Lost Pet Behaviors

For pet owners, losing an animal can be very disheartening. Even if the lost pet isn’t theirs, they’ll be worried about it. It is a sad reality that animals can easily escape the premises of their own home and a majority of them don’t return. If ever this happens to you, the first thing to keep in mind is that you should be aware of lost pet behaviors. You should understand how they would behave when placed in an unfamiliar setting. While no two animals have the same personality, the chances of them exhibiting a certain behavior common among their kind is high.

According to the Missing Pet Partnership (MPP), understanding the lost pet behaviors of your cat and dog will increase the chances of finding them. This knowledge will be useful for those working in shelters and animal welfare groups as well.

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Understanding the Different Lost Pet Behaviors

Lost Pet Behavior


MPP has been studying lost pet behaviors since 1997. Individuals had volunteered for physical searches, and in the process, they have developed a deeper understanding of how these animals act when they’re scared or stressed.

Today, we will be looking into the common house pets particularly cats and dogs along with the various situations that all owners should take note of.

Lost outdoor cats

Felines that are given access to the outdoors typically “run away” when something disrupts their routine at home. An example of which are constructions done at home, strangers visiting, and even new animals introduced to the household.

Displaced cats

Cats are generally territorial creatures, but they can be displaced from their own territory when another animal chases them away. What makes this situation alarming is that in accordance with their natural lost pet behaviors, cats can get disoriented as they do not pick up scents as well as dogs do, causing them to completely lose sight of home.

If your cat is raised indoors, it is best to secure all exits to prevent them from running off in the first place. Cats with outdoor access are harder to control, but installing surveillance cameras may help. If you are trying to locate a displaced cat, check surveillance cameras around the neighborhood or set up baited humane traps.

Injured or sick cats

One of the obvious lost pet behaviors is that cats who are scared, injured, or sick will hide in silence, making the chances of them responding to your voice very slim. They can be hiding close to home but continue to sit silently in fear of other predators.

This is where monitoring devices become important when it comes to locating lost pets. Monitoring devices give pet owners the convenience of finding animals that don’t respond when called.

Timid cats’ threshold factor

One of the most interesting lost pet behaviors observed by the MPP is that most cats will not leave their hiding place even when being offered food or hearing their owner’s voice. Apparently, this applies to more than just being sick or injured. A cat’s personal temperament is a deciding factor that should be taken into consideration as well.

Cats who are timid have a threshold point of ten to twelve days. One extreme case involved a cat hiding in the attic of a veterinarian for twenty-two days because he was intimidated by the sounds of barking dogs. On the other hand, confident felines hide for a lesser time, ranging from an hour to twelve days. For all these cases, humane traps are still the best option.

Sociable dogs

Sociable dogs


Unfortunately, there is a big downside if your dog happens to be too accustomed to strangers. If ever they wander off from home, they can end up being adopted on the streets since, according to studies about lost pet behaviors, they won’t hesitate to approach the first person who calls them. These people generally mean no harm as they most likely will be willing to give the dog a warm home instead of turning them to a shelter. But of course, that will completely reduce the chances of you ever finding them again. So in case a sociable dog escapes the house, make sure to ask around your neighborhood if anyone had picked him up.

Antisocial dogs

There are sociable dogs, and then there are the aloof ones. Aloof dogs avoid strangers and even other animals. There are a lot of breeds that have higher chances of exhibiting this type of behavior. Some examples include the Akita, Afghan hound, and chow chow.

Aloof dogs are mostly found in the streets rather than in someone’s backyard and may be more difficult to find than sociable ones. So try to check on garbage sites, street corners, or even the local shelter to see if they happen to have seen your pet.

Panicked dogs

Timid and skittish dogs have a greater chance of being picked up by individuals out of pity as they are often mistaken as abused animals. A dangerous scenario for this type of dogs is that they are more at risk of getting hit by a vehicle. Snappy snares and humane traps work for capturing a panicked dog and reduce the chances of you getting bitten. Owners can also take advantage of wildlife cameras to track down where the dogs are hiding.

How owners should act when faced with a “lost pet” scenario

The first thing that pet owners should put in mind is that they should worry less and focus more on bringing their pet home safely. It is important to stay calm and collected at all times to be able to think clearly and make reasonable decisions. Do not jump into conclusions or lose hope immediately, instead make an effort to search within the radius of your own home or put up fliers if your physical search is unsuccessful.


Psychology Today

Another important subject that owners should take note of is what to do when your lost pet is picked up by a stranger or a shelter. Familiarize yourself with state laws pertaining to these types of situations. In general, shelters have every right to perform euthanasia for unclaimed pets, which is why it is important that owners personally check pounds from time to time in the wake of a missing pet.

On the other hand, pets that are picked up on the streets still belong to the original owner. In case of a dispute, legal documentation like microchips and veterinary records should be presented.

Searching for a lost pet around the community

Communities need to band together in case a beloved pet goes missing. So if you happen to know someone undergoing this type of stressful situation, do not hesitate to offer help as you are not only easing a person’s pain but you are also saving an animal’s life.

Here are some helpful tips to take into consideration when a pet goes missing around the community:

Modify the search according to the pet’s behavior

Now that you have familiarized yourself with the different types of lost pet behaviors a missing pet can exhibit, you may use this as an advantage when searching for them. Cats are more challenging to locate than dogs as they can climb trees, fit into smaller spaces, and are less likely to respond when called. You may also enlist the help of local pet finder groups to increase the chances of recovering the animal. Lastly, make sure that those involved with the search are aware of the missing pet’s temperament to aid them with their search.

Physically look around the neighborhood

After you have searched around the streets and public areas, you might want to try checking on a neighbor’s backyard. Ask permission before actually doing so and make sure you cover all possible hiding places before leaving. Leave house owners with some fliers so they can contact you if they spot the lost pet.

Fliers need to indicate the following:

  • Age, sex, breed, and identifying characteristics
  • Contact number
  • Place where the pet was last seen

Use eye-catching posters

Every good advertising firm makes use of eye-catching colors like neon hues to make sure that a message goes out in public. For Lost Pet signs, they might be intentionally overlooked since they pay no purpose for that individual or could be easily forgotten.



Fliers are a good option, but only if you distribute them personally. So if you really want to leave a lasting impression to the public, make sure you create a poster that will stand out. That way, everyone from private vehicle drivers to delivery fleets can spot the sign.

Use humane traps or snappy snares and wildlife surveillance

Humane traps are effective when catching a cat that went astray, but they can be very tricky to use too. According to experts that study lost pet behaviors, it is best to leave some treats inside the trap to entice them to come near. Note that this can take a while to work, and oftentimes, you can end up catching other strays or even wild animals. Either way, humane traps require patience, but they have been proven to be one of the safest methods in recovering a lost pet.

For dogs, snappy snares can be used. They are affordable, popular, and can eliminate the chances of getting by frightened or aggressive pets.

To increase the success of trapping lost animals, owners can use wildlife cameras that are equipped to be motion-sensitive. They can also provide evidence that the missing pet is around the area to give the owner’s insight on where to set their traps up.

Make use of window tagging

Car tagging should follow the same strategy that posters have. Letters must be written in bold colors to attract attention. Using cars is the easiest way to spread the word around the community, so include all the necessary information in the sign.

Mention rewards you’re giving to anyone who can recover the pets

When offering an award, it is advisable that you do not list the amount. This may lead to false leads or even scams. Only give the reward once you receive the pet. Lastly, set the meetup in a public place to keep you or the pet owner safe.

Use your house as a trap

This is a unique lost pet recovery technique that Missing Pet Partnership advises some pet owners to use to capture skittish dogs and cats. The concept is that when someone has a skittish pet who bolts outside and then returns to the home but won’t allow anyone to approach and keeps darting away in fear whenever the owner/guardian opens or approaches the door, they can effect a capture by hiding behind the door, enticing the animal into the house, and slamming the door shut.

Learn the right way to approach a missing pet

One fact about lost pet behaviors that cats or dogs exhibit is that they do not have the same “fight or flight” instinct that humans do especially when they have been missing for a long time. Pets that bite their owners out of fear are a common occurrence. This is because an animal’s brain is not likely to process who their owners are when stressed, which can result in them running away or acting aggressive while in a panicked state.

Here are some tips from MPP when it comes to approaching lost pets:

  • Do not directly move toward the cat or dog
  • Try to avoid making direct eye contact
  • “Accidentally” drop some treats on the ground while waiting for the pet to come close
  • Lie flat on the ground while making whining sounds. This will make you seem less like a threat to the skittish dogs.
  • Remain calm and collected until the dog approaches. Take hold of the collar as slowly as possible.

Preventing pets from getting lost in the future

It does not matter if your pet is indoors or outdoors, an identification tag is a matter of life or death for them. Getting your pet microchipped is another way for shelters to identify a recovered pet. It should be noted that the records need to updated from time to time.

Trackimo Device


GPS monitoring devices are useful when tracking down a pet’s whereabouts in real time. Trackimo is a lightweight, compact, and waterproof device that can be easily attached to a pet’s collar. Owners will have the convenience of finding out where they are hiding through the use of their smartphone. A geo-fence feature has also been proven to be useful in providing alerts if the animal goes beyond the perimeter the owner set. To learn more about Trackimo, visit their homepage.



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Amanda Thomas