Pets are like family; they hold a place in our hearts and fill our homes with happiness. When a pet goes missing, it’s devastating. We wanted to take a deep dive into the statistics of pets returning home after they go missing.

Maybe you didn’t notice them slipping out the front door, or you watched them hop the fence, chasing a rabbit around the corner. Regardless of how they escaped, getting them back home must remain a top priority.

According to American Humane, approximately 10 million pets go missing in the United States every year, with millions of them ending up in shelters or facilities.

Nearly 93% of all lost dogs will find their way home, but only 74% of cats reunite with their owner.

Unfortunately, research shows that only two percent of cats and 15 percent of dogs without microchips or tags will return to their owners.

dog missing

Pets Returning Home After They Go Missing: Statistics on Cats

While the initial estimates for felines seem pretty low, it’s important to note that many indoor cats aren’t’ microchipped.

They frequently aren’t wearing ID tags, making it difficult to reconnect the pet with its owner. With 3.2 million cats entering shelters every year, only 90,000 join their families.

Why Are Lost Cats Seldom Reconnected With Their Owners?

Most cats will often hide and stay away from humans, making them difficult to capture or locate.

Most cats can survive on their own a while, with weeks or months passing before approaching a human for help.

Unfortunately, most owners have stopped searching for their pets at this point. Owners believe contacting shelters to report a missing pet is often enough.

While the rescue will take a physical description of the cat, it’s virtually impossible to reach everyone when a potential match occurs. For example, a tabby cat will likely match several missing pet reports.

missing cat

Stray Cats in Shelters

The average shelter will only hold an animal for three days before allowing an adoption to occur.

If you’ve lost a pet, you’ll need to check in with local shelters every few days to ensure you don’t miss reconnecting with your pet.

Unfortunately, failing to check the animal shelter regularly might leave your pet finding a new permanent home.

Tags are more likely to connect pets with their rightful owner but aren’t particularly common for cats.

Many lost pets are mistaken for stray cats, brought into shelters, and rescued for rehoming.

People are more likely to help an animal they recognize as someone’s pet or companion.

With less than 15% of cats having a microchip if they get lost, the probability of finding your pet is much lower overall.


Pets Returning Home After They Go Missing and Increasing the Probability of Reunification

While the success rate for reuniting cats with their families is arguably low, there are specific things you can do to improve your odds.

Using a collar and ID tag can help all pets, including indoor animals. While many believe indoor animals don’t need collars, approximately 41% of all owners searching for a missing cat stated their animal was an indoor pet.

Another reason for not putting a collar or ID tags on a cat is the discontent of the animal. Many cats will quickly adjust to wearing properly fitting collars and tags.

Microchipping is another fast and inexpensive protective measure you can use to keep your cat safe.

A vet can administer a microchip during a regular checkup as a simple injection. Ensure the information on file is correct for cats that are already microchipped.

Confirm address, email, and phone number every few years.

pet returning home after missing

Pets Returning Home After They Go Missing: Statistics of Missing Dogs

Studies estimate only six percent of all dog owners will report their pet missing to local animal shelters.

The reason for dogs disappearing starts with an opportunity, whether stress, panic, or to follow an intriguing smell.

These moments vary among breeds but often include the following scenarios:


Occasionally, a dog leaves for no apparent or obvious reason. A dog that wants to go is hard-pressed to stay, especially when an opening presents itself.

Even the best pet owner sometimes has a dog run away simply because they didn’t want confinement at that moment.

On the other hand, abused pets will typically dart the first moment they can, waiting for a chance to escape.


The definition of wanderlust is the desire to wander. When dogs were roaming wild, mindless wandering made survival easier for the species.

The dogs learned to adapt to different environments and focus on their surroundings. Part of this instinct is genetic, continuing today, despite domestication.

When this instinct takes over, dogs wander out of the home and venture through the neighborhood.


Often, dogs become scared of hearing lightning, a loud or startling noise, or blind panic.

In a blinding fear or panic, many dogs bolt from the house, unaware of how to overcome the sense of upset. This leaving can cause disorientation, leaving the dog far from home.

Will Lost Dogs Return Home?

Almost any dog can become a runaway, with a few wandering dogs having a decent chance of returning home shortly after leaving.

Runaway dogs, especially those panicked or afraid, will have a low probability of returning on their own.

The panicked dog’s instinct is to run as fast and far as possible to remove the immediate threat.

Thankfully, dogs have a keen sense of smell, helping them discern their surroundings. Their smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times stronger than a human’s nose.

It’s this incredible scent-tracking that allows several lost dogs to return home.

How Many Dogs Return Home After They Go Missing?

According to a recent survey, 93 percent of all dogs reported communities eventually reunited lost pets with their owners.

Despite popular belief, only six percent of all pet owners found their dogs at an animal shelter. Fifteen percent of dogs returned because of pet identification.

A lost pup will instinctively look for food and water, helping them survive months or years independently.

If your dog goes missing, the chance of reuniting is 90% within the first 12 hours. These odds increase to 93% within the first 24 hours, dropping to 60% overall.

lost dog in shelter

Where Do Missing Dogs Typically Go?

Most people take lost pets to animal hospitals, kennels, veterinarians, or animal control facilities.

Occasionally, they will take a pet to a shelter or rescue organization. Should a pet have a collar with current information, they’ll contact the owner directly.

Many people reach out through social media in local community groups.

How Does a Dog React When Lost?

Outgoing dogs will often seek other humans, making them aware they’re hungry, hurt, lost, or anxious.

This outgoing nature will usually help with their return, increasing the probability of being rescued, taken to a shelter, or cared for.

Unfortunately, this friendly disposition also increases the likelihood of a new family’s adoption.

How to Find Lost Pets and Returning Them Home After They Go Missing

While no one wants to lose a pet, there are certain things a pet owner can do to increase the probability of finding them.

It’s always good for pets to keep an ID tag on the animal, including their name and phone number.

If you’ve chosen to microchip your animal, it’ll always have permanent identification. Remember, your pet’s microchip is only helpful if the information is current.

Continually update your pet’s microchip when you get a new cell number or address.

If you’re unsure what contact information shows on your pet’s microchip, ask the vet to scan it when you’re there for an exam.

If your pet does go missing, here are a few steps you can take to try and find your beloved pet:

Search the Entire Home and Property

Once you’ve noticed your pet is missing, talk to any housemates or family members and ask where they last saw your pet.

Take time to search the home carefully, checking under beds, closets, or small dark places. There’s a chance your pet is sleeping inside the house, just hidden away.

If your pet is food motivated, grab their food or treat container and shake it to get their attention.

If your pet isn’t inside the home, check the immediate property. Look in sheds, under decks, near windows, and hedges. Some animals escape and immediately hide.

Slowly walk the neighborhood to see if you can find them nearby. Cats will typically move during dusk and dawn hours, finding a safe spot to hide during the day.

Bring a recent photo and knock on doors to see if anyone has seen them.

Get On the Phone

Always contact local animal control agencies, shelters, rescues, or veterinary hospitals within the city.

There’s a chance someone spotted your pet and brought them in for surrender, especially if they were roaming the private property.

When possible, bring updated photos to the physical location for distribution. The more people who know you’re looking for your pet, the better.

Reach Out on Social Media

Social media is a powerful tool, with countless community networks or lost pet groups available.

Spend a few minutes posting to any social media accounts (or ask friends and family to post on your behalf).

Include a photo of the pet and a phone number if you’re comfortable. Reach out to any page administrators and ask if they’d be willing to share your pet’s information with their members.

Create a “Lost Pet” Flyer to Get Pets Returning Home After They Go Missing

Although it might seem like an old-fashioned method, flyers offer an immediate visual of your pet to the local community.

As most people carry cell phones, connecting with you is virtually effortless. Include a detailed photo, pet’s name, phone number, and contact name. If you’re offering a reward, include that in the flyer.

Include a large and bold headline with an easily readable font. Keep track of the flyers you’ve put out, and permanently remove them from the neighborhood when your pet is home.

Reach Out to the Neighborhood

While posting flyers in your neighborhood is a solid start, it helps to share them in areas where people might congregate too.

Consider sharing a flyer with local pet stores, groomers, veterinarians, laundromats, and other high-traffic areas. Schools and parks are also helpful, especially if your pet is friendly.

Children are often more observant than adults, especially when it comes to animals – so tailor some flyers to their height.

Put Some Items Outside

There are a few items you can keep outside at the front or back door to attract your pet or help them feel comfortable if they return while you’re not home.

These items include their litterbox (preferably dirty with their scent), favorite toys, your dirty laundry (socks, underwear, gym clothes, dirty things that smell of your natural scent), or their bedding.

Try to leave the items outside during the early morning hours and just before dark—most lost pets move during these hours.

While the promise of food may seem appealing, try to limit food outside of the home.

Strong smelling food like tuna or meat will lure neighborhood animals like stray cats, skunks, dogs, or bears. Your pet may stay hidden in fear if other animals visit the area.

Pets Returning Home After They Go Missing First Try Not to Panic

Losing a pet is like losing a family member; it can be challenging to focus and mentally exhausting to handle.

Fortunately, most pets will eventually reconnect with their loved ones, especially when they have a microchip or identification tag.

While trying to find your pet, remember to maintain a healthy schedule. Try to eat appropriately and have snacks available while walking through the neighborhood.

It’s common to feel guilty about a pet getting out, but it’s not your fault. Many pets escape from their property without any notable reason and blaming yourself isn’t beneficial to anyone.

Locating your pet within the first 24-hours significantly improves the odds of finding your pet, so walking the neighborhood is always a good idea.

If you find your pet, contact any commercial locations watching out for him. Let them know the pet is home and arrange to have them microchipped.