Lost Pets Can Lead To Multiple Heartaches11 min read

 In Cats, Dogs, General



One of the most distressing moments of pet ownership is when a pet runs away, disappears or just cannot be found. For understandable reasons lost pets cause intense agony and pain because the pet is a loved member of the family.  Most veterinary practices receive calls regarding lost pets all the time.  Most  lost pets cases could have been prevented with a good dose of prevention and common sense.  The human instinct when it comes to almost anything in life is  “it always happens to other people, not me”.  That is a serious error in judgment.  Mistakes do happen but read on about how to minimize lost pets from happening in the first place.




Many dogs and cats are wanderlust and with that said, there are many ways a pet can disappear. One of the most common is by leaving a door open such as a French door leading out to a deck or a door leading to an open garage door.  Taking the trash out and forgetting to shut the door behind you will be too much of a temptation for many dogs and cats.  Most pets are very quick when they want to be!

Many dogs are kept fenced in back yards during the warm weather months to hang out and exercise or just to go outside to void.  Most chain link fence is only 4 feet tall so any larger breed of dog can hurtle over that with very little effort.  The big problem is, in intact male dogs, that their scrotal sac can get hung up on the barbs of the fence top as they are going over it.  This causes excruciating pain.  Surgery is required to correct the damage.  Yes, I have treated those.  If a dog cannot get over the fence it will try to dig under the fence.  Many dogs have forelimbs like a badger.  A Dachshund is a prime example.  Those stubby front limbs were designed for digging.

One of the most disturbing incidents involving a lost pet are those that are stolen from the owner’s own property. Any tiny, purebred dog that is left outside for a second can and will be stolen by those trying to make an easy buck.  Toy breeds can easily be tucked in a coat, tossed quickly in a waiting car or in a pillow case for safe keeping.  Try doing that to a Rottweiler!  This happens frequently in this country.  Pomeranians, Papillons, Yorkshire Terriers, Chihuahuas and anything crossed with a Yorkshire Terrier are ripe for stealing.  Morkies (Maltese x Yorkshire Terrier) and Shorkies (Shih-Tzu x Yorkshire Terriers) are just a few of the desired crosses.  They are also absolutely adorable.

We have all heard about the weakest link in a chain.  It is true!  Chains do break.  Outdoor dogs are often chained up or tetheredI am against said behavior but sadly people still do it.  I would not want to be chained up!  The animal tugs away and sooner or later the chain breaks and off he goes.  Even when people mean well, things happen.  Taking a dog out for a walk on a leash is the best thing you can do to prevent injuries from happening.  When the link on that chain breaks or a leather leash snaps many dogs will take off.  Worse yet are those that slip out of their collars.  TIP OF THE DAY:  After you put on a new dog collar hold your index and middle fingers together and slip them into the space created between the collar and the dog’s coat. There should be some resistance.  If you can easily slip your fingers through, the collar is too loose.  If your fingers cannot go between the space, the collar is too tight.  Adjust accordingly.  If you have just bought a large or giant dog breed and you are trying to get it used to a collar do the following:  Every several weeks slip those fingers between the collar and the dog’s coat.  As the puppy grows it will need a larger collar to fit it properly.  You do not want to know how many times, under a general anesthetic, I have had to remove excessively tight collars that became embedded in the skin due to negligent pet owners.  The amount of animal abuse that I had to deal with over the years made me sick.  I could write a book.

People love to take their pets on vacations with them but that does not stop the problem of lost pets.  This problem is acute with people that travel with cats.  Cats hate car rides anyway and do not handle stress well. If allowed to roam free in the car interior, cats and dogs can escape in a second when the car doors open during a pit stop.  Most of these lost pet problems arise far, far from home.  This is even more difficult than dealing with lost pets on a local basis. The key is to put a leash on the dog and the cat in a carrier before any car doors are opened.




The most common problem associated with lost dogs & cats is car accidents.  Dogs and cats are roaming free and very often get hit by a passing car.  While they are away from home most dogs do not receive adequate nutrition and will raid trash bins to survive.  They become undernourished and will lose weight over time.  Infectious diseases are always a problem.  You just do not know if your pet has been exposed to a dog that may be incubating or displaying clinical signs of Parvovirus.  You do not know if your pet has tangled with a raccoon or other wildlife that is known to harbor rabies virus.  It is in this situation that adult vaccinations are worth their weight in gold.

It is not just young, healthy animals that get lost.  Older dogs also escape and become lost.  Many of these older dogs are being managed for one or multiple medical conditions that require daily therapy.  Some may have a cognitive disorder and just walk off the owner’s property.  Recently, I saw a sign attached to a fence that was asking help in tracking down their Doberman Pinscher.  It needed daily phenobarbital to control seizures.  The same thing with diabetics that require daily insulin injections.  This is serious business that we are talking about.

Lastly, we have the effects of weather on lost pets.  Just a few days ago, I published an article on how cold weather hurts pets.  Even though an animal may seek refuge from the cold it is not fool proof.  The same thing goes at the other end of the extreme with hot weather in the summer.  Severe summer weather can easily trigger heat exhaustion/stroke.




You find yourself in an upsetting situation.  What do you do?  The key word here is being proactive.  Doing something makes you feel better and you realize you are actually accomplishing something.  If you have lost a dog the most important thing to remember is that you need to search within a 2-3 mile radius of your home.  That means getting in the car and driving around plus applying suitable posters with the animal’s picture on walls or other support structures.  These should also have your phone number and if there is a reward for finding the pet.  Do a foot search.  Walk around and talk to neighbors.  A good hearted neighbor 3 streets over may have taken your dog in and taken care of it.  People may have seen the person with a dog that fits the description.  This happens all the time.

Cats are a bit trickier and I really mean that.  Cats can disappear and it may take months or a year or so for them to finally show up. I know this happens.  I would get called by a client asking me to remove a cat file from their folder because it ran away.  Months, or even several years later they called and wanted the file reactivated because the cat just showed up on the windowsill one morning!  The moral of the story is never give up on a cat returning home.  Most times they do.  It may take a while but they do.

If you live in a small to mid sized town many of them have local am news radio stations.  Call them and ask that they put your lost pet information on the air.  Most of them are happy to do so.  Call or visit the local veterinarians in your area.  Hand out posters.  I used to post lost pets posters and the like in my reception areas.  You never know when a client may recognize the pet or the owner.  Someone may find the pet and take it to a veterinary hospital where staff can recognize it.  One winter day I was standing outside my practice getting some fresh air when a car pulled up.  The man had recently found a dog that was seated in the front seat of the car.  I looked over and recognized it immediately!  It was a Miniature Schnauzer that I was currently treating for Cushing’s Syndrome.  The owners were on vacation but were reunited with their dog after they returned.  Happy ending but just luck that the man picked my office first.  Lastly, visit the animal shelter or humane society in your area EVERY DAY.  You never know when the animal may turn up there.




That advice sounds like something I would talk about to a client trying to keep their pet free of Parvovirus but the saying is true.

  • Pet Security- Know where your pets are at all times.  Make sure all windows have screens in them and all doors are shut.  Ensure that all fencing is secure.  Better yet, invest in Invisible Fence®, a provider of underground fencing.
  • Buy durable collars for both dogs and cats.  If you buy a cat collar make sure you purchase a “break away” collar so the cat does not hang itself when jumping somewhere.
  • Take your pet to a veterinarian and get the animal micro-chipped. This embeds a small metal sliver under the skin that can be read by special hand held tag readers.  It contains all necessary pet and owner information.  Almost all animal hospitals and shelters have at least one reader.  Most practices routinely scan ALL new animals brought into a medical office.
  • Do not depend on name tags or rabies tags affixed to a collar.  The collar may become lost, broken or the animal slips out of it in the first place.  Have a microchip injected instead.  A microchip is in the dog and cat for life.
  • When traveling make sure all dogs are on a secure leash and cats in a carrier before any car door is opened.
  • Since the majority of intact male dogs and cats roam frequently due to the male sex hormone, testosterone, get your pets neutered.  It will keep them closer to home as the roaming instinct is minimized after neutering.
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