Do Lost Pets Find Their Way Home?
By Andrea Quarracino | October 19, 2021
Despite our best efforts, pets can get lost in all sorts of ways, even when they are happy and content at home. If your cat or dog goes missing, know that you're not alone: statistics show that one in three pets will become lost in their lifetime.
The best way to ensure that your lost pet gets home is to upload their picture and file a lost pet report in our lost and found pet database, connecting found pets — from animal shelters and good neighbors — with lost pet reports nationwide.
If your pet becomes one of the one-in-three, you may begin to wonder, "Do lost pets ever find their way home?" The good news is that sometimes they find their way home independently, and there are also ways to help them.
Can Cats Find Their Way Home?
Yes. According to research from Lost Pet Research & Recovery, some lost cats can find their own way home using homing behavior, which they define as "the inherent ability of an animal to navigate towards an original location through unfamiliar areas."
What are the chances of finding a lost cat? Lost Pet Research & Recovery shows that while it can take some time, the odds are in your favor:
Lost cats were missing for between 8 hours up to 2.5 years.
Lost cats traveled 0.2 miles up to 80 miles (of those surveyed, only five people reported long distance travel) away from home.
The average distance a lost cat traveled was between 2 and 4 miles.
90% of cats were lost for an average of 5 to 7.5 days.
A missing cat study from the Missing Animal Response Network shows that the median distance lost outdoor-access cats traveled was roughly 344 yards, or about a 17-house radius from their home. Those who traveled a great distance got lost during the move or a visit to the vet. To help make sure your lost cat returns home, get them microchipped, ensure that your chip registration is up to date, and have your cat wear a collar with an ID tag.
Can Dogs Find Their Way Home?
A lost dog can find its way home, but odds are they'll be picked up by a rescuer first. People are more likely to intervene because it's less common to see a roaming dog than to come across a community or outdoor cat. Lost Pet Research & Recovery indicates that 93% of lost dogs are found alive, and 20% of them return home on their own.
What Are the Chances of Finding My Lost Dog?
Much higher if your dog is microchipped. A study by the American Veterinary Medical Association indicates that dogs without microchips were returned to their families 21.9% of the time.
In contrast, microchipped dogs were returned 52.2% of the time, even when they were 600 to 1,000 miles away from home. To help ensure a speedy recovery if your dog gets lost, make sure they're microchipped, check that your chip registration information is up to date, and have your dog wear a collar with an ID tag at all times.
What Can I Do To Help?
Here's a sobering statistic: of 3.3 million dogs and cats who enter shelters as strays, only about 20% are reunited with their families. If you find a lost cat or dog, your actions can provide a critical step in bringing pets and their parents back together again.
First, snap a picture and file a found pet report on Petco Love Lost.
Check for a collar and ID tag, and if you see one try to contact the pet parent directly.
Knock on doors and see if a neighbor can help identify the pet you’ve found.
Call your local animal services office or animal shelter and let them know you've spotted a lost pet.
Spread the word on social media: Nextdoor, lost cat and dog Facebook pages, and Craigslist can be go-tos for people in search of their lost pet. You can also use our easy-to-use shareables to post on those platforms.
Not All Who Wander Are Lost
According to Mark Sloat, Program Manager at the Austin Animal Center, some animals are found close to home, on average, just a few houses away. They may have gotten out of their yard and decided to follow a smell to the neighbor's house, but they're still in the vicinity of where they started.
Before removing a found dog or cat from their environment, knock on doors and see if anyone recognizes the pet. You might meet a surprised pet parent who had no idea their best buddy had gotten out.
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