What to do if your cat or dog gets lost or goes missing

It’s a moment that every pet owner dreads — the moment you realise your beloved cat or dog is lost, stolen or missing. The sooner you take action, the more likely it is that your pet will be returned to you safely. So knowing what to do and how to respond to this situation is vital.

If your cat or dog goes missing, it can feel terrible. There are plenty of things you can do to increase the chances of them returning to you safely though, so we’ve rounded up some tips to help.

Make sure your pet is identifiable

By law, dogs need to wear a collar with their owner’s details on it. They must also be microchipped. Make sure your dog’s ID includes your surname and phone number, as well as your address. Some owners choose to list more than one phone number, so you may decide to include a mobile and a landline number. Whether to put your dog’s name on their collar is up for debate. Dog theft is a problem and you may decide to leave this information off their ID tag so your stolen or missing dog’s name isn’t clear to anyone else.

If you have a cat, it’s a good idea to get them microchipped, especially as microchipping is set to become mandatory. Even if they’re an indoor cat, they could get spooked by something and escape through an open window or door that’s been left ajar. If your missing cat was wearing a collar, this could get pulled off if they get caught on a fence or tree.

Search the local area

Cats are masters at finding unusual and well-concealed places to hide. They might even still be in your house without you knowing! The first thing to do if your cat goes missing is complete a thorough search of your house and garden. Washing machines, tops of wardrobes, the loft, or even inside the sofa are all places to look! Call your cat’s name, shake their biscuits in a bowl, or leave some of their favourite treats around the house.

Dogs may run out of the garden if they’re suddenly scared by fireworks or thunder, or maybe they slipped their lead on a walk to try and chase a squirrel. Often your dog will take refuge somewhere quiet, or head towards a well-known area. Some missing dogs will return home by themselves as if they’ve had a great adventure!

If you suspect your pet has been stolen, rather than gone missing, report this to the police and ask for a crime reference number.

Spread the word

If your pet isn’t at home or in your garden, ask the neighbours in your immediate area to keep an eye out. Cats often get accidentally shut in sheds, garages, or greenhouses so these are a good place to begin your search.

If you’re going out to look for your pet, make sure you’ve got your phone with you in case anyone calls to say they’ve found them. If you’ve listed a landline number, make sure someone is at home to take any calls.

Next, widen your search area by driving around nearby streets and call your pet’s name out of the window. You could also walk along the streets and listen for meowing or your dog’s bark. Make a note of where you visited and when, so you can return in a methodical way if necessary. Sometimes cats will be more likely to come out of their hiding place at night. If your dog went missing while on a walk, you may decide to leave a piece of clothing where you last saw them, and the scent could tempt them to return.

Contact vets and animal shelters

Often, missing dogs and cats will be found and handed in to vets or animal shelters so it’s a good idea to contact these within your local area. If they haven't seen your pet, leave details of your pet’s description (including their microchip number) and how you can be contacted if they are brought in. For missing dogs, you should also contact your local council and their dog warden.

If your pet is microchipped, call the supplier and register your pet as missing. At the same time, make sure your contact details are up to date so if your pet is handed in, you can be informed as soon as possible.

Distribute posters

Creating posters to put up in your neighbourhood is a good way to raise awareness that your pet is missing. Make sure these posters are big and bold, with a clear photo, description, and contact details. If your pet is insured, you may receive some financial support from your insurer. The Petplan Covered for Life dog insurance covers up to £2,000, which can be used towards advertising costs, or as a reward. Ask local shops to display your poster, secure it to telegraph poles, or create smaller flyers to post through letterboxes or place on cars.

You can also report your pet missing using an advert in local newspapers, by posting on social media, or by contacting organisations like Animal Search UK, the National Pet Register and DogLost. These organisations also provide free resources and advice to help reunite you with your lost dog or lost cat.

If your missing pet returned home safely, we’d love to hear their story! Share it with us on social media using #PethoodStories.

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