July is Lost Pet Prevention Month, a crucial time to address the significant issue of lost pets and to equip animal rescues and shelters with the necessary resources to prevent this from happening. In a recent webinar, experts Lorein Clemens, CEO and co-founder of PetHub, and Jerrica Owens, executive director of the National Animal Care and Control Association, discussed the findings of a joint survey aimed at understanding the most effective methods for reuniting lost pets. The results highlighted a substantial gap between what animal welfare organizations believe is effective and what pet parents have found to work in real-life scenarios.

Common Causes of Lost Pets

Understanding how pets get lost is the first step in effective lost pet prevention. While we as animal rescuers are aware of numerous reasons pets might go missing, the survey revealed that we couldn’t really pinpoint any one cause as being more likely than another. So how are we supposed to educate new adopters on lost pet prevention? We can’t just throw everything we know at them!

What the survey found from pet parents is that 60% of lost pets either escaped from the backyard, ran out the door, or wandered off the property while unattended. Now THOSE are three very specific and easily preventable situations. By raising awareness about these common causes, we can empower pet parents to be more vigilant and proactive, reducing the chances of their pets getting lost in the first place.

Effective Methods for Reuniting Lost Pets

Of course accidents happen though. So when it comes to finding lost pets quickly, what method is going to be the fastest for getting that pet home with the least amount of impact on animal rescues and shelters? Surely we can agree on that, right? Nope!

The methods that pet parents found successful versus what animal rescues and shelters rely on could not be more different. Pet parents who lost their pets and managed to reunite with them within 24 hours used the following methods: (ranked by effectiveness)

  1. Physical Search: This is the first thing most pet parents do, and for good reason! According to the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), 84% of lost outdoor cats and 92% of lost indoor cats were found within a five house radius of their home. Similarly, Human Animal Support Services (HAAS) states that 70% of stray dogs were found less than 1 mile from their home, with 42% found less than 400 feet away.
  2. Social Media: Platforms like Facebook with lost pet pages played a crucial role in spreading the word quickly.
  3. Visible ID Tags: This includes both traditional, etched ID tags and smart or digital ID tags. And from the in shelter perspective, the BEST option is to get a flat collar tag. One that sits flush along the collar instead of dangling lose. This way it can’t get caught or snagged and ripped off.
  4. Neighborhood Apps: Apps like Nextdoor were instrumental in reuniting pets with their owners, as demonstrated in one case where a post on Nextdoor led to her being recognized by someone who pulled over to scan her digital ID tag. See how these start to blend together? 😉
  5. Local Shelters: While not the most immediate solution, contacting local shelters was still a part of the overall strategy for pet parents just in case the physical tag got removed.

Do you notice anything missing in the top 5 effective methods? No one mentioned microchips.

It turns out, that microchips don’t breach the top 5 methods to getting pets home until the pet has already been missing for A MONTH. So if that’s the case, why do we as animal rescuers constantly emphasize the importance of microchipping your pet and keeping the information up to date? Because we think about lost pets from the perspective of shelter and rescue workers. Not from the perspective of pet parents.

To be clear, an up to date microchip is absolutely the best method to getting a lost pet home AFTER that pet enters into the care of an animal welfare organization, and we’ve done a really good job of promoting and educating the public on that point. What we want to focus on now though, is how to get pets safely home BEFORE they even make it to the shelter.

Bridging the Knowledge Gap: What Animal Rescuers Can Do Better

To mitigate the impact of lost pets on animal welfare organizations, it is vital to educate pet owners on effective prevention and recovery methods.

  1. Promote physical tags as much as microchips: No naked pets! Ideally, don’t let a pet leave your care without three things: a microchip, a collar, and a physical ID tag. (Again, a flat tag would be best from the standpoint of durability and likelihood to stay attached, but any tag is better than none!) Also consider using a rescue management software, like Pawlytics, which can automate the registration of microchips to their adopters, ensuring updated contact information is always available.
  2. Update website resources: Ensure that your website includes practical advice for preventing lost pets, such as fixing fences, latching gates, and keeping collars and tags on pets at all times.
  3. Adoption resources: Incorporating detailed instructions like the list above in your take home packets can further empower new pet owners with valuable information from day one! (And if you’re using Pawlytics, you can upload those documents to send automatically 😁)
  4. Educate your team: Ensure that all staff/volunteer members are well-informed about the most effective methods for reuniting lost pets with their owners. Consistent, accurate advice should be provided to pet owners, helping them take immediate and effective action if their pet goes missing.


Lost pet prevention is a shared responsibility that requires better communication and education between animal rescues and pet parents. By understanding the actual causes of lost pets and promoting the most effective methods for reuniting them quickly, we can reduce the number of pets entering shelters while still ensuring more happy reunions. As we observe Lost Pet Prevention Month, let’s commit to closing the knowledge gap and making our communities safer for our beloved pets.