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How Many Pets are Lost? How Many Find Their Way Home? ASPCA Survey Has Answers

First published national study of its kind regarding lost pets
June 28, 2012

NEW YORK—The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) today announced that a telephone survey of more than 1,000 pet-owning households across the country has uncovered new data regarding how many pets have been lost, how many ultimately made it home, and how their guardians found them.

The study involved a random digit dial survey of pet guardians to find out if they lost a dog or cat in the past five years – and if they did, did they find that pet – and where did they look? There were 1,015 households that had cared for a dog or cat within the past five years, and of those pet guardians surveyed:

  • 15 percent had lost a dog or a cat in the past five years – a lower number than had been anecdotally reported;
  • 85 percent of those lost dogs and cats were recovered;
  • The percentage of lost dogs compared to lost cats was quite similar – 14 percent for dogs and 15 percent for cats; and
  • Cat guardians were less likely to find their cat – only 74 percent of lost cats were recovered, while 93 percent of lost dogs were recovered.

"This research tells us that there is a possibility that a significant percentage of the stray dogs and cats in the shelters around the country do not have someone looking for them," said Dr. Emily Weiss, vice president of shelter research and development for the ASPCA. It also highlights the importance of ID tags and other forms of identification to ensure the quick return of lost pets."

In addition, there were differences in the ways in which the lost dogs and cats were recovered:

  • Forty-nine percent of dog guardians found their dog by searching the neighborhood, and 15 percent of the dogs were recovered because they were wearing an ID tag or had a micro-chip;
  • Fifty-nine percent of cat guardians found their cat because it returned home on its own; 30 percent found their cat by searching the neighborhood; and
  • Only 6 percent of dog guardians and 2 percent of cat guardians found their lost pets at a shelter. 

The data from this research study that shows how and where the guardians found their animals could be extremely helpful for those who may lose a pet in the future. Searching immediately when one knows the pet is lost, and searching within the neighborhood first through visual searches as well as posters and internet opportunities proved to be key. Checking local shelters from the first day your pet is lost is also important.

The cross-sectional national random digit dial telephone interview was conducted between September and November 2010. The study was published in the June 2012 issue of the journal Animals.