Don't panic—there are things you can do to prepare for the unthinkable.

By Karen Asp
May 20, 2020

Every pet owner's nightmare is having their four-legged friend go missing. Although we hope that never happens, the best way to find a lost pet is to be ready to jump into action. Both young and old pets, whether you bought them from a breeder or adopted from a shelter, can go missing, so it can happen to anyone. It's an upsetting situation, but if your dog or cat does happen to wander away, don't panic. The best thing to do is to remain calm so you can stay focused and check every single place where they could be. (Yes, even the most obvious areas inside your home.) After that, follow these steps.

Credit: Mats W. Nilsson/Getty Images

Get a Chip and ID

Getting your pet microchipped costs $15 to $45, and it's worth it, says Kim Barker, president of the nonprofit Lost Dogs of Fort Wayne in Indiana. In one survey, only 21.9% of non-chipped dogs who turned up at shelters as strays were returned to their owners. That number increased to 52.2% among microchipped dogs. Ask your vet about microchipping; if you adopt from a shelter, it often will chip your new pet. Once the chip is implanted, register your contact information and always update it if you move. For more insurance, order a collar personalized with your phone number or buy a nylon one you can write on (tags can fall off), so you can be contacted directly if your pet is found.

Do a Little Home Prep

Having a few items in place will come in handy. First, you'll want some good photos. Take pictures of your pet from different angles (make sure one shows her on all fours), and focus on any unique markings. You'll need these to identify them. Second, you'll need a scented item to help lure pets out of hiding. Rub four to six pieces of sterile gauze over your pet's body for 30 seconds, then place them in a new resealable bag with your pet's name and date. "This item can help lure her to you when you're out searching," says Jamie Katz, a Florida-based private investigator and pet detective. You should do this every few weeks as every dog's ability to pick up scents greatly varies, according to the Missing Animal Response Network.

Act Fast

If your pet has gone missing, you should have a plan of action. On social media sites, post pet photos, info, and exact location where they were last seen. Then, file a lost pet report with local animal shelters and visit the shelters every one to two days, asking to see all of the dogs or cats, including stray pickups. Put up flyers and waterproof signs large enough for people to see at a glance. Include a photo of your pet standing on all fours; a description including color, sex, breed, and weight; reward info; and your phone number. If there's been a sighting or you think you know which direction your pet went, place a fabric item that smells of you (one you touched or wore within 11 to 24 hours) and a piece of gauze with your pet's scent nearby; change every day. For cats, move their litter box to the porch. Their noses can pick up the scent from up to a mile away, Barker says. Set out food and water, and, if possible, crack the garage door.

Try a Tracker

GPS devices for pets help ensure they don't get lost in the first place. Whistle Go ($100, easily snaps onto your collar. Fi ($149, is a tracker that's built into a waterproof collar. It comes four different colors: gray, yellow, blue, and pink. The Findster Duo + ($150, is great if you have more than one dog. For one tracker it costs $150, for two it's $200, and for three it's $250. For these three, you designate a safe zone and get alerts from the app if your pet strays. Bonus: They track and analyze your dog's activity levels.


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