Despite our best efforts, all pets can get out of the safety of your home or garden. Having them go missing is stressful, and it can be hard to know exactly where to turn or what to do for the best.
So getting prepared in case it does happen is a really good idea for any pet owner. Your focus will be on finding them, so having the knowledge of what to do in the back of your head is beneficial, even if you think it is unlikely that your pet will ever escape.
Of course, every animal is slightly different. Trying to find a speedy running dog who has escaped through a gap in the fence is different from finding a rabbit who has got out of its hutch, so planning for your exact animal is important too.
How to search for a missing pet
It can be hard to know what to do first, and how serious the situation is. If you can, get a few people together, such as the whole household and neighbours.
Check places they are familiar with
If you have a dog or cat who does usually go for walks or explore of their own accord, try tracing their usual walking route or going to the local park/woods if you usually take them there.
It is always a good idea to be aware of where your cat goes when they are out, so you can frequent their usual areas and check they are not stuck in outbuildings, sheds or indeed other people’s houses. This may require a bit of a James-Bond style operation, but knowing how far they go is helpful.
Pop some of their favourite treats outside their door or something like their blanket or used litter tray so they can find their way back with scent and familiarity. Shake the food boxes and call their name. They could even be hiding around the corner unaware they are causing such stress!
Your neighbour may have seen your pet recently, if they have gone in a certain direction or if they have been hanging around. Letting them know that a local pet is missing could encourage them to search under bushes and other hidey-holes if you have a small animal, or to contact you if they see it.
If they have slipped their lead when on a walk, ask other people you see in the local area or any houses nearby to both keep a lookout, or if they have seen incidents. Check woods or around bushes in case they have got stuck.
Use social media
There are loads of groups out there on Facebook to report animals missing, and there is a good chance that there will be one specifically for your town or city on there.
Put as much information as you can on there, while not giving too much away. Say where they went missing and be as precise as possible, and any areas which they are familiar with. Try to include a recent clear picture and let people know if they were wearing a certain colour harness or have any other notable features, such as a coat on.
Whether to put their name on there is up to you – it can help if they are good at recall but it also depends if they are a bit too trusting and you want to ensure they don’t get into the wrong hands.
This is also a great way for people to message you if they see or find your pet, without you handing out your mobile number or house address. Check that you can accept messages from people you’re not friends with, or who don’t follow you. Also, put a post on your own social media feed and encourage people to share it.
Report them missing
If they are microchipped, get in touch with the microchip company and ensure all of your details are up to date. Then if they are handed into a vet or scanned by a rescue centre, they can contact you directly.
Microchipping is legal for dogs and horses, and soon will be for cats too. Smaller animals aren’t commonly microchipped but it is still possible.
If they aren’t chipped, let local vets and rescue centres know that there could be an animal handed into them. It is not necessary to inform them if they are chipped or if your details are up to date but you can always call them for advice.
There are also missing pet websites out there, as well as groups on Facebook or other social profiles.
How to prevent your animal from escaping
If you have an animal who uses your back garden, check for damage to fences regularly. Don’t assume that a hedge, fence or security gate will be enough to keep them in.
If your small pet stays in an outbuilding such as a chicken coop or rabbit hutch, check their houses for any damage too.
Get them microchipped if possible, or look into identification tags if you have a parrot or other bird. This way, when they are found, scanners can pick up your information and reunite you much quicker. It is good for them to have a contact disc or ID tag on at all times. Look at our advice on microchipping.
Keep an eye on them when they are outside, especially in bad weather. All it takes is for a gust of wind to scare them or to blow over the fence in a matter of seconds. Ideally, keep them inside during bad weather, fireworks or when dark.
It is a good idea to join Lost and Found groups on Facebook or become familiar with other social media platforms as a ‘just in case’, so you can send and respond to any posts ASAP rather than waiting to be approved.