When a pet goes missing, everything we knew about what to do seems to disappear from our minds. A sense of panic and anxiety sets and we often can’t even think of where to start to look.

If you’re traveling and your pet goes missing your level of concern expands significantly. At the same time, if you found a pet, things can be equally confusing. Who do you call? Do you bring the pet into your home? How do I know if it is safe to approach the animal? etc.

We’ve collected the following tips and recommendations as a handy resource on what to do if you’ve lost your pet or if you find a a lost pet.

Guidelines When You Lose Your Pet

  • Immediately call local and neighboring shelters and animal care and control facilities to see if your pet has been brought there. Many of these facilities also post information about strays on their websites, so check there too. Some facilities require you to visit in person. Bring a photo of your pet. Be aware that sometimes pets are held in non-public parts of the facility. Continue contacting shelters every 2 to 3 days until your pet is found. Contact animal care and control facilities daily.
  • Immediately contact local and neighboring police departments. Continue contacting every 2 to 3 days until your pet is found.
  • Immediately start looking for your pet. The sooner you start, the better your chances of success. Begin looking at the point where the animal was last seen.
  • Check backyards, streets, and garages. Search during the day, and also at night. Cats often hide during the day in small sheltered places such as under porches, behind garbage cans, under cars, in sheds, in boxes, and in window wells. Cats climb so also look up in trees or on house tops. Dogs are often drawn to parks, woods, or school yards.
  • Notify neighbors, delivery people, newspaper carriers, and sanitation workers.
  • Check local fast food restaurants, ice cream parlors, and other places where people might congregate.
  • Check the local grooming shops for breeds that require grooming.
  • Leave food and water outside your door to attract your pet.
  • Put out a box containing an unwashed item of your clothing in a protected area of the yard to attract the pet to your scent.
  • Create a poster using a clear photograph and post it at neighborhood places such as grocery stores, schools, laundromats, pet stores, and veterinarian offices. Use ink that won’t run if it rains.
  • Place a lost ad in local papers to be run daily for two weeks, but do not use the pet’s name. Be sure to check found listings also.
  • When you find your pet, remove any posters and website postings. Also contact shelters, police stations, and neighbors to let them know your pet has been found.

Guidelines When Encountering a Lost Pet

  • Never put yourself in harm’s way by attempting to capture an animal that is behaving aggressively.
  • If you cannot safely approach the animal or if it runs away, call your local animal control or police department immediately. Be prepared to give the dispatcher the exact street address where the animal was last seen.
  • Always approach stray animals slowly and cautiously while speaking in a calm, gentle voice.
  • You can also use food to coax a frightened animal into approaching you.
  • DO NOT force yourself on the pet. If they are too frightened to approach and/or seem agitated if you approach, stay away and call for help.
  • If the pet won’t come to you, you may be able to gently “corral” them into a yard with a fence. This obviously works best for dogs.
  • Lost pets are frequently encountered very close to their home, so as you move towards them, they may head right back to their home.
  • Be very careful of streets, driveways and alleys as cars won’t necessarily be looking for you or the animal.

If You Safely Secure a Lost Pet, continue to keep SAFETY first!

  • Ideally, dogs should be secured using a leash. A belt or piece of rope can be used as a slip lead in an emergency, but keep in mind that these items are not appropriate as a routine means of controlling a dog. If you take the dog home, then a fenced yard is an option for holding them, but watch them carefully as they may have gotten loose in the first place by jumping a fence.
  • Most cats do not like to be held for any length of time, so stray kitties are best confined inside a cat carrier, secure box (with air holes), small room of your house or temporarily in your car (as long as the car is well ventilated and not too hot).

Next Steps After Safely Securing a Lost Pet

  • Check for ID – Once you have contained the lost pet, check to see if the animal is wearing an ID tag. If so, you may be able to immediately contact the owner and return the pet to her or him.
  • Call the local authorities – Call all your local animal control, humane society and police department (non-emergency number) as the owner may have already reached out to them looking for their pet.
  • Get the pet scanned for a microchip. If the pet is not wearing an ID tag, the best course of action is to either take it to your local animal shelter or call the animal control/police department to pick it up and transport it to the shelter. The shelter staff will scan the animal for a microchip. If the animal is chipped, the shelter staff will be able to immediately look up the owner’s contact information by calling the microchip company or accessing the microchip database online. Although it may be tempting to keep a lost pet and try to find the owner yourself, it is absolutely essential that the animal be scanned for a microchip.

What Else Can You Do?

Whether you hold the pet or turn it over to a local authority, here are a few other things you can do to help.

  • Talk to your neighbors – Knock on your neighbors doors and ask if they lost a pet or know of someone with a pet meeting the description of the one you found
  • Post fliers – If possible, take a photo of the pet and post fliers around the area where the pet was found. Be sure to also distribute the fliers to local veterinary clinics.
  • Run an ad in your local paper – Local newspapers will often run these ads for free as part of their community outreach efforts.
  • Visit Lost and Found Websites – At the bottom of this page are links to several national databases which help reunite lost and found pets. You can enter what you know about the pet you found in case the pet’s owner also uses one of these sites

Have you found a pet?

Report a Pet You Found


Listed below are national lost and found pet databases which may help you find your lost pet or help you return a found pet to his/her family.


Finding Rover


America’s National Lost and Found Pet Database


Fido Finder

Pet Amber Alert

Lost Dogs of America

Tabby Tracker – cats only

The Center for Lost Pets

Lost My Doggie

Pet Key

Helping Lost Pets

Mission Reunite

Paw Boost