Finding a lost cat or dog

Finding a lost cat or dog

Losing your pet is a stressful experience from the moment you realize you have a missing cat or dog. This guide will teach you everything you need to know to lead an efficient search.

Complete guide

This valuable guide will help you find your lost cat or dog.

Losing a pet is one of the most frustrating and stressful experiences a pet owner can have. According to the American Humane Society, millions of Americans lose a pet every year. Heartbroken pet parents often turn to the internet, asking, “how to find a lost pet?” and wonder where they should look for their pet first. Let’s look at what you can do to find your lost dog or cat.

How do you know if your pet is really lost?

A cat hidden behind a tree.

How to find a lost cat

Cats are expert hiders, so the first step toward looking for a lost cat is checking your home from top to bottom and its favorite hiding spaces. Unlike dogs, cats have a remarkable ability to squeeze into even the tiniest spaces. You should check under the bed, behind dressers, and even at the top of the closet for your missing cat.

If you still can’t find your lost cat and believe it escaped outside, set a box with fresh food and water near your home. If your cat is hiding in the bushes or them neighbor’s yard, it may come out to eat and drink at night. Cats are most active at dawn and dusk, so concentrate some of your searches outside during these times.

A sitting dog seen from behind

Where to look for a missing dog

To find a lost dog, start searching his favorite areas of the house and neighborhood. You might want to look under your deck, in the garage, or in your neighbor’s garden. Dogs can travel like cats, but most missing dogs are recovered within two miles of where they went missing.

If your dog is elderly, you may focus your attention on a two or three-mile radius. The search radius should be bigger for puppies or young, agile dogs.

Consider your dog’s favorite activities and behavior traits to find your missing dog. Does it like to go to the dog park? If so, you might want to check there. If your dog is friendly and loves people, there’s a high chance he may approach a stranger, increasing your chances of reuniting with your lost dog.


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In this guide, you will find 5 key steps to follow to conduct an effective search and to find your dog or cat as soon as possible.

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Chapters of our guide

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section 1

People and places who can help with a lost pet search

Finding a lost pet on your own is possible, but you should make your search more efficient and effective with help from suitable sources. Here are the main players you should contact for help finding a missing cat or dog.

A cat sitting on a large stone by the water

Animal control

You should contact animal control immediately if you have a lost dog or cat. Animal control is a local agency that helps reunite lost pets, responds to calls about animals in distress, and helps ensure humane animal treatment.

If someone finds your lost pet, they will likely contact animal control and may bring your pet to the shelter. You should check with animal control and the shelter every couple of days to find a lost pet.

Many animal control departments have a phone number or online form where you can report a lost pet.

A stray puppy sitting in the street.


If your animal is friendly, someone possibly found your lost cat or dog and took them to a rescue organization for safety. A rescue is a group of animal-loving volunteers who care for stray animals and try to find them a suitable home. Some rescues specialize in cats, others specialize in dogs, and some care for both species.

Cat rescues often go into the community to care for community cats, feeding and providing healthcare for them. A rescue worker may spot your missing dog or cat. Rescues are a powerful ally for a lost pet.

You should reach out to your local rescue organizations and let them know that you lost your pet so they can keep a lookout for your animal and share information on their social media.

A shopkeeper assisting a customer

Local stores and cafes

Local businesses can also help you search for a lost cat or dog. You may ask them if you can put your lost pet flyer on a community bulletin board. Visit any supermarkets, delis, and cafes within your neighborhood, and see if you can post the notice. Most public libraries feature a community board and will likely let you place a flyer. Other places you may post flyers include: Community centers, Laundromats, Pet stores, Animal shelters, Pet groomers, Pizza places, Kennels, Daycare and childcare centers.

Veterinarian offices

Veterinarians care for hundreds of cats and dogs in your area, so if someone finds your pet, they may take it to their local vet for a scan. If you have a missing cat or dog, let your vet know so their clients and staff can also keep an eye out for your pet. Your veterinarian and other local veterinarians will likely post one of your missing pet flyers in their office.

Neighbourhood streets


Your local newspaper’s classified advertisements may feature a lost and found pet section. Check with your city or county newspaper about placing an advertisement for your lost dog or cat. Some newspapers offer free or reduced-rate ads for lost pet notices, so take a minute to check on the newspaper website or within the paper itself.

Your neighborhood

Missing dog or cat posters in your neighborhood on trees or telephone poles can attract attention and may lead to your pet’s safe return. Visit your neighbors with a recent photo and description of your pet, plus ask if they can check under their deck, in their garage, or a shed just in case your pet accidentally got trapped. Avoid putting a lost pet flyer in your neighbor’s mailbox, as that’s against the United States Postal Service code.

Section 2

Electronic tools to find a lost pet

Finding your pet can be easier if you use some electronic tools in the search. Luckily, technology’s evolution gives pet parents new ways to find a missing dog or cat.

A vet doing a microchip implantation


A microchip is as small as a single grain of rice implanted between the shoulder blades under your pet’s skin. Most shelter pets and rescue animals have a microchip that carries the pet’s information, such as name, address, and owner’s phone number. Vets, animal shelters, and rescues can scan a lost dog or cat for the chip. A microchip is an excellent tool for identifying your pet, but it doesn’t offer the ability to track or geolocate a pet; it only helps if someone finds your lost pet and takes it for a scan. Contact the microchip company and report your lost pet as soon as possible so that they can update their records.

A shiba wearing a GPS tracker

Pet GPS trackers

GPS trackers for dogs or cats allow you to track every movement your pet makes and see their location at a glance with a smartphone app, for instance. GPS pet trackers require a battery which has to be replaced every five years approximately, and sometimes a SIM card; for all these reasons, you can’t implant a GPS tracker in a pet’s skin. The tracker attaches to your pet’s existing collar, and thanks to it weighing less than an ounce, it offers monitoring without impairing your pet’s ability to run, jump, play, and nap.

chat dans une cage fourriere

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section 3

Why do pets run away?

Pets can run away from home for many reasons. Both dogs and cats run away and share some of the same reasons for doing so. Other reasons apply more to a dog than a cat or vice versa. If your pet runs away, here are a few reasons why:

A tired and bored dog

Out of boredom

Cats and dogs can be bored, just like their owners. Animals need enrichment, such as toys, activities, and attention. Pets left alone for long periods may want to go looking for excitement, especially if they don’t have another animal in the house.

New surroundings

Some pets don’t like change. If you move to a new place, your dog or cat may be scared, especially if it’s a dramatic shift from your previous home. A lost pet may go missing because they want to find familiar surroundings, so it tries to return to its old home.

A labrador retriever standing in the fog


Fear is a significant motivation when dogs or cats run away. Pets often try to escape loud noises, such as thunderstorms or fireworks. In the United States, more pets run away on the 4th of July weekend than during any other time of year. Both cats and dogs may fear loud noises, so try to keep your pets inside whenever there’s loud noise or commotion outside. Even a cat used to the outdoors may run away from fear.

Separation anxiety

Our pets are our best friends, but sometimes they don’t want to be away from us at all. A dog or cat may run away if you’re apart, especially if you have a pet sitter for several days. Your pet may go looking for you. Cats have a reputation for being aloof and standoffish, but many cats are devoted to their owners. Like dogs, cats crave socialization and affection from humans. An insecure cat may run to avoid you after your return home, lick its lips, and even twitch its tail angrily. If a cat repeatedly acts impulsively and runs away out of annoyance, it may venture too far one day.

A cat kissing his owner

Natural instinct

While they are our pets, dogs and cats have instincts, and they may act on them. A puppy or kitten that isn’t neutered or spayed (“fixed”) may seek a mate, running outside to find a suitable match. Cats are first ready to breed at around four months and go into heat, trying to attract a mate. Dogs are slightly behind in maturity but enter the heat cycle at approximately six months.

Prey and hunting instinct

Some dogs and cats love to hunt, and a strong prey drive can cause pets to run away. A cat or dog that sights prey, such as a squirrel, may chase wildly after the animal. Cats, especially, have an instinct to “hunt, catch, kill, eat” and can act on it, especially if they spy on a bird, chipmunk, or other small animals.

A lost pet is an unfortunate reality for many people. Finding your lost dog or cat takes its toll on your emotions, time, and energy, especially if you have to search for several days.

Our guide on finding a lost pet outlines how to search for a missing pet and what to do if you find someone’s lost cat or dog.

Find out the 5 most important steps to find your lost pet

How to find a lost pet ?

Discover the 5 most important steps

All the information you need to find your beloved companion