Lost pets are a common problem in the United States, with approximately ten million pets wandering off each year. For pet owners, a lost pet is a traumatic and challenging experience. The good news is there are many steps you can take to avoid your precious pal getting lost in the first place and if they do become lost, to increase the chance of your dog or cat being found.

How to protect your pet before they get lost

First off, prevention is worth a pound of searching for a lost animal. Let's look at how we can reduce your pet's chance of getting lost in the first place with these pet safety tips. Dog wellness and cat wellness should be top priority when getting a new pet, and that means supervision and extra safety tips.

Keep them fenced in if you have a backyard

Most dogs who go missing are unleashed or in an unprotected area. Well-trained dogs can still wander away or even be stolen. Keep your dog in a fenced area or on a leash at all times.

Your fence should be high depending on your pet's size and propensity to jump. Make sure the fence is buried at least six inches into the ground for those pups who like to dig tunnels. Many dogs are stolen each year, so a higher fence may deter potential dog thieves from peeking into your backyard or giving them access to reach over.

Indoor cats alike, enjoy many health and other benefits by staying inside, including avoiding getting lost or injured. Consider keeping your cat indoors—which will also help him avoid ticks, car accidents, and larger predators. Of course, if you both absolutely enjoy being outdoors, consider leashing your cat or building a cat run for them so they can have the best of both worlds. Supervision despite a fence will be more required for cat owners, compared to dog owners. Though it’s always recommended to be outside with your pet, cats especially will need an extra eye as they are able to climb over fences.

Get your dog trained

A trained dog is much less likely to run away. Dog training teaches the dog to behave well and gives the owner valuable safety and care tips for their pet that may help them avoid losing their dog. Your dog will learn the stay-and-come commands and how to best behave on a leash and stay near. The increased communication between owner and pet will strengthen their bond, reducing the likelihood of bolting.

Hang out with them

Cats will not want to hang out with you when outdoors, as there’s too much to explore and chase! The same can go for puppies or younger dogs. A well-fenced area may be enough for your pup but it’s always recommended to not leave them alone in the yard while away and to never leave him alone in a car. Many dogs that wander away can be curious, aloof,  bored and even lonely. This would give them a way to escape. If you must be away for work or other activities, consider crating the dog or hiring a pet sitter who can take your pet for walks or supervised backyard time.

Neuter or spay your pet

Animals that have been spayed or neutered are much less likely to go off in search of a mate while in heat, along with being happier and more well-adjusted in general. Check in with your vet to spay or neuter your dog or cat as soon as they recommend. This can be a difficult pet parenting decision, but one that will give lifelong peace of mind.

Microchip your pet

Dogs and cats can have a microchip placed under their skin to identify them if lost or stolen. The procedure is safe and painless for the animal and won’t bother them. Microchips have helped many pets reunite with their owners because most vets and shelters have the equipment to read the microchip. Talk to your veterinarian about this option if you have a pet who likes to wander.

Add an identification tag

For a while now, lost dogs and lost cats have been brought into shelters to be easily reunited with their owners, if they have an identification tag on their collars. Adding a tag to your dog or cat's collar is a non-invasive method to help ensure you’ll be reunited with your pet should someone find them. You can put your name and phone number on the tag to help others reach out if they find your furry friend.

Many pet owners hesitate, though, not wanting their phone numbers available to the public. If that concerns you, consider an alternate number for the purpose such as your friend or local pet shelter, upon their consent.

Get a pet license

One of the reasons communities require animal licensing is that the authorities can more easily inform you if your animal is lost, saving them time and money sheltering your pet. Rabies tags also help track down an owner of a lost animal.

Keep your documentation in order

Have your pet's picture, vaccination record, and DNA record (purebreds) organized in an easy-to-access place. If your pet does become lost, you’ll be in no frame of mind to be hunting around for paperwork from years past.

What to do when your pet is lost

The quicker the response, the more likely you’ll find your pet. Take the following steps as soon as you can:

  1. Walk the area where your pet was last seen and call for your lost dog or cat's name. Stop and talk to people you see on the street. If you have a picture of your pet on your phone (and who doesn't have a million?), have it ready. Even strangers will keep an eye out for your pet and do their best to return them.
  2. Many dogs and cats will hide when anxious or lost. Look under cars or around bushes or other nooks and crannies. If your initial search doesn't work, come back at night with a bag of treats, a flashlight and try again to call out for your pet.
  3. Many animals have a homing signal and make their way back to their neighborhood or even right to their doorstep. While your pet is lost, keep a lookout for it around your home. Leave a light on and be prepared to receive your pet back inside.  
  4. Get online and see if there are local social media groups, such as a Facebook page for “lost pets in the city of ___”  where you can post your pet's picture with a plea for help and information where you last saw your pet. Send a note to your online community, including your vet and dog or cat groomer. They’ll amplify the message and get the word out. Soon, you may have thousands of people with their eyes out for your pet.
  5. Email or visit your local pet shelters with a picture of your lost pet and information, including name, whether they have been microchipped, and what foods or behaviors could assist in bringing him home if spotted by someone.
  6. Contact a local newspaper or radio station. Email them with your story and a nice picture of your pet. They may put the information on their website or feature your pet in a newscast.
  7. Make DIY “lost pet” signs at home. This is preferably printed in color, so you can put them up around the area where your pet was lost. Consider hanging them in local coffee shops, supermarkets, vet offices, and pet supply stores.
  8. Offer a reward for your pet's return. Most people won’t accept a reward for doing the right thing, but the money might convince a dognapper to return your pup.
  9. Check local newspapers for “found pets” listings and keep checking in lost pets or local social media groups.
  10. Check out sites like petfinder.com and pets911.com. These sites have been set up to allow strangers to post about found pets or for you to post about your lost furry friend.
  11. If your pet is lost for more than a few days, its appearance may change. Let people know their previously beautifully groomed long hair may look a bit unkempt and dirty.

How Wagmo can help

Wagmo dog wellness plans and cat wellness plans not only help you with all those standard expenses around health care for your pet like vet visits, but they also include spaying or neutering (reducing sexual roaming in about 90% of cases) and microchipping.
Contact Wagmo today to choose the wellness plan that best suits your pet and your budget.