Finding Lost Pets: A Complete Guide for Pet Parents

Key takeaways

There are three important steps to take when trying to find any kind of lost pet.

These include physically searching for them, reporting them missing, and using social media.

We explore each step in detail before offering our expert insights and top tips to make sure your search is as effective as possible.

We’ll also list the top 3 most common reasons why pets run away so you can prevent this from happening in the future.

Quick Navigation

  1. Key takeaways
  2. How to find a lost pet in 3 steps
  3. Tips for finding lost pets
  4. 3 Reasons why pets run away
  5. FAQs
  6. Final thoughts

How to find a lost pet in 3 steps

Lost pets are notoriously difficult to find. Waiting hours to see them return to safety can be grueling. But you don't just have to wait. Instead, be proactive and follow our steps to help find them again.

1. Physically search for them

It's still proven that the most effective way to find missing pets is through a thorough physical search (source). While it can feel near impossible to find your pet by searching when they can often run for miles, it's definitely possible.
If your pet disappeared from home, use the following checklist:

Backyards: If your furry friend ran away from home, the garden offers plenty of good hiding spaces. Check under and in garden furniture, up trees, in hedges and bushes, and in holes that have been dug.

Outbuildings: Structures like sheds, garages, and bin stores make for great adventures. However, it's easy to become trapped inside them. Check each area thoroughly and open up all the doors to make for an easy escape.

Under cars: Despite the danger, if a small animal escapes, like a bunny or a cat, they will often seek shelter underneath cars.

Neighbors' houses: Most pets are sociable beings, and they're always trying to make friends. Your neighbors' gardens and houses will be very interesting to your pets, so, with permission, be sure to search next door!

Local parks: More active pets, like a dog, will have memorized the routes to their favorite places, like the local park. If they've decided to take themselves on a walk, it's likely they've taken a route they remember.

A cat sleeping in a garden
If your pet got lost on a walk, use the following checklist:

Stay on the trail: If you lost your pet on a walk, you should stay on the trail and retrace your steps. As you do this, gently call their name and thoroughly search every area.

At the start/at the car: Try returning to where you started the trail, whether that was by foot or by car. Dogs, in particular, have impressive homing abilities and a sense of direction, so they will be able to find their way back to the beginning.

Nearby farms: If your pet is in 'survival mode' after getting lost, they will seek shelter, food, and isolation. Farms are a great option for this because they are generally quiet and perceived as 'safe.'

Nearby fields: If your dog is frightened, they will try to find somewhere completely secluded. They may also be trying to find their way home and will choose the routes with the least noise, making fields a good option.

Nearby towns: If you have a particularly confident and sociable pet, then they may be attracted to the sound of people and other animals, making towns a good option.

2. Report them missing

If your pet gets lost or goes missing, you should contact the right people immediately and report it. This will help keep your furry friend safe while you search for them and increase your chances of finding them.
Be sure to contact the following:

Veterinarians in the area

Local animal shelters

Wildlife centers

Animal rescue centers

Dog wardens

Microchip company

Busy animal shelter
Be sure to share information that will help these people recognize your pet, like:

Their name

Whether they are microchipped

Physical description

Photos if possible

Contact information

Where they were last seen

By covering all bases, you'll ensure your pet is accounted for. If they are handed into a shelter that doesn't know who they belong to, unfortunately, they risk euthanasia if they are not claimed.
Top Tip: Increasing the number of people on the lookout for your best bud will increase the chances of reported sightings that should lead to a happy reunion!

3. Use social media

Social media is a fantastic tool for finding lost pets. It connects not only family and friends but also neighbors and communities. This means you can spread the message of your missing pet quickly to hundreds of people.
Try joining WhatsApp and Facebook groups set up for people in your area. When you have joined, post about your pet and include the following:


Physical description

Description of personality (aggressive, shy, timid, confident)

Where they were last seen

Contact details

Phone with a parrot on it ready to share on social media
At PetRadar, we use social media slightly differently. We tap into the power of Facebook and Instagram advertisements. This means we create a digital missing pet poster for your best bud and distribute it as a sponsored post on social media to people in your area.
Over 4000 neighbors in your search area will see your lost pet pop up on their feeds. From here, they can report a sighting, send it to a friend, or save it for later. We'll notify you as soon as any sightings are reported so you can stay proactive in your search.
We also:

Provide you with a personal dashboard where you can manage the search and monitor sightings

Offer expert support and guidance

Send you free expertly designed and printable missing pet posters

List your lost pet on our website

Social media is a fantastic tool for finding lost pets. It connects not only family and friends but also neighbors and communities.

PetRadar's expert team

Tips for finding lost pets

So, now you know the best methods to find them, you need to know the best practices, too. We've compiled our expert insights and top tips to improve your chances of being successful.

Search at night

It may come as a surprise, but searching at night can make your efforts a lot more effective. This is for a few reasons, including:

Fewer people: At night, there are fewer people around in general. The lack of crowds means your pet will be more likely to come out of hiding. If they can only hear and see you, their trusted owners, they're more likely to come to you.

Reflective eyes: Most animals are great hiders, and this is why they're so hard to find. However, at night, there is one thing that gives them away, and that's their reflective eyes. If you use a flashlight, you should be able to see their shining eyes, even if their bodies are completely hidden.

Ability to track them: It'll generally be quieter at night, meaning you'll be able to listen and look out for any signs of your pet without any disruptions. This will make it easier to track them and follow certain paths you think they may have taken.

A cat owner searching at night using a flashlight

Use their senses

Something that most pets have in common is their incredibly powerful senses. Dogs can pick up on a scent from up to 12 miles away (20km), and cats can hear frequencies three times higher than humans (source, source).
While you're searching for your pet, you can tap into these senses and encourage them to come out of hiding and find you.
Try the following:

Take strong-smelling food with you

Bring familiar-smelling clothes and blankets

Bring their favorite toys with you

Call their name gently

Dogs can pick up on a scent from up to 12 miles away (20km), and cats can hear frequencies three times higher than humans.

A dog sat next to a food bowl

Lure them home

While it can be difficult to relax and take time away from searching if you still haven't found your furry friend safely, there are still ways to be proactive even when you're not actively looking for them.
Luring them home is a great way to increase your chances of finding them. The majority of pets have great homing abilities, meaning they use their senses and their sensitivity to the Earth's electromagnetic fields to understand their location and find their way back home. You can help them do this by:

Opening doors and windows so familiar sounds and smells can travel further

Leave toys, blankets, and clothes outside

Leave strong-smelling food outside

Top Tip: Set up wildlife cameras to see whether your pet is visiting home or in the area. If they are, use humane traps to get them home safely.
German shepherd waiting at home

3 Reasons why pets run away

When a pet runs away, it's easy to blame ourselves. However, instincts and curiosity play a big role in the reasons why they may leave. It's important to know the three most common reasons so you can try to prevent them from happening in the future.

1. Neglect

Our pets' wellbeing should always be prioritized. Each animal has specific needs and requirements to be happy and healthy. Paying attention to these needs makes us good pet parents, and that's all we want, right?
So, when our furry friends aren't being looked after, their fight-or-flight instinct can be triggered. This 'survival mode' means that they will flee home to find a safer situation.
Examples of neglect include:

Not enough food and water

Inadequate shelter

Lack of attention

Lack of stimulation

Lack of respect for their territory (visitors coming and going, loud noises, and lack of boundaries)

Not cleaning their environment

Rabbit stuck in a cage on their own

2. Curiosity

Pets are naturally curious creatures. Because of their strong senses, the world is naturally very interesting and exciting.
New smells, sounds, and animals can spark their curiosity, which usually means following a scent or a sound until they understand what it is.
In fact, dogs have neophilia, which means they are attracted to new smells and must explore and follow new scents they come across (source.
However, as you can imagine, this often leads to animals becoming lost. To prevent this from happening, keep them on a leash until they know the area and the associated smells and sounds well.

3. Instincts

Pets are animals at the end of the day, and no matter how well trained they are, they won't be able to ignore certain instincts.
The two main instincts responsible for missing pets are:

Hunting: We're used to seeing a cat chase a mouse or a dog chase a squirrel, and this is because their hunting instinct will tell them to follow and kill prey. If your pet decides to do this on a walk or outside, they may find themselves lost and disoriented. This can make it difficult for them to find their way back to you, and therefore easy to get lost.

Mating: If a male dog picks up the scent of a female dog in heat, they will run for miles to try and find them. This is the same amongst most pets if they aren't neutered. If they leave their territory, they can become 'displaced,' which means they will no longer understand their location and be able to find their way home.

A parrot flying away


What are the chances of finding a lost pet?

The chances of finding a lost pet differ based on the type of animal. For example, 70% of cats are found, whereas 90% of dogs are found.

How do you find a lost dog easily?

To find a lost dog easily, you need to bring treats, toys, and strong-smelling clothing as you search for them. You also need to report them missing to as many shelters as possible.

What to do if a pet is lost?

If your pet is lost, you need to report them missing to as many shelters, veterinarians, and animal rescue centers as possible. Then, start a thorough physical search and let your neighbors know.

Can you call the police for missing pets?

You should generally avoid calling the police for a missing pet, unless you believe they have been stolen. Instead, report them lost to local animal shelters and animal rescue organizations. If your dog has gone missing, contact the local dog warden.

Final thoughts

Losing a pet is a horrible situation. We can feel useless, not knowing what steps to take or how to find them again.
But it's important you remain calm. Start a PetRadar search, and we'll guide you through the whole process, offering constant support. You'll feel as if there is a full team behind you, rooting for your pet's safe return.
We've already reunited 8000+ pets with their owners, so you're in good hands!

Written by

Image of the author
Lauren Jeffries

In this blog, I combine my two areas of expertise: pets and writing. I share my personal experiences alongside plenty of animal behavior research to help owners look after their pets. I have always lived with furry friends and am now a loving cat mum to two orange kitties.

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