What To Do If You Find A Stray Pet

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Over 10 million pets go missing every year with about 65% staying missing and never returning to their families. A great way to help decrease this percentage is to know what to do when you see a lost animal. Good Samaritans are a big reason why lost pets get returned to their owners safely. 

This blog covers how to be prepared for when you come across a lost or injured animal, how to capture a stray dog or stray cat, how to determine if the animal is a stray or feral and what to do when the owner cannot be contacted. 

How To Be Prepared 

A lost animal can come across your path at any given moment. Be prepared for the unexpected by having the essentials in the car at all times. 

Phone Numbers 

Know who to call when there is a lost animal found. Have the phone numbers of the local animal control, a few local shelters and a 24-hour emergency vet clinic in your cell phone contacts. Having the numbers readily available helps to cut down time and confusion of finding the correct place to call.  This is especially important if the lost animal found is injured. 

Items to Have in Your Car 

Transporting a Stray 

A cat carrier or a sturdy cardboard box are perfect to transport a lost cat in your vehicle. A strong leash and collar are ideal to transfer a lost dog in your car to their next destination. Read this blog to learn about the best leashes and collars to buy. 

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Water for Stray Pet 

A portable water bowl and bottled water are important items to have in the car. Offer the cat or dog water as soon as possible to prevent extreme dehydration and overheating. Do not let the animal drink too much too quickly to avert stomach issues. 

What to Feed a Stray Cat or Stray Dog 

Smelly and high flavored foods and treats are essential for luring in a lost scared pet. Cats enjoy canned mackerel, sardines, anchovies, cooked chicken or canned cat food. Dogs enjoy hot dogs, freeze-dried liver, green beef tripe, cheese, deli meats or canned wet dog dog. Keep opened, perishable foods in a cooler if the weather is warm. Look for “high-value” treats for cats and dogs if it is preferable to not worry about the storage of food. 

Animal First Aid Kit and Certification 

Purchase an animal first aid kit and get certified in cat and dog first aid. Learn this knowledge to be of assistance to an animal that is having an emergency. Cat and Dog First Aid Training can be done in person or online through the Red Cross website. 

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How to Capture a Stray Dog or Stray Cat 

Look around the area to make sure all is safe before approaching a lost or hurt animal. Do not stop your car suddenly in the middle of traffic, run out into a busy street, go into water or go into a wooded area. Always pay attention to the surroundings and only move forward if it is safe. 

Use caution when approaching a lost pet. They could be scared, hurt or confused. Always walk towards them slowly, make yourself smaller and speak in a gentle and calm voice. Never chase or corner an animal. Get their attention with “high-value” food or treats. Use the strong smells and flavors to coax the lost pet to move closer. 

Pay attention to their body language at all times. If the animal is showing strong signs of aggression or fear, then do not approach. Call animal control to come and capture the lost animal. Stay in that area until the authorities arrive. 

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How to Determine if the Cat or Dog is Feral or a Stray 

Once the animal is in custody, figure out if they are a feral or a lost pet. Check first for ID tags. If the animal has that information, then call the owner’s number immediately. No collar and no ID tags may mean there is a microchip. Bring the animal to animal control or a local shelter to have the microchip scanned. 

Other ways to learn if the animal is a feral or a lost pet is if they are spayed or neutered or there have been modifications to the dog or cat’s appearance. Certain breeds such as Boxers, Schnauzers and Dobermans get their ears cropped and tails docked for a desired look. Stray cats do not have fighting scars or have an eartip like feral cats. 

What to do When The Owner Cannot be Contacted 

When the owner is not able to be contacted, some decisions need to be made by the Good Samaritan. Shelters have limited space and budget. The establishment may not be able to house the lost pet or provide the funds to pay a vet bill. Animal control is in a similar boat. Keep reaching out to different shelters until you find one willing to take in the lost pet. 

If you feel called upon to take care of the animal yourself, realize that you are taking full financial responsibility for this lost pet. The local shelter or animal control office needs to be notified that you are housing the lost pet and have your contact information in case the original owner gets in touch. 

Keep your own pets away from the lost animal. The stray pet may be sick or is aggressive with other animals. Separate the two to different parts of the house. 

Take pictures of the animal and post to social media. Encourage family and friends to share the post to reach a wider audience. Use sites like petfinder.com or put flyers up throughout the area where you found the stray pet. 


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Be a Good Samaritan 

A lost animal is scared and alone. Always help if you are able to when you come across a lost cat or dog. Think of how you would want others to respond if your pet went missing. Be prepared for the unexpected and know what to do to help increase the chances of the lost, lonely pet being returned to their loving and worried family. 


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