How to Find a Missing Pet

Four Parts:Confirming That Your Pet Is Actually MissingSearching the NeighborhoodGetting Others Involved in the SearchPreventing Future Incidents

Losing a beloved animal can be heartbreaking. However, it's important that you don't give up hope. Many missing pets are found safe and reunited with their families. What you do in the first 24 hours is imperative if you want to find your loved one. While nothing can guarantee the return of a lost pet, being proactive from the start will increase the likelihood that you and your pet are reunited.

Part 1
Confirming That Your Pet Is Actually Missing

  1. Image titled Find a Lost Dog Step 3
    Search your home. Often times a pet will hide somewhere in the house if he becomes startled or upset. Before you panic and start canvassing the neighborhood, do a thorough inspection of your home to see if your pet is hiding somewhere nearby.[1]
    • There's a good chance your pet might just be hiding. Many pets do this when something frightens them or if they feel threatened in any way.
    • Check inside cabinets, closets, and spare rooms in case your pet tried to hide or accidentally got locked into a room/storage space.
    • Look behind, under, and inside every piece of furniture and every appliance.
  2. Image titled Find a Lost Cat Step 1
    Check around your home and yard. Once you've searched everywhere inside your home, you'll want to move the search outdoors. Look around your property before you comb the neighborhood, though, as there's a chance your pet might still be on your property.[2]
    • Search through your home's crawl space, on your roof (for cats), in your home's gutters, and in any nearby trees.
    • Check your garage, under your car, in your yard, and in or behind your shed (if you have one).
    • Walk around the edge of your property once you've searched everywhere inside. Keep an eye out in your neighbors' yards and in the street or sidewalk out front.
  3. Image titled Find a Lost Cat Step 6
    Use food/toys to lure your pet out. Whether you're searching indoors or outside, using food and toys is a great way to catch your pet's attention. If he's still on your property, there's a good chance your pet will come running (or at least make noise) when he hears his favorite things.[3]
    • Shake a food dish or treat jar full of treats that your pet loves, or shake/rattle/squeeze your pet's favorite toy.
    • If your pet is hiding within your home, he'll hear the treats or his toy and come out of hiding.

Part 2
Searching the Neighborhood

  1. Image titled Feed Cats Step 16
    Set up an outdoor feeding area. Once you've ruled out the possibility that your pet is still inside or on your property, you'll need to move your search to the surrounding community. Before you leave, though, set up an outdoor feeding and play area in your yard, on your porch, or in the garage. That way, if your pet does return (and there's a good chance he will), he'll know that his food and toys are there and recognize it as his home.[4]
    • If your pet is in the neighborhood, he probably won't stray too far from home.
    • Your pet most likely recognizes the familiar sights and smells of your home, and will probably come back when he gets hungry or tired.
    • Leaving some food out might entice your pet back into your yard or onto your porch.
    • Try to have someone stay out in case your pet comes back. If you absolutely can't keep anyone outside in the yard or on the porch, try leaving your garage door open so that your pet can come inside.
  2. Image titled Find a Lost Cat Step 9
    Keep looking after dark. Don't give up hope once it gets dark out. Many animals are found at night, and in fact your pet may be waiting for nightfall to return home or look for you.[5]
    • Though dogs may be out at any time, cats tend to hide from people and activity that may be frightening or overstimulating.
    • There's a good chance that a lost cat will come out of hiding at night and walk around in the street or sidewalks after dark, once things are calmer in your neighborhood.
  3. Image titled Find a Lost Cat Step 2
    Bring a bright flashlight. A flashlight is one of your best tools for finding a lost pet. This invaluable object will come in handy, both night and day, as you search for your lost friend.[6]
    • Carrying a flashlight can be helpful, even during the day time. It can help you check in dark places.
    • Make sure you look in typical animal hiding places, such as underneath porches and shrubs, under cars, and in alleys.[7]
    • Your cat's or dog's eyes should "glow" in the dark when you shine a flashlight beam at him.
  4. Image titled Find a Lost Cat Step 8
    Carry a recent photo. In addition to a flashlight, you should always bring at least one recent photo of your pet with you as you search. Descriptions can only go so far, but seeing an actual photograph might trigger someone's memory or make them realize that the pet they saw was yours.[8]
    • As you search your neighborhood, you can show the photo to neighbors and ask if they've seen your pet.
    • Ask anyone you pass, but especially press for details from people walking their dogs, your mail carrier, and any nearby business owners.[9]
  5. Image titled Find a Lost Cat Step 3
    Make a lot of noise as you search the neighborhood. While you comb the streets, it's a good idea to let yourself be heard. Your pet will recognize your voice, and he may come out of hiding when he realizes you've come looking for him.[10]
    • Call your pet's name in an affectionate tone. Don't yell or use an angry tone, or he might not come out of hiding.
    • Bring your pet's favorite treats and/or his favorite toy. Use these items to make a lot of noise and let your pet know that you have these things for him.
    • Even as you make noise, be sure to take regular pauses to be quiet and listen. Your pet might bark, meow, or whimper in response, so you'll want to be sure you can hear him if he does.

Part 3
Getting Others Involved in the Search

  1. Image titled Find a Lost Cat Step 27
    Let your neighbors know your pet's missing. If you can't find your pet on your own by searching the neighborhood, you may need to enlist the help of your neighbors. Don't ask them to come search with you (unless you're very close with one or two of your neighbors), as this would be a huge imposition. However, you absolutely can and should let your neighbors know about the situation and ask them to keep an eye out for your pet.[11]
    • Hand out posters or photographs to your neighbors, your mail carrier, and your local pizza delivery driver. Someone might see your pet in the community, and will need to know what your pet looks like and how to contact you.
    • Include a full description of your pet. Specify the color, size, breed, age, sex, and any identifying characteristics, as well as the last time and place your pet was seen.
  2. Image titled Get an Escaped House Cat to Come Home Step 6
    Put up missing posters. Posters are a great way to let your neighbors and anyone passing through your community know about your missing pet. Be sure to include a colored photograph on the poster and a detailed description of your pet, including your pet's name, age, breed, and identifying characteristics.[12] Hang your posters in the following locations:
    • grocery stores
    • community centers
    • veterinary clinics/offices
    • traffic intersections
    • pet supply stores
    • give copies to your mail carrier in case he sees your pet on his route[13]
  3. Image titled Find a Lost Cat Step 35
    Contact the authorities and shelters in your county. If someone has found your pet, there's a good chance that individual has or will report it to the proper agency. Depending on where you live, that agency may include law enforcement, animal care, and/or local animal control/animal pound.[14]
    • Reach out to every shelter, veterinary office/clinic, police station, and sheriff's office in your county.
    • Consider contacting the authorities, vet's offices, and shelters in your neighboring county/counties. Some animals run hard without realizing how far from home they've gotten, so your pet may turn up farther than you'd expected.
    • Hand out posters with identifying details about your pet, a recent color photograph, and your contact information to the authorities at every agency you visit.
    • Visit nearby animal shelters and animal control agencies on a daily basis (if possible) to see if anyone has found your pet. They should have posters and photographs, but sometimes a pet may not be recognized by anyone but his owner.[15]
  4. Image titled Find a Lost Cat Step 36
    Check on the internet. Some people who find a pet with no ID will try to put up a notice on the internet. There are a number of websites that help facilitate this process, including (but not limited to)[16]:
    • Center for Lost Pets
    • Craigslist
    • Fido Finder
    • Lost Dogs of America
    • Lost Pet USA
    • Missing Pet Partnership
    • NextDoor
    • PetHarbor[17]
    • your local veterinarian's website
  5. Image titled Find a Lost Dog Step 26
    Watch out for pet-recovery scams. While you would hope that anyone who responds to your posters would have real information, the sad fact is there are some greedy/malicious individuals who may try to scam you. These people may be trying to get money from you up front, or they may try to lure you to an unsafe location. Don't fall for their tricks, and if you suspect foul play call the police immediately.[18]
    • If you put up posters or online notifications, leave out one identifying characteristic (a minor one, but one that anyone with your pet would notice).
    • If someone contacts you claiming to have your pet, ask that individual to describe the identifying characteristic you left out. If they can't, they might be trying to scam you.
    • Be wary of anyone who demands that you wire them money or deliver a reward for returning your pet. If someone makes such a demand, ask them to meet you somewhere and alert the police about the incident and the meeting time/place.
    • Never invite someone to your home if they claim to have your pet. Likewise, don't go to an individual's home, even if he claims to have found your pet.
    • Ask the individual to meet you in front of the local police station or in an otherwise crowded place.[19]
    • Don't go to meet the caller alone if he says he's found your pet. Always bring a friend or relative with you, and let a third party know where you're going and the phone number of the individual you're meeting.

Part 4
Preventing Future Incidents

  1. Image titled Find a Lost Dog Step 28
    Keep an ID tag on your pet at all times. Every pet should wear a collar with an ID tag at all times. Whether you have a cat or dog, indoor or outdoor, make sure your pet can be properly identified and that you can be contacted in case anyone finds your furry friend.[20]
    • Even indoor pets should wear ID tags on their collars at all times.
    • Your pet's ID tag should include your name, address, and phone number.
    • If your pet does manage to get away from you, there's a much better chance of him being returned if he's wearing an ID tag.
  2. Image titled Find a Lost Dog Step 29
    Consider getting a microchip. Microchipping your pet is a safe, easy, and relatively pain-free way to help protect your pet from being lost. The chip itself is smaller than a grain of rice and is injected into your pet just below the skin, typically around the shoulders.[21]
    • Your pet's microchip will include a registration number that is unique to your animal. It will also include a phone number to contact the registry where your pet's chip is listed.
    • An animal shelter or vet's office will be able to use a handheld scanning device to get this information off the chip by simply scanning your pet's shoulders. It won't hurt, and the chip stays inside your pet at all times.
    • While microchips are safe and effective, they should never be the only line of defense in protecting your pet. Always keep a collar and ID tag on your pet, even if he has the chip.
  3. Image titled Get a Cat to Be Your Friend Step 6
    Prevent your pet from escaping. There are many reasons why a pet may run away, and unless you are actively abusing your pet, it has absolutely nothing to do with you personally. Some pets try to escape due to social isolation/frustration (being left alone for too long, having a boring environment without any toys or anyone to play with). Other animals try to escape in order to find a mate and try to reproduce. Still other pets escape due to separation anxiety or other fears/phobias (like thunderstorms, fireworks, or even construction sounds).[22]
    • The first step to preventing your dog from escaping again is to determine why he ran away in the first place. Think about what may have been going on, both inside your home and in your community, when your pet ran away the last time.
    • Have your pet neutered/spayed to prevent sexual roaming.
    • Give your dog plenty of attention everyday, including play time. Make sure your pet has toys, and try to teach him new tricks (for dogs) or take an obedience class together.
    • Make sure your dog gets long walks everyday. The exercise can help tire out a restless dog and may make him less likely to roam the neighborhood.
    • If your dog has significant fears/phobias, keep him indoors except during walks (for dogs). Always keep a fearful dog on a leash at all times.
    • Let your pet adjust gradually to any new changes to his environment. Moving to a new home, adding or losing a family member, or sudden schedule changes can all affect a dog's sense of security and comfort.


  • If you do not have a photo of your pet and your pet is a pure breed, you may find "close-enough" photos of other pets on the web.
  • You may have to continue your search for several days or even weeks before you see results.
  • Contact your neighbors, the animal shelters, and the vets' offices again. Who knows? Your pet may have been found while you were distributing fliers.
  • If you haven't found your pet within a day or so, you may wish to broaden your search to surrounding neighborhoods.
  • Some local radio stations have a segment that helps owners find lost pets. Find out if your station has this, and ask for help. You also may want to listen to the radio itself, just in case someone found your animal and has contacted the station.


  • If you choose to offer a reward, do not list the amount of the reward. If you do, either the person who has your pet will not return it "because it's not enough", or, if it's sufficiently large (as often is the case or rare/exotic pets and prize winning show animals), then you'll get a lot of false leads. Only give the reward when the pet is in your hand.

Things You'll Need

  • A photo of your pet
  • A way to print out several copies of fliers
  • Phone numbers of local vets' offices, police/sheriff's offices, the local animal pound, and local animal shelters

Sources and Citations

Show more... (19)

Article Info

Categories: Pet Loss