By Jean Hofve, DVM

Finding Lost Pets

With the warm weather of summer, windows and doors are often open, and pets can get out and lost more easily. Several studies have recently been published about lost dogs and cats. The numbers are disturbing. Less than 2% of cats entering shelters were reunited with their owners, and only 53% of lost cats were ever found. For dogs, 34% were recovered from a shelter, and another 18% were identified and returned home from information on the tags they were wearing; overall, 71% of lost dogs were eventually found.

One unhappy trend is that cat guardians wait an average of 3 days before calling a shelter or doing much of anything about a lost cat. While almost 60% of cats were allowed to go outside, only 14% of them were wearing tags. The perception seems to be that lost cats will eventually come home; but in reality, only 35% returned on their own. A missing dog seems to be more obvious, and dog guardians take action much faster.

In cases where someone found a lost pet, 46% of dogs were reunited with their families — compared to only 1 cat. If you find a lost pet, you should know that you can run a “found” ad in your local paper for free.

Preventing your pet from getting lost in the first place is obviously the best bet. Here are the basic principles:

  • All pets should wear a collar and tags (for cats, this must be a breakaway collar!) and/or a microchip. Even with a microchip, tags increase the chances of a safe return.
  • Make sure that any fencing around your property is intact, to reduce the chances of your dog escaping.
  • Cats should be kept indoors or in a safe outdoor enclosure. If you disagree–but are ready for a little reality check–please read this article.
  • Always transport dogs on an adequate leash, and cats in a carrier. One of our clients drove up with her cat loose in the car, and when she opened the door, the cat was out like a shot–leaving several deep scratches in the woman’s legs on her way out. We knew where the cat was hiding and could make sure she had food and water, but despite a neighborhood effort, it took 2 weeks and a live trap to get her out of there.
  • Take good photos of your pet now, so you’ll have them in case you ever need them.

Despite precautions, some pets still get lost. Here are the things you should do to maximize your chances of finding it:

  • Check your property first. Cats can wiggle into very small spaces; many “lost” cats are hiding–or stuck–in a crawl space, drainage pipe, or behind appliances or furniture.
  • Walk your neighborhood calling your pet or squeezing a favorite squeaky toy. “Silent” dog whistles can be heard at long distances, and attract cats as well as dogs.
  • Talk to your neighbors, mailperson, delivery drivers, and kids–and be sure to give them your phone number.
  • Call, or preferably visit, your local shelter right away, and keep checking daily. Ask about local rescue groups that may be fostering your pet.
  • Enlist online resources:,, and social media.
  • Call local veterinary clinics to see if they have treated injuries your pet may have received.
  • Call your local Dept. of Transportation daily to see if they have found a body.
  • Post signs in your neighborhood with a picture of your pet (in color if possible) and your phone number–but not your address or name.
  • Put an ad in your local newspaper as well as neighborhood newsletters or circulars such as “Penny Saver.”
  • Read the “found” ads in your local paper.
  • Put smelly items outdoors where your pet can detect them; dirty clothing, pet’s bedding,  litterbox, stinky food (canned mackerel works well for cats who like fish).

When contacting shelters, vets and rescues, remember that your description of your pet is very unlikely to match their description, so if possible, go yourself and look, at least every other day. Leave a picture of your pet at each place, along with your phone number.

Always withhold a few details about your pet from any ads or flyers; there are unscrupulous people out there who will take advantage of your loss. You need to be able to ascertain if they really have your pet.

Your pet needs to carry identification! We’ve just discovered an amazing new technology in the form of an ID tag about the same size as most tags. But Top Tag Pet ID is amazingly different!  It’s a waterproof mini-flash drive that you can keep fully updated via your computer—not only with name, address, and phone number, but also contact information for your veterinarian, photos, details on your pet’s diet, medication, and other special needs. You can update it when the info changes–or any time you want! It’s small and light enough for cats and even the smallest teacup poodle! I was really impressed that when one family took their dog camping, they were able to update the info on their dog’s tag with their campsite number! Get yours at!

Reader Feedback on How to Find a Lost Pet

Hello and thank you for your Cats Walk Newsletter.  I would like to make a suggestion for your “Finding Lost Pets” topic. As this is an e-mail newsletter for reading by those with access to the internet, perhaps you could request those who have online pet lost and founds to submit their URL for those who have lost their pets. Having these URL’s in one click would be most helpful and also initiate the use of these sites, most of which are free and on which you can post photos. There is clear evidence that online lost and founds are the best way to locate a lost pet.

Metro Pet Tracker ( is a free listing service serving the Los Angeles are but has information for anyone anywhere. It also lists L.A. shelters, info on how to find your pet, how to keep your pet secure and safe, a way to print up lost or found posters, etc. Please, visit us and let me know what you think.

aka The Tracker

Thank you, Madeleine, this is a great resource! Keep up the good work!