What to Do If You Find a Lost Dog or Cat

Learn about the essential steps to follow when you find a lost dog or cat, including ensuring the animal’s safety, notifying the correct authorities, and finding the family.

Imagine you’re taking a stroll through your neighborhood and spot a lost dog or cat. You feel a mix of concern for the animal’s well-being and the desire to reunite them with their worried family. But what are you to do? This guide will help you navigate the path to reuniting a lost animal with their family.

How to Approach a Lost Animal

Remember the animal may be frightened, disoriented, and possibly in distress, and that can cause unpredictable behavior. Your primary responsibility is to ensure the safety and well-being of the animal without putting yourself or them at risk. Here are some tips to make contact safely:

  • Avoid sudden movements
  • Be calm and quiet
  • Keep a safe distance
  • Try to entice the animal with food
  • Don’t try to grab them
  • Let them come to you

Assess the Animal

Observe the dog’s or cat’s behavior closely. Note if they appear friendly, scared, injured, or aggressive. If the animal is injured, contact a veterinarian for advice.

Look for Identification

Check the lost dog or cat for a collar with identification tags. If they’re wearing one, you’ll be able to contact their family quickly. The animal may have a microchip beneath the skin between the shoulder blades. Or they may have tattoo identification. Veterinarians and animal shelters can scan microchips and assess tattoos to identify the family.

Contact the Authorities

If you can’t find identification, reach out to local animal control or animal shelters as soon as possible. They have the resources and expertise to help locate the family. They’ll want a description of the animal, the animal’s location, and any observed behavior. They may tell you to take the dog or cat to a shelter or wait for an animal control officer to arrive.

Seek Out the Family

One effective way to locate the family is by creating posters. Include essential information like a clear photo, where you found them, and contact details for anyone with information. You can also use lost and found animal groups on social media and community forums. There are plenty of apps and websites dedicated to lost and found animals, including:

  • PawMaw
  • Pet FBI
  • PawBoost
  • 24Petwatch
  • PetRadar
  • Petco Love Lost
  • Petfinder

Provide Temporary Care

You may need to house the lost dog or cat while you’re waiting to connect with the family. Provide a quiet, comfortable, escape-proof space for them to rest. Offer them small amounts of food and water, but don’t force them to eat or drink.

Discovering a lost dog or cat is a unique responsibility. The ultimate goal is to reunite the animal with their family, and you may need to take the animal into your care temporarily during the process. Just remember there are resources out there to help, including local animal control, shelters, veterinarians, and internet forums and communities.


Meet Natalia Michelle, a devoted pet parent and writer at Paw Maw. Natalia brings the world of animal companions to life via intriguing words, with a heart full of love for dogs and a nomadic spirit. Natalia is a prolific writer who loves her job and flourishes in pet care and companionship.

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