As a pet parent, there’s nothing scarier than discovering that your four-legged friend is missing – and unfortunately, the experience is all too common.

According to a study by the ASPCA, 15% of households have lost a dog or cat. While 85% of these pets were eventually recovered, some never found their way home.

The good news? With proper planning, prevention, and technology, you can help ensure that your pet remains safe and sound...and by your side.

Missing cat hides underneath vehicle

What to do before your pet goes missing

No one wants to think about losing a pet. But by preparing for the worst, you can increase the chances of a happy reunion – and possibly even prevent your pet from going missing in the first place. Consider these important safety tips.

Secure your home and yard

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Take some time to evaluate your house – could a motivated pet break free? Make sure all doors close completely, equip windows with pet-proof screens, and secure access to any balconies.

As for the yard, fences should reach all the way to the ground and be higher than your dog can jump. If your dog is a digger, you’ll likely need a cement base to prevent tunneling. Have a climber? Opt for a smooth board fence or escape-proof fence extensions.

It’s worth noting that very few fences can reliably contain a cat. If your feline friend enjoys the great outdoors, consider leash training or investing in a secure, open-air enclosure, such as a “catio.”

Keep up with training

Was your pup born to run? Some dogs can’t resist chasing squirrels, while others instinctively bolt when surprised by loud noises. For these unpredictable situations, a strong “recall” command – such as “come!” – can prevent a sprinting pup from becoming a missing pup.

The trick is to make returning to you more interesting than running away, so use plenty of praise and treats when teaching the command. Once your dog has mastered the cue, practice daily to keep the skill fresh. (New to training? Consider working with a certified trainer who uses positive reinforcement techniques.)

Microchip your pet

If your pet goes missing, a microchip is their ticket home. Painless and priceless, microchips are teeny-tiny devices (no bigger than a grain of rice!) inserted under a pet’s skin. When scanned at a shelter or veterinary office, a microchip transmits a unique number. Every number is stored in a microchip registry database. So as long as you have properly registered your pet’s microchip and kept your contact information updated, pet recovery specialists can use a lost pet’s microchip to look up the registry information and facilitate a reunion.

Data shows that microchipped dogs are more than twice as likely to be reunited with their families, while microchipped cats are returned 20 times more often.

“Microchips are the most reliable forms of pet identification available,” says Dana Rayman, Senior Manager of 24PetWatch Membership & Lost Pet Services. “ID tags can fall off, tattoos can become illegible over time and need to be registered in multiple states or provinces, but microchips provide permanent protection and peace of mind.”

Register and update your pet’s microchip

As important as they are, microchips aren't magic. They’re only as useful as the information attached to them – and unfortunately, only about 60% of microchips are registered with current contact details.

“It’s key to register your chip and keep the information up to date,” says Rayman. “When we find your pet, we want to make sure we can get in touch and reunite you as soon as possible.”

When you register your microchip with 24PetWatch, you can update your information anytime via the convenient online portal.   

Lonely dog in a city square

How to find a lost pet

Hopefully, your pet won’t stray farther than the other side of the couch. But if the unthinkable happens, try to stay calm – there are proven ways to help find your furry friend faster, and you’re not alone in the search. Here’s what to do if your pet goes missing:

Contact 24PetWatch

First things first: If your pet is lost, contact 24PetWatch and report it immediately. Our Lost Pet Recovery Team will get to work searching our nationwide database of found pets and start the recovery process.

“We encourage pet parents to contact us as soon as they realize their dog or cat is missing,” says Rayman. “It can be a scary experience, and we’re here to help. Whether your pet is found close to home or miles away, we’ll notify you immediately with any updates or information we have.”

Call local shelters

After contacting 24PetWatch, call your local shelters and animal rescues to see if your pet has been turned in. Continue to call daily and consider paying an in-person visit – shelters can be hectic, and staff may not be familiar with every animal. (To speed up this process, make a list of local animal welfare organizations before your pet goes missing!)

Place your pet’s belongings outside

Lost pets can become disoriented even when relatively close to home. To help them find their way back, place beds, litter boxes, and toys with familiar scents in your yard. Avoid leaving out food, which can attract other animals and actually scare off your pet.

Patrol the neighborhood

Throughout the day, take several walks or drives throughout the neighborhood, covering a radius of at least two miles and taking a new route each time. Bring recent photos, and alert neighbors, postal workers, and business owners to be on the lookout for your pet.

Create a lost pet poster

Make a lost pet poster containing the following:

  • A recent, high-quality photo of your pet
  • A detailed physical description
  • The last location your pet was seen
  • Your contact information
  • A rain-proof covering (plastic sheet protectors, clear contact paper, and clear packing tape can all work)

Hang posters throughout your neighborhood, being sure to include high-traffic areas such as major intersections, parks, and shopping districts. When near schools or playgrounds, put flyers at eye level for children – kids are natural animal lovers and tend to be more observant and curious than adults. Additionally, ask local businesses – especially those frequented by pet parents, such as groomers, veterinary offices, and pet supply stores – if they would hang your flyer on their bulletin board or near the cash register.

(For an easy template that you can print or distribute digitally, use our Lost Pet Poster Generator!)

Leverage social media

Social media is practically powered by cute animal photos, so it only makes sense to ask for the internet’s help. For Facebook, ensure that your post is public and shareable so it reaches beyond your immediate network. In addition to your own timeline, post your digital flyer on local neighborhood pages. If your community has a “lost pets” Facebook page, reach out to the administrators and ask if they could share your flyer as soon as possible. 

Neighborhood-centric social media sites, such as Nextdoor and Craigslist, can be helpful, as well.

Lost cat in the night

Quick tips: How to find a lost cat

Mysterious and low-key by nature, a missing cat can be more difficult to find than a missing dog. When searching, consider these species-specific tips.

  • Search (and re-search) the house. Cats are masters of hide-and-seek, so make sure your pet isn’t hiding inside the home. Stressed or sick cats may be especially likely to hide.
  • Look at night. A scared cat may hide during the day, then come out at night when the neighborhood is quiet.
  • Bring a flashlight. Cats like to hide in small, dark places, so bring a powerful flashlight.
  • Enlist the neighbors. Have your neighbors check their garages, sheds, and crawl spaces. If your cat wandered in, they could have become locked inside.

How to improve your chances of recovering a lost pet

Searching for a lost pet can be overwhelming, and time is of the essence. For additional support, consider premium Pet Protection Services, available as an Annual Protection Membership or Lifetime Protection Membership.

“When we talk about the 24PetWatch family, we’re not just talking about our employees – we’re passionate about keeping your pets safe,” says Rayman. “With a Pet Protection Membership, we’re here for you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

Every month, our Pet Protection Services help bring home up to 3,000 lost pets, on average. Here’s how we do it:

  • On-Call Recovery Experts: Members have 24/7 access to our experienced Pet Recovery Experts, who can immediately begin searching for your pet in our nationwide database. “You can call us at 4 a.m. on Christmas morning,” says Rayman. “And on holidays like the 4th of July, when loud fireworks often stress out pets, we increase our staffing to handle the increased call volume.”
  • Shelter Search Support: After searching for real-time updates on your pet’s whereabouts, our Recovery Experts will reach out to your local shelters and rescues.
  • Expert Suggestions: Our specialists are trained in pet recovery and prepared to provide personalized tips for finding your individual dog or cat.
  • Quicker Reunions: Our Recovery Experts can direct-connect you with the shelter or person who found your pet, leading to quicker homecomings.

“Sometimes you need extra help finding a lost pet, and we’re here to provide that,” says Rayman. “We’ve had instances where pets travel long distances, even crossing state borders, and we’re able to bring them home.”

Keeping pets safe and sound starts at home

We know – even thinking about lost pets can be stressful. However, the more you know about pet safety and recovery, the more prepared you are to keep your four-legged family members safe. With this in mind, set aside some time ASAP to escape-proof your home and yard, brush up on training, and double-check your pet’s microchip information. Someday, it could mean the difference between lost and found.

For more information about enhanced Pet Protection Services, contact a Lost Pet Recovery Specialist today at 1-866-597-2424.

Monica Weymouth is a Philadelphia-based writer, editor, animal lover, and Jeopardy! nerd. She has a soft spot for yappy little dogs and big lazy cats.