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 guide, you will find everything you need to know to lead an efficient search.

dog alone in the woods

Reading time : 8 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?


How to know if your dog or cat is really lost?

grey cat lying in the grass

A cat can be lost… or not

Although the situation of a cat not coming home is quite worrying, it is important not to panic and think the worst. Most of the time, the cat comes and goes on a regular basis, but in reality they can be gone for 1, 3 or even 5 days without this being a cause for concern, especially during heat periods. A cat's territory can be more or less large. It is not fixed and the cat can, for example, extend it when they do not find females nearby during periods of heat.

Moreover, if the cat is not neutered, they are governed by their reproductive instincts and will eventually return when they are satisfied. In the meantime, during periods of heat, they are prepared to travel miles to satisfy their reproductive needs and may take some time to return.

But it is also possible that they are not far away and simply trapped in a place from which they have no possibility to escape. In this case they will wait for a door to open, sneak in and go back as if nothing had happened.

But it could also be that they are in one of their usual hideouts. Before taking any action, check their usual hideaways and search your house.

Searching for your dog

A missing dog is less likely to be locked up or resting in a hiding place. On the one hand because their size makes them more visible, on the other hand because the dog is more likely to be napping in an "official" place, such as their basket.

However, you can check where they spend most of their time. Look for them in your garage, garden or in the neighbourhood, for example. If they are not in these places, they have probably run away. In this case, you will have to take steps to find them.

Chapters of our guide

Click on the title of the chapter you are interested in.

Chapter 1: My cat has gone missing, when should I start to worry?

This chapter will discuss when it is normal for your cat not to come home and when it becomes worrying.

Chapter 2: What to do when you lose your cat or dog?

If you lose your pet, you’ll probably need to report them. This chapter explains how to report a lost pet.

Chapter 3: How to create a lost pet poster?

One of the first things you’ll do if you lose your pet is to create a lost cat poster or a lost dog poster. This chapter explains why and how to make them.

Chapter 4: Best Facebook groups to find a missing pet

Facebook can be very useful when you lose a pet. In this article, you will find out which Facebook groups can help you find a lost pet.

Chapter 5: How to find a microchipped cat or dog?

Microchipping your pet and keeping your information up to date is really important. This chapter covers the steps to take to find a microchipped pet.

Chapter 6: Can lost cats find their way back home?

In this chapter you will learn how a cat's sense of direction works, how long they can go wandering for and what to do after a move.

Chapter 7: What to do when you find a lost cat or dog?

Learn the steps to follow when you find a stray pet, the different ways to report a rescued pet and what to do if you want to keep them.

Chapter 8: How to prevent your dog from being stolen?

There are preventive measures you can take to avoid your dog being stolen at some point. Find out more about these measures in this article.

Find out the 5 most important steps to follow to find your lost cat or dog

All the information you need to know so you never lose your beloved companion

Main players in finding a lost pet

red dog sleeping in the sun

The animal warden

Your local dog warden may be most likely to be notified if someone finds your pet. The duties and responsibilities of a dog warden include like dealing with stray dogs, enforcing dog related legislation and promoting responsible dog ownership.

If you think your dog has been stolen, especially if they are a pedigree breed, you should contact your local police department.

Rescue organisations such as RSPCA, SSPCA, Cats Protections and rescue centres

Someone may have found your pet and handed them in to a rescue organisation (or local vet). Give them a call to check, because even if they don’t have your pet, you can still ask them to keep a look out and give them your number.

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.

The vet

Your local vet could know where your pet is in case someone has reported them. The role of the veterinarian is very varied: he has to insert identification microchips, provide suitable paperwork for animals travelling abroad, perform surgery, euthanise old and terminally ill animals and immunise animals against different types of disease.

Shopkeepers and supermarkets

Putting up lost posters on your supermarket noticeboard can help find your pet back. You can also simply tell the local shopkeepers that your pet is missing. This way they can ask their customers if they saw your animal and pass on the information.

The neighbourhood

Use posters and flyers in your neighbourhood and contact neighbours who may have seen your pet. If you have recently moved and your old house is nearby, drop by to see if your pet hasn’t wandered back to the wrong house. You can also post flyers in your neighbours’ letterbox to let them know about your pet’s disappearance.

Electronic tools that can help find a pet

Bengal cat with a GPS tracker on its collar

A pet microchip

The best way to identify your 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.

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.

Finding a microchipped animal is easier

If you have found a wandering animal, the first thing you should do is see if you can identify them. Check for a collar with a name tag on it. If the pet don’t have any collar, Dog Wardens then will be able to scan them for any microchip. If the animal is injured, you should bring them to the nearest veterinary clinic, which will also be able to scan for a microchip and be able to identify the owner.

With pet identification, your pet can be identified by a professional if they are found by a third party. The identification chip does not allow you to find your pet's location, but it does contain information such as the owner's name and telephone number.

If you have found a lost pet, it is recommended that you take them to the vet to check if they are chipped. If they are, the vet will be able to contact the database which contains the owner's information.

A pet GPS tracker

Not suitable for an implant

The GPS tracker 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.

The best way to find your lost pet

A GPS tracker for dogs or GPS collar for cats contains 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 them. A downloadable app via a smartphone allows the owner to be permanently connected to the GPS chip in the tracker.

Why do pets run away?

black cat in a tree

There are various reasons why your pet may run away. Many of them are common to both dogs and cats. Others are specific to one or the other. Here are some of them.

They might be bored

Your dog or cat may find a way to escape if they are bored. Perhaps you have left them alone for a long time and they are lonely. Some dogs may go to a neighbour's house where there are other dogs or children to play with. They may also have a lot of energy to expend because they have no toys or other dogs to play with.

As for cats, some will want to play with you when you get home. Others have favourite times of the day when they like to run around the house with other cats.

They have experienced fear

Some dogs and cats run away because they are scared. Many dogs are frightened by sudden loud noises such as thunderstorms, fireworks, big crowds and gunfire. About 1 in 5 lost pets goes missing after a loud noise. Take extra caution and keep your dog in a safe place indoors during loud or crazy times!

As for cats, the outside can be a fun place, but it can also be quite dangerous. They could be chased by the neighbour’s dog, feel threatened by stray cats or also be frightened by loud noises.

To satisfy their mating instinct

A dog or cat that hasn’t been neutered or spayed may escape in search of a mate. Dogs become sexually mature when they are about 6 months old. Cats usually become sexually mature as young as 4 months of age. This strong and natural urge is a very common reason for cats and dogs to run away.

They need attention

Your dog might run away because it stresses them out to be apart from you. They may bark, cry, whine and destroy things. A dog with separation anxiety will usually run away right after you leave and try to find you.

Despite what some people might say, cats want and need to socialize with their owners. A study has shown that cats are able to create attachments with humans. According to this study, cats not only have the ability to bond with their owners, but they can also develop insecure attachments. Signs of insecure attachments include twitching their tails, licking their lips, or avoiding their owners when they return.

So, although it may seem like your cat is rejecting you by running away from you or your home in general, in reality this is how your cat is showing you that they feel abandoned. If, every time he goes away, you start looking for them, calling their name, they may start using this technique to get your attention.


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. To help you deal with this kind of situation, read our complete guide on how to find a lost pet. Start with the first chapter which explains when to start worrying if your cat is not coming home.

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.