Having your pet go missing is a very traumatic experience, and it can be hard to know what to do if you have lost your dog or cat.

I know first hand how this feels as my previous dog Max snuck out of the fence that was left ajar to follow me when I went out for a run one evening and, despite arriving back home just 20 mins later and him not tending to be much of a wanderer, he had vanished into thin air.

After driving around for hours until it was too dark to see anything, I then spent what was one of the most horrible nights of my life crying my eyes out and going to the gate constantly in the hope he’d make his way hope.

I knew he would be suffering from anxiety if he had been picked up by someone or, as he hadn’t come home himself, my thoughts went straight to him being injured, maybe even dead.

Max was microchipped and normally had a tag with his name and number on it. For some reason though I had taken it off, maybe to wash him, I can’t recall.  When I wasn’t at the gate, on the phone to the after hours emergency centers, or a hysterical mess, I was creating signs, posting on social media and waiting for daylight to come so that I could get back out looking for him again.

Fortunately it ended well, as I was able to track him down at a local vet in the morning where he had spend a miserable night alone after someone dropped him just as the vet was leaving. As he had no tag to make it easy, it was morning before they could start checking the various animal registers, but I got to him first.

There are a few lessons in this for me, you and anyone who finds a lost dog, so below are some tips on what to do if you have lost your cat or dog.

Quickly note too, that if your dog reacts anxiously to fireworks or thunderstorms, this is a time many dogs escape their homes trying to flee the noise. So here are some tips to help keep your dog safe during these times. Click here.

The importance of microchipping your dog and cat

Even though the microchipping of dogs and cats is compulsory across most of Australia, far too many of them end up lost and in shelters due to contact details not being up to date or,  with cats in particular, the large majority not being microchipped at all, which is why so many up in pounds and shelters and facing euthanasia.

The sad thing about this is that there is really no reason to not have your dog or cat microchipped given it costs anywhere between just $10 and $80 and is a once off fee. Each year PETstock runs their Microchip Blitz campaign, which was held on the weekend, providing $10 microchipping for dogs and cats. Find out more about that here.

Microchips are safe, around the size of a grain of rice and won’t cause any discomfort once inserted. The simple, one-off procedure is much like a vaccination for pets. Each chip has a unique number that is detected using a microchip scanner. The microchip number is recorded on a database registry with details about the animal and owner. Should your pet stray or become lost, vets, animal shelters and local councils can scan your pet for a microchip and contact you via the database.

Microchips can provide certainty of pet ownership. In the case of your pet being found and kept by someone else, microchips provide official documentation of the pet’s rightful owner and provides pet owners the best chance of being reunited with a lost pet.

It is vital though that if you change phone numbers or move house that you update your contact details, so do ask your vet to  regularly scan the chip to ensure it’s readable and hasn’t moved around.

What to do if you have lost your dog or cat

  • Firstly search your home and yard, closed bedroom doors (I’ve found a dog I thought had gone missing sleeping under the bed in a spare room once!), under the house, the car, anywhere they could have accidentally gotten stuck or are hiding in.
  • Let your neighbours know that your pet is missing. Make sure you take a recent photo to show them.
  • Walk or drive around the neighbourhood calling your pet’s name. If your dog is lost, concentrate on the areas where you usually take it on walks and any other places you have recently visited.
  • Create a ‘Lost Pet’ flyer and distribute it to houses and shops in your neighbourhood. The flyer should include a photo, your pet’s name, a detailed description and where they were last seen, as well as your name and contact number. Try offering a reward too.
  • If your pet is microchipped and the details are not current, contact the microchip agency and update your details immediately.

Who to contact

  • Call around all of the local vets in your area and emergency clinics and provide them with all of the details.
  • There are many local and state and national lost pet groups on social media, so get straight on those and let people know.  Members of these local community groups are wonderful at offering to go out and look in the local area, whilst others who find a pet often post on these pages.   Notify the administrators as well.
  • If it is day time also call the council pound, as a member of the community may have seen it and notified the council.
  • Try any local animal shelters in your area and surrounds.
  • Some local radio stations will also make announcements about lost pets.
  • Let your local pet stores know as well.

What to do if you find a lost pet

  • Calmly approach the pet, pat your leg and call them over to you.   Take off hats and sunglasses so you don’t look intimidating and even get down to their level.  Don’t chase them or run towards them, as they are likely already frightened and nervous in unfamiliar surroundings.
  • Once you have safe hold of the animal, make sure to keep them in a safe place away from dangerous roads and busy crowds. Try to get some help from others to stop traffic if they are running back and forth in between a busy road and keep everyone calm so the dog can calm down or try to move them in a direction away from the road.
  • If they are running along a road in fears, often a good tip is to pull over and open your car door and call them in.   A scared dog will often go for that safe place to hide option.
  • Check if the animal has a collar or any form of visible identification and call the owner!
  • Take the animal to a vet to scan for a microchip and the contact details of the owner. This is the easiest and quickest way for pets to be reunited once lost. Unfortunately, pets that aren’t microchipped have a much smaller chance of finding their owners. Note: microchips can move from their original spot, so if a microchip is not found immediately, encourage the vet or shelter to scan the pet’s entire body.
  • File a found report – if you haven’t been able to find and contact the owner, call your local animal shelter and council to file a found report, as these are likely the first places the owner will call when they discover their pet is missing. Leave your name and number, so the shelter or council can call you back if they hear from the owner and the pet can be returned as quickly as possible.
  • Utilise social media – Social media is a great way to spread a message quickly in the local community. Post a photo and description of the pet to your local lost pet page or community group. However, don’t rely on it wholly, as some people may not be active on social media.
  • Let local pet stores know or take them in in case they can recognise the dog, likewise with local groomers.
  • Take the pet to the local shelter – If you can’t contact the owner, the best thing to do is to take the pet to the animal shelter so the owner can go to collect them as this is the most obvious place for them to look. Give full details on where you found the pet and at what time, so they can file an accurate report and identify the owner.

Remember if you do lose a pet, don’t give up. Keep going back to the shelter and calling the vets.  Don’t wait a few days for them to return either, get onto it immediately so you don’t risk your pet being re-homed, or worse, euthanised.  Sadly, this does happen as our shelters and pounds are at capacity all over Australia.

And, of course, make sure your dog or cat does have a pet ID tag or collar on as well, and that it is readable, as this is the fastest way to get your pet returned to you!

Till next time, Lara


About the Author: Lara Shannon is co-Host of Pooches at Play and has completed a Certificate III in Dog Behaviour & Training with the National Dog Trainers Federation. Lara also runs her own dog training, minding and walking business in Melbourne’s Bayside area.