Be prepared when your pet wanders off

We know how stressful and upsetting it can be when your pet goes missing. But if you prepare for the worst, you may have a better chance of finding your cat or dog.

This detailed guide has practical hints and tips to consider if your pet is lost or stolen. As well as some simple steps you can take to reduce the risk of it happening in the first place.

Be pet-prepared

No pet parent wants to lose their four-legged friend. But if your dream dog or cherished cat goes missing, there are steps you can take to try and get them back as soon as possible.

And there are measures you can take to minimise the risk of your pet going missing at all.

Any pet wearing an ID tag is more likely to be returned to its owner if it goes missing. So, make sure your pet always leaves the house wearing a collar or ID tag including their name, your address and phone number.

Remember it’s a legal requirement in the UK that dogs out in public must wear a collar or ID tag with their owner’s name and address.

Getting your pet microchipped is a safe and simple procedure that can help get your four-legged friend back if they’re ever lost or stolen. But how can a microchip really help you find your lost cat or dog?

A tiny implant, around the size of a grain of rice, is injected under your pet’s skin. Each chip has a unique code, which links through to a file on a database – this contains your contact details and important information about your pet. This implant will help reunite you with your dog if they go missing by identifying your information.

In the UK, all dogs over eight weeks old are required by law to be microchipped. If you don’t microchip your dog by the time it’s eight weeks old, you could face a fine. The fine could be up to £500, and the theft and straying cover would not apply.

Non-sterilised pets are much more likely to wander off in search of a potential mate – so getting your pet neutered might be worth considering as a preventative measure.

This safe and simple surgical procedure, which prevents pets from reproducing, could reduce the risk of your pet going missing.

You might also want to think about getting a ‘missing pet kit’ together so you have relevant information handy if your pet does wander away. This kit could contain:

  • Recent photos of your pet
  • An in-depth description of your pet, including its age, weight, colour and details of any unique characteristics
  • A collection of useful numbers, including local animal shelters, veterinary surgeries and the local police
  • Important people to contact, including your vet and microchip company
  • A list of any relatives or friends you and your pet have visited while on walks – it’s not unheard of for animals to show up at a home they’ve been to previously

There are some simple steps you can take around the house to reduce the risk of your pet getting out and going missing:

  • Make sure your gates and fences are sturdy, secure and high enough that your pet can’t escape
  • Check for gaps under and between your gates and fences for smaller dogs, house cats and other potential escape artists
  • Make sure your windows and doors are closed and secured

The risk of your pet going missing is typically higher if other people are looking after it.

So, if you’re planning to go away and need someone to take care of your pet, put together a checklist of things they need to be aware of, for example:

  • Whether your pet can be let outdoors (or let off its lead outdoors)
  • Any specific words or sounds your pet responds to
  • Your contact details and your vet’s contact details in case of an emergency

So-called ‘dognappings’ – when criminals steal dogs to sell on the black market – are becoming increasingly common. To help reduce the risk of your dog being stolen:

  • Look out for suspicious markings left on your property
  • Be cautious of strangers asking you lots of questions about your pet, for example where you live or whether your pet has been neutered
  • Avoid leaving your dog unattended in a yard or garden for long periods of time

Steps to take if your pet goes missing

If the worst ever happens and your pet does go missing, don’t panic. There are a number of steps you can take to hopefully get it back as soon as possible.

One of the first things to do is take a walk or drive around your local area to look for your pet.

Frightened animals might try to hide, so take a torch to search every nook and cranny.

Don’t forget to let your friends, neighbours and relatives know your pet is missing in case it shows up on their doorstep or they spot it wandering around.

Lost and stray animals are handed into animal shelters every day, so check with your local shelter to see if they’ve got an animal fitting your pet’s description.

It’s worth contacting local authorities too, like your local council, animal warden or the police. They’ll likely be the ones who are contacted if your pet’s been in a car accident or is reported as a stray.

Is there a sound or word your pet responds to? Or do they have a favourite treat or squeaky toy?

Using familiar scents and sounds could help retrieve your lost pet, so take them on your search and make some noise while calling your pet’s name.

As soon as you discover your pet is missing, inform the relevant organisations quickly, including local veterinary surgeries, humane societies and animal welfare and rescue centres.

The Pet Owners Association has a detailed directory of organisations across the UK that may be able to help. Pull together a list of local organisations you want to contact, then provide them with:

  • A recent photo of your pet
  • A detailed description of your pet, including its temperament
  • Your pet’s microchip code (if applicable)
  • Your contact details

There are various databases and missing pet registers, usually run by charities, which may be able to help find your pet. Some of the most common services include:

Flyers, posters and leaflets can be a great way of encouraging local residents to keep an eye out for your pet.

Put your posters and flyers up around your local area and hand them into businesses including vets, shops and rescue centres. And don’t forget to spread the word on social media.

Your posters, leaflets and social media posts should include the following:

  • Your missing pet’s name
  • A brief description of your pet, including its breed, size and any distinctive markings
  • A recent photo of your pet
  • Your contact details
  • Any reward you’re willing to pay if someone finds your pet

If you have pet insurance, get in touch with your insurer as soon as possible – they may be able to give you financial assistance and advice.

When you take out Sainsbury’s Bank Pet Insurance for example, we’ll help towards costs for local advertising expenses or rewards you offer to try and find your missing pet.

And if you’re unable to find your pet at all, we’ll reimburse the price you paid for them – up to the limit set out in your certificate of insurance.

Other services from vets

Vets might offer a reminder scheme for booster jabs. This can take the form of leaflets, reminder cards, text messages or emails.

Your vet may also get in touch to warn you of disease risks in your area. This information is also available at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

If you think you need to see a vet urgently

  1. Don’t panic
  2. Call your vet. All vets should provide 24-hour services, so keep your vet’s emergency contact number handy.
  3. If you’re not registered yet or can’t get through, call one of your local animal hospitals.

Vet fees

Veterinary surgeries, like all businesses, charge for their services. These costs can vary depending on things like where the vet surgery is and the treatment your pet needs.

There are a few ways to help with fees. The RSPCA or SSPCA offer a low-cost vet care option. This is offered to pet owners who need help and includes services such as neutering, microchipping and vaccinations. Talk to your local centre to find out more.

Pet insurance may help with the cost of treatment – up to the limits laid out when you purchase insurance – if your pet is injured or becomes ill. Each policy will offer cover for different things, so it’s a good idea to do some research. Some providers will offer various levels of cover as well as the option for additional extras so you can choose the cover you think you’re most likely to need. Have a look at the guide to Sainsbury’s Bank vet fees cover for more information on what can be protected by insurance. This can include costs involved in physiotherapy or acupuncture if your vet recommends it.

Resolving any issues

According to the BVA, if you have any concerns about your vet or veterinary practice, you should talk to your vet to clear up any misunderstandings.

If the issue relates to your vet’s conduct, contact the RCVS.

To keep on your vet’s good side, think about:

  • Notifying the practice as soon as possible if you can’t make your appointment
  • Arriving for appointments in plenty of time
  • Taking your pet in an appropriate carrier when necessary

Tips on looking after cats and dogs

To help you and your pets get the best out of each other, we’ve created a series of guides packed with tips and helpful information. They cover everything from heading off on holiday with your pets to making sure they’re happy in your home.

Microchipping your pet

See how microchipping can help find lost or stolen pets

Find out more
Pet health and wellbeing

Find out how to keep your pet healthy and happy

Find out more
Get a pet-friendly home

Hints and tips to help create the perfect pet pad

Get started

Any questions?

Get the answers you’re looking for by checking out our pet insurance customers’ most common questions.

See all FAQs

Ready to protect your pet?

If you want pet insurance that can help towards finding your missing pet, you’re in the right place.

Find out more

Need to talk to us?

Find the details you need in our FAQs.

Other contact details

Important information

Sainsbury's Bank plc, Registered Office, 33 Holborn, London EC1N 2HT (registered in England and Wales, no. 3279730) is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority (register no. 184514). Sainsbury's Supermarkets Ltd is an appointed representative of Sainsbury's Bank plc.

Sainsbury's Bank plc, Registered Office, 33 Holborn, London EC1N 2HT (registered in England and Wales, no. 3279730) is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority (register no. 184514). Sainsbury's Supermarkets Ltd is an appointed representative of Sainsbury's Bank plc.
Sainsbury's Bank plc acts as an introducer to Pinnacle Insurance plc who is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority (register number 110866). Registered Office: Pinnacle House, A1 Barnet Way, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, WD6 2XX. Sainsbury’s Bank plc and Pinnacle Insurance plc are not part of the same corporate group.