep your pet safe

Nobody wants their pet to go missing, and a huge part of responsible pet ownership is keeping your animal safe. That’s why we have some tips on how to keep your animal safe from going missing or being stolen, as well as what to do if the worst does happen.

It’s no secret that the demand for pets has increased in the last year. But, as more families welcome canine and feline friends into their homes, pet theft and reports of missing pets have also, unfortunately, become increasingly prevalent in the UK. That being said, there are plenty of things you can do to protect your pet from theft and bring them back home safe and sound if they stray.

Understanding your pet’s behaviour

Pets have their own unique behaviours, personalities and quirks – that’s what makes them such loved parts of our families. However, some of these ingrained personality traits could actually put them at risk of going missing.

Cats, in particular, are very independent and will come and go as they please. It’s not uncommon for an outdoors cat to wander off for up to 24 hours at a time, whether out of curiosity, for hunting or to establish their territory. All of these behaviours are in their nature and it’s only when they lose their bearings that cats usually go missing.

Dogs will vary slightly depending on their breed. In general, most dogs are extremely loyal and are unlikely to stray far from your side. However, dog breeds originally bred for hunting, tracking or chasing do have a tendency to run off at the sight or scent of prey and regaining their attention can be difficult. Again, if a dog is distracted they can soon lose their bearings and become lost. Other dog breeds are people pleasers to the core, and will respond well to any stranger who approaches. This makes it fairly easy for someone with bad intentions to simply take your dog.

It’s important to remember that you simply can’t train out a dog or a cat’s instinctive behaviours so being a vigilant pet owner is crucial. It’s also worth remembering that your pet may be more likely to stray if they’re not spayed or neutered, but this is something you should always discuss with your vet before making a decision.

The rise of pet theft

Unfortunately, it’s not just straying that could cause your pet to go missing. Pet theft is on the rise in the UK, especially where dogs are concerned. As lockdown saw puppy prices increase, 2020 also saw a 19% increase in the number of dog thefts being reported to police around the country, and this is a concern that is shared by new pet owners around the nation. And, whilst less common, cat theft is also on the rise, with a 12% increase in the last year.

However, by taking the proper precautions, you can minimise the risk of your pet going missing, and make it easier to be reunited with your animal if the worst does happen. Here are a few ways you can keep your animal safe and sound:


Microchipping is a legal requirement for dog owners in the UK and whilst it’s not yet law for cats to be chipped, it is highly recommended. In the event of your pet going missing, a microchip will be your best bet at being reunited. If a missing or stolen animal is found, the microchip is easily scanned, allowing the vet, police or animal shelter to find your contact details on a central database and return your pet to you, as well as to ask your consent before performing any necessary medical procedures (if your pet is found injured, for example). Rest assured, microchipping is a safe and painless procedure that will help to keep your pet safe for their entire life. Once implanted, the microchip should be checked annually by your vet and you should make sure that all your personal details, such as address and phone number, are up to date as well.

Home security

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for pets to be stolen from gardens even if you think your outside space is safe and secure. Check your garden gates and fences regularly for any signs of damage that could make it easier for someone to break into your garden – or for your pet to find their way out, especially important for those pets with a little more wanderlust than most. Whilst cats might naturally roam a bit further, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your dog, even in a secure garden.

Safety accessories

All this doesn’t mean your pet can’t still join you when you’re out and about. There are plenty of accessories you can buy to identify your pet and their whereabouts, as well as to keep them in sight if they decide to go wandering. Firstly, make sure your pet wears a collar. This will stop them being identified as strays. The tag should include your name, address and phone number but not the pet’s name as this can make a pet thief’s job easier.

Flashing lights, glow in the dark coats, collars and harnesses, and even bells, can also help you to locate your pet before they go missing, as well as keeping them safe if you live near a road.

Even at the most fundamental level, solid training is a must. Make sure you start recall training from a young age, to keep your dog from running too far, and teach them how to walk nicely on a lead so that walks are safe and enjoyable for you both. If you’re not in a secure area where you can let your dog run free, an extendable lead will give your pooch room to roam without letting them stray too far.

How can pet insurance help?

Just like chipping your pet, insurance is another key aspect of responsible pet ownership that could make all the difference when it comes to cases of theft or straying. In the event of your pet going missing, Petplan provides cover towards the cost of advertising the loss of your pet as well as a reward to get your pet back. Check your policy documents to find out more about what your pet is covered for.

Back to top