How to find a lost cat or dog in the UK?

Losing your animal can be a stressful experience, up until you found your pet. In this article, you will find everything you need to know to lead an efficient search.

Reading time : 10 min

Losing an animal is unfortunately a relatively common occurrence. On average, owners will lose their pet at least once in their lifetime. It is mostly due to the pets running away, which can be prevented by using special training methods.

The internet is also full of searches like “what to do when you have lost your cat” or “who to reach to when you have lost your dog?”. So, what can you do if you lose your pet?

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My cat has gone missing, when should I start to worry?

Why do cats like to go outside?

Apart from very specific breeds or scaredy cats and homebodies, cats love to go outside. Even the happiest of cats will be drawn to the outside. They are not ungrateful to their loving owners, but they are dictated by their instinct.

Cats are territorial animals and like to expand their territory to play, relax, hunt and mate.

How long can a cat leave at a time

Even though it is completely normal to get worried if your cat does not come back, you should not panic. It can happen that your cat has been injured or hit by a car, but these are not the only reasons.

A cat that has not been neutered or spayed might be controlled by its mating instincts and can travel hundreds of miles to find a mate when in heat. During that time, your cat might take a little bit longer to come back home than usual.

Most of the time, cats can leave for up to five days at a time. Be careful during mating time, as your cat might come back in a poor state with a jagged ear, having fought another male for a female. This is the kind of thing that would never happen to a neutered cat.

It can also happen that the cat has gotten trapped somewhere. If you are worried about your cat, don’t hesitate to ask your neighbours to check their cellars, attics or garden shed for your pet.

How to find a cat that has not come home?

If you have looked through all your cat’s favourite hiding places and your animal is still nowhere to be found, you should report your missing cat to your local council. Animal Wardens work for the council and oversee stray dogs as well as missing animals. You should also notify your local vet or veterinary clinic about your cat’s disappearance.

Don’t hesitate to check missing animal websites as well as putting up lost posters in your neighbourhood. Some cats are particularly sensitive to their owner's voice, so calling them can encourage them to return or to indicate their presence by meowing.

Preventing your cat from running away

One of the ways to prevent your cat from running away is sterilisation. Once a cat has been neutered or spayed, its mating instinct disappears completely. This will not prevent your cat from going for ambles outside, but it won’t need to leave for days on end to mate.

Another way is to train your cat to recall with a clicker. Cats like their routine so training your cat to come back to eat with a click will guarantee they will not go outside for too long.

Finally, you could invest in a GPS tracker to attach to its collar. With a GPS tracker, the owner is able to know where his cat is, even when he is travelling several miles.

Can I force my cat to stay inside?

Losing a pet can be so stressful for the owners that some would rather go against their cat’s nature and force them to stay inside. They keep them safe by denying them access to the outdoors.

However, when cats go outside, they hunt, run and climb. It is therefore imperative to compensate for the lack of exercise by making cat toys available. Besides, a clean litter box, a cat tree and hiding places where he can rest undisturbed are essential to ensure his physical and psychological well-being.

Can a lost cat find its way back home?

The importance of a cat’s territory and pheromones

Cats are territorial animals, which means they like settling in a place and defining its limits. They define it using scent from facial glands, urine, faeces, anal glands, and scratching. These scents define the territory as well as prevent conflict with other cats.

The house is defined as their resting area where they can nap without being disturbed. The playing and hunting area is generally full of small rodents. Finally, the disposal zone can be changed whenever, especially once it becomes too soiled. The cat can change its territory if it does not meet the criteria for its physical and psychological well-being.

When can you let a kitten go outside?

Kittens rely heavily on their mother, which makes them vulnerable to the outside world. But once a kitten is ready to explore the world on its own, its owner should set limits for the kitten.

The kitten should first stay confined in one room, to acclimatise to its new environment. Once the kitten has gained confidence, it can start to explore other rooms and expand this new indoor territory until the whole house has been uncovered.

Once the kitten is ready to go outside, the owners first need to make sure that it is fully vaccinated as well as microchipped. Once that first box is checked, then can they let their kitten inspect the surroundings of the house, still under surveillance at first, and then it will be time to discover the garden. Only then will it be able to be left alone. But even on their own, cats are usually relatively cautious and will gradually expand their territory.

How to keep a cat safe during a move?

Cats rely heavily on their homes. Moving can be very stressful for cats as it means losing all their bearings. To prevent your cat from running away, it is best to keep it inside after the move. Your cat will need to discover this new space and spread its pheromones to mark the house as its new territory.

It is important not to let your cat outside if it has not explored this new environment first or if it is showing signs of anxiety. If you let your cat out too early, it could decide to go back to its previous territory and never come back.

How to create a lost pet poster?

When losing a pet, one of the first action you can take, after notifying your local authorities, is plastering lost posters around your neighbourhood. So how do you make an efficient lost poster?

The basics of a lost poster

A lost poster should be short, effective and informative as it should be read quickly by pedestrians and motorists. The information should be short and clear, with bold letters to be read from far away.

A readable font with bold letters on a white A4 paper is ideal. Do not hesitate to use colours like red that will make your information stand out. Avoid coloured backgrounds as it requires a lot of ink and risk making your poster hard to read.

A lost poster should also have a clear and recent picture of your pet, with any of its physical characteristics like coat colour and size.

Finally, you should indicate the sex of your pet, if it is microchipped and the place where it was last seen. Don’t forget to write down your contact information.

Best areas to place lost poster

A lost poster should be placed in high traffic areas such as train stations, bus stops and on your supermarket, butcher’s, or bakery’s noticeboards.

Another way of letting your neighbours know about your pet’s disappearance is by handing out flyers. A5 flyers are the ideal size to slip in letterboxes and your neighbours will be able to hang them on their fridges.

How to report a lost cat or dog in the UK?

The first step you should do when losing an animal is to report it to your local authorities. If you think your dog has been stolen, especially if it is a pedigree breed, you should contact your local police department.

Notifying the dog warden

It is essential to notify your local council and dog warden of any missing pets. Dog wardens are legally responsible for stray animals so they are the first people you should turn to when losing yours. If they find an animal that fits your pet’s description, they will be able to contact you directly. It is important to have your pet microchipped because dog wardens can scan the microchip and contact you directly. You can find the dog warden’s information and phone number through the Environmental Health Department of your local council.

They play the role of a middleman between veterinary clinics, kennels, and you.

Notifying your vet

Your vet can be of valuable help when losing a pet, so you can also notify them. Someone might have brought in an injured pet and it might be yours involved in an accident. Sometimes, people report seeing a wandering animal to their local vet, so notifying your vet will make them aware that your pet is missing. Vets will be able to scan your pet’s microchip and contact you.

Publishing a post on missing pet websites

Your last resort in letting people know about your pet’s disappearance is by publishing a post on a missing pet website or a Facebook group. You can find a “lost dog” as well as a “found dog” section on these websites so there might have been someone who found your animal and published a post on there.

Websites like Animal Search UK and DogLost are great resources as they work with professional research teams to help you reunite quickly with your lost pet. As for Facebook groups, they are full of people who hold the animal cause dear to their heart and will be willing to voluntarily help you find your lost animal.

How to geolocate a microchipped pet?

A common misconception about microchips is that you can geolocate your animal with them. This theory is simply not true. A microchip centralises information but is not a GPS tracker as it does not have the technology.

Microchip vs GPS tracker

The microchip is an implant no larger than a grain of rice between the shoulder blades under the skin. The microchip contains information about the pet that can be scanned by a vet or animal warden using Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) technology.

The GPS tracker, on the other hand, is a GPS receiver but also a mobile phone transmitter that allows location information to be transmitted via a smartphone for example. Such a device requires the presence of a battery. However, a battery has a defined lifespan which requires replacement every 5 years or so. Also, GPS trackers often have an integrated SIM card. As a result, this technology does not currently appear to be suitable for a microchip implanted under the skin of a cat or dog.

So how can you find a microchip dog? You cannot geolocate a microchipped dog. But investing in a GPS tracker will give the owners real peace of mind.

Investing in a GPS tracker

A GPS tracker is a box containing all the technology that allows you to track your pet’s every move and thus never lose your dog or cat. Attached to the collar, its small size and lightweight ─ about 25 grams ─ provide security for the pet without disturbing it. A downloadable app via a smartphone allows the owner to be permanently connected to the GPS chip in the tracker.

What to do when you find a lost cat or dog?

It is not uncommon to see cats jumping over fences to go on ambles, as their territory often extends beyond their garden. But sometimes we come across a disorientated cat or dog and our first instinct is to pick it up and rescue it.

However, once the animal is out of danger, you should find its owners. And even with the best of intentions, you might not know who to turn to to reunite a pet with its owners.

Identifying the stray pet

If you have found a wandering animal, the first thing you should do is see if you can identify it. Check for a collar with a name tag on it. In the UK, all dogs in a public place must wear a collar with the name and address of the owner inscribed on it, so the chances of you encountering a dog without a collar are low. It might be a little bit harder to identify a cat as it is not mandatory for them to wear a collar so the following step you should take is bringing the found pet to your local Dog Warden.

As mentioned previously, Dog Wardens oversee stray animals, and they will be able to scan for any microchip. If the animal is injured, you should bring it to the nearest veterinary clinic, which will also be able to scan for a microchip and be able to identify the owner.

If you are in a situation where it is too dangerous for you to rescue an injured animal, you should contact the Dog Warden or the RSPCA who will handle the rescue professionally.

Finding a lone kitten

In some cases, you might come across a lone kitten. A lone kitten does not necessarily mean that it has been abandoned by its mother. Check if the kitten seems healthy and within a litter. If so, the mother might have gone hunting or is hiding and waiting for you to leave. Do not try to handle or move the kitten in that situation.

However, if the kitten seems malnourished, thin, injured and with secretion around its eyes, these are signs of abandonment. You should bring the kitten to a veterinary clinic as quickly as possible as it will require different treatments than for an adult cat.

Can you keep the pet you have found?

It is important to know that behind every lost pet is a family in distress. If you find a stray animal, you should try and reunite it with its owners. If you find a pet that is not microchipped, it is considered ownerless, and you could adopt it then. The same goes for a lone kitten.

As you will have understood, finding a lost dog or cat is very stressful and takes a lot of time, because you must act quickly and spare no effort. If you are in the middle of a search, we sincerely hope that you will have a happy ending.

If you are not currently involved in the search for a lost pet, we recommend that you learn more about geolocation for cats and dogs, as this is the only real way to be sure of finding your pet. Check out Weenect GPS Tracker for cats and dogs for more information.

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