What to do if your cat or dog gets lost or goes missing

Golden retriever with tongue out sat on a bed under a grey blanket

It’s no secret that the UK is a nation of cat and dog lovers.

Statistics from a 2018 Pet Population report reveal that the UK is home to approximately 8 million cats and 9 million dogs.

But what happens when our beloved furry friends go missing?

We have put together some handy tips on what to do if your cat or dog goes missing so you can be reunited as quickly as possible.



What to do if your dog gets lost or goes missing

When a dog goes missing, it is a worrying and heart-breaking time for the owner. However, we have some helpful advice on what you can do to ensure their safe return.



Why do dogs go missing?

Unfortunately, one of the main reasons dogs go missing is theft, and breeds that hold high market value are increasingly targeted.   

Opportunity is another reason dogs may wander off; gates left open, fences that are low enough to jump over, and gardens that are not secure can lead to some dogs using this as an opportunity to flee.

Dogs that are not neutered can also lead to dogs wandering off in search of a mate.  



How to find a lost dog

If your dog goes missing, there are a few steps you will need to take as soon as possible to aid a speedy return:

  • Contact your dog’s microchip company You will need to contact the company with whom your dog’s microchip is registered to let them know your dog is missing.
  • Search the local area Begin your search close to home, retracing the routes you and your dog would typically take when out for a walk. Look in local buildings and ask neighbours to search their gardens and garages. Consider using your phone to track where you have searched, so you know where you have already covered.
  • Contact your local dog warden - Each local authority has a dog warden responsible for picking up stray dogs. By law, wardens will hold dogs for seven days at a local holding kennel before looking to have them rehomed.
  • Contact the police – If you have reason to believe someone may have stolen your dog, you must report this to the police as soon as possible.
  • Contact local kennels, rehoming centres, and vet practices –Stray dogs are often handed into a local rehoming centre, such as RSPCA or Dogs Trust, or injured dogs may be taken to a local vet.
  • Post on social media and local noticeboards – Use a recent colour photo of your dog and document any noticeable features and characteristics that may help them be identified.
  • Register your dog missing – You can record your dog as missing on national sites such as DogLost or Pets Located. If you live within the M25 area of Greater London, you can also contact the free Battersea Lost Dogs & Cats Line on 020 7627 9245. The line which operates seven days a week from 8am until 5pm.

How to find a lost dog with a microchip

By law, your dog must be microchipped, or you will risk a fine of £500. A microchip gives your dog a unique identifier, which, when scanned, provides information on their owner’s contact details so that if they go missing, they can be safely returned.

If your dog goes missing, you will need to notify the microchip company as soon as possible. If you are unsure which company your dog is registered with, sites, such as ‘check-a-chip’ will help you locate this information.



Who to report a lost dog to

A missing dog must be reported to the local council’s dog warden as soon as possible, as wardens are legally responsible for stray dogs. You can find out the contact number for your local dog warden here.

A dog’s microchip company must be informed the dog has gone missing. Specific chip readers can scan microchips to reveal the owner's contact details so that the dog and owner can be safely reunited.

If you have reason to believe a dog has been stolen, you must report this to your local police station for further investigation.



How long can a lost dog survive without food?

The length of time a dog can survive without food will depend on the circumstances within which the dog has gone missing; it will also depend on any injuries and overall health status. As a general guide, most dogs can survive anywhere between five days and three weeks without food.

What to do if your cat gets lost and goes missing?

Not having your cat come home when they usually do can be incredibly distressing. We share some helpful advice on what to do if your cat goes missing so that you can locate them as soon as possible.  



Can cats get lost?

Yes, some circumstances can lead to cats becoming disorientated and therefore lost.

Cats are very curious and many wander into open doors and climb into vans where they may get trapped and transported to an unfamiliar area.  There are also occasions where a cat may feel afraid of other animals in their area and run away to protect themselves.



Why do cats go missing?

Some cats go missing due to injury or fear of other local cats and dogs in the area. Unsterilised cats are also at a higher risk of going missing as they may wander in search of a mate.

Cats can sometimes be taken in by others who mistakenly assume the cat is a stray.

Some cats can become disorientated if they are taken away from their familiar area; this can often occur when owners move house.



How long do cats go missing for?

On average, a cat can go missing for anywhere between 24 and 72 hours. However, occasionally, cats go missing for weeks or even longer. Battersea states that if your cat has been missing for 12 hours or overnight and this is unusual for them, then you should begin your search.



How to find a missing cat

If you suspect your cat is missing, you should undertake these steps to help quickly relocate them:

  • Check close to home first – Check your house, including any potential hiding places, garden, bins, storage boxes and garage to ensure your cat is not somewhere in your home.
  • Ask locally – ask your neighbours to check their home and garden for any signs of your furry friend.
  • Report your cat missing to the microchip company – If your cat is microchipped, you will need to contact the company to report them missing. If you cannot remember which company they are registered with, you can enter their microchip number into ‘check-a-chip’ to locate it.
  • Contact local catteries, rehoming centres and vet practices – Your cat may have been found and handed in to a local cattery, rehoming centre or vet to be cared for.
  • Post on social media and local noticeboards – Use a recent colour photo of your cat and write down any noticeable features or characteristics that may help them be identified.
  • Register your cat missing – There are many national websites such as Pets Located or Animal Search where you can register your cat as missing.



How to find a lost cat with a microchip?

Although not currently a legal requirement in the UK, a new law is due to be introduced in 2023 which will make it mandatory for cats to be microchipped.

Finding a lost cat can be easier if they are microchipped. A microchip contains the details of the owner so that the cat and owner can be reunited as quickly as possible.

If your microchipped cat has gone missing, you will need to contact the microchip company to inform them your cat has gone missing. If you are unsure which company they are registered with, you can check the database on sites, such as check-a-chip.



How far do cats roam when lost?

In a study by the University of Queensland, it was found that missing outdoor cats generally roam within a 17-house radius (315 metres) of their owner’s home. In contrast, missing indoor cats had a much smaller 2.5 house radius (50 metres). However, the distance your cat may travel when they are lost will depend on the circumstances within which they went missing.



Do cats get lost when you move?

Cats can become disorientated when you move, and many will often try to return to their previous address. Cats Protection recommend you keep your cat indoors for the first couple of weeks after you move to allow them time to adjust to the new smells and sights of the home. This will help them become more familiar with their new environment and will make it easier for them to find their way back.



Our four-legged friends are an important part of our life, which is why Asda Money provides flexible pet insurance so you can have peace of mind that your pet will be cared for.

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