Almost every pet parent fears the day when they open the door of their home or accidentally leave a backyard gate open and their beloved cat or dog darts out and runs away. In their panic, pets can wander quite far from their homes without any way of knowing how to return.
One of the most common ways these lost pets find their way back home is when a kind-hearted stranger finds them and cares for them while searching for their owner. However, taking in and caring for a stray pet is not as straightforward as it sounds.
If you find a lost or stray pet outside your home, here’s what you need to know to help it find its way home.
1. Lure the pet inside with a treat or food.
Your goal will be to get the pet inside where it is safe in your care. Always stay calm, quiet, slow and cautious when capturing stray animals. Aggressive pursuits, loud noises and sudden movements are likely to scare them off.
If you’re picking up a cat, try wrapping it in a towel to carry it or coax it into a pet carrier. This can help you avoid being scratched.
2. Give it appropriate pet food and water.
The pet may not have eaten anything in a while, so it will need food and water. Avoid giving the pet human foods. A sudden change in food can upset the pet’s stomach, and table scraps might make it even worse.
If the pet doesn’t eat or drink much right away, this is normal. Pets that are very frightened and stressed are unlikely to have a large appetite. However, it’s important that you continue to encourage the pet to eat and drink while it is in your care so that it doesn’t become dehydrated or sick.
Try warming up the food, adding a little bit of broth or providing tasty wet food to entice it to eat.
3. Provide a safe, secure location.
Nurture the pet by providing it with a calm, safe place in your home to rest, since it will likely be very scared and need a space to relax.
Dogs can be kept inside a fenced-in yard or on a leash. Cats are likely best kept in a cat carrier, box with air holes or a small room in your home.
Take stock of the animal, looking to see if it needs veterinary care (for example, if it is wounded, looks malnourished or suffering from a visible health issue). If any wounds seem severe, you should contact your local animal shelter for assistance.
4. Be cautious if you have other pets or children.
You don’t know what diseases the lost pet could be carrying or if they are contagious. You also don’t know the pet’s temperament, and it may not play nice with other animals. For this reason, “quarantining” the stray pet may be in the best interest for all animals involved.
5. Look for any identification tags on the animal.
Many dogs and some cats will wear a collar with a tag that provides the pet’s name and possibly its owner’s personal identification information like a phone number.
If you can access this information, reach out to the pet owner to explain that you found their pet and create a plan to return the pet to its home.
6. Check for a microchip.
Most pets in this day and age have been microchipped for safety purposes, especially if they were raised in an animal shelter. If there is no personal identification on the pet, you’ll want to bring it to a professional to have it checked for a microchip, which should have the pet’s and its owner’s information.
Carefully transport the animal to a nearby animal shelter to have it checked for a microchip and use that information to reach out to the owner.
7. Use other resources to identify the owner.
If the pet has no identification tag and turns out to not be microchipped, you may need to turn to other resources to help reach the pet’s owner. Hang “Found Pet” signs around the neighborhood, ask friends and family to spread the word and make posts on social media and other neighborhood websites with a description of the pet.
Always make sure to provide your contact information so if the owner finds your messages, they can reach out and be reunited with their lost pet.
If you are unable to hold on to the pet while the owner is found, your best bet is to take the pet to your local animal shelter. They will file a “found pet” report so if the owner comes looking for their pet, they can more easily match it.
8. Don’t keep it immediately.
You should not assume that once you find a lost pet, it is yours to keep. You should try your hardest to find the pet’s rightful owner. However, if enough time passes without an owner coming forward and you are interested in adopting the pet, speak with your local shelter to understand the laws about adopting strays.
Using these steps, you will hopefully aid in reuniting the lost dog or cat with its loving home.