What to do if you find a lost pet

Despite the best efforts of owners sometimes pets go on solo adventures.

You’ll often hear stories of pets who go walkabouts and return home safe and sound a few days later looking for their dinner. Sometimes the process isn’t as simple as that.

Here is a handy guide for if you stumble across a pet who is a little lost.


A lost cat could either be a stray who has wandered off or a feral cat who lives wild and the first thing you should do is find out which of these you have found. If you feel able and the cat is not showing signs of distress you can attempt to coax them to you with food. If it is happy to approach you and is quite sociable it is likely to be a pet cat that’s just gone a little further from home than usual. Sometimes cats stray and, though cats are skilful hunters, they go looking for home comforts. An unguarded cat flap is often too tempting an opportunity for a hungry moggy to pass up.

As a result it’s not unheard of for someone to come home to find that a cat has adopted them. If that is the case and you are able to touch and interact with them then it’s worth trying to take them to a local vet to be scanned for a microchip. If they have one then that’s the job done! If not then you can leave the cat with a local shelter or, if it’s ill, injured or distressed the RSPCA will take them.

In the case of feral cats they will sometimes approach people but are likely to be wary. If you notice a feral cat regularly visiting your house or garden you can leave a water dish out for it and some food. Don’t leave milk as feral cats are unlikely to be able to tolerate dairy and may become quite sick. Be careful handling these cats as, even if you do gain their trust, they may have fleas or infections as a result of being wild.

If possible contact your local cat shelter anyway as, while they usually won’t take them in for rehoming, the RSPCA advocates trapping, neutering and then releasing feral cats to try and keep the population of homeless cats down.


If you happen upon a dog the chances are that it’s lost rather than wild. By law dogs are required to wear collars and tags with their owner’s name and address on, and legally have to be microchipped. Like cats, if they have a microchip this can be checked by a local vet. If they don’t you should contact your local authority via your council. The longer the dog remains with you the more likely you are to get attached to it. If you do you can express to the authorities that you would like to adopt the dog if his owners don’t come forward, but be aware that you will never be the legal owner of the dog, even if the owner doesn’t claim their dog for days, months or even years.

In all cases the lost animal may well be stressed, hungry, frightened or unwell. Always be very careful if you decide to approach an unfamiliar pet as you can’t predict how they may react.

a dog holding on to its lead with no one around

Abandoned animals

Sadly there are still animals being abandoned by owners who are unwilling or unable to continue caring for them. Often a litter of unwanted, unplanned kittens or puppies will result in owners dumping them. If you find animals that have obviously been abandoned then it is always best to contact your council as, even if you’d like to keep them, they may need medical attention. As with strays you can let the council know that you would like to adopt them if that is the case and, if you are approved by your local warden, you will become their legal owner.

Contacting “owners”

Sometimes local shelters are full and cannot take the stray/lost pets, or people choose to keep the animal in their care while they try to find the owners. It is important to remain aware that some unscrupulous people manipulate caring rescuers into thinking that they are the original owners, especially if the lost pet is a valuable breed. Make sure that any photos you put up of the animal don’t reveal any unique markings or features as these could be useful for identifying the owners.

In the interests of protecting your identity and personal details it might be worth setting up a dedicated email address and putting that on the posters rather than your personal telephone number or email.

If someone comes forward claiming to be the owner ask them questions to prove that they really are the owner. Be sensitive as, if they are, they are probably panicking about their lost pet. Be sure to ask open questions, for example if you have found a Husky with a wall eye don’t ask “Does your dog have a wall eye?” Instead ask, “Does your dog have any features or unique markings?” If they are the owner they should be able to tell you these things.

If you are ever unsure or concerned about the welfare of a lost or stray animal then call your local council or the RSPCA.

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