How veterinarians can better support lost pet prevention tactics
Animal welfare organizations typically base missing pets estimates on data from Shelter Animals Count and similar sources, which report about 6.5 million companion animals end up in U.S. shelters annually.
However, that information features two flaws. It includes surrendered pets, and it excludes lost pets found by good samaritans. One ASPCA survey found that 15 percent of respondent households lost a dog or cat in the past 5 years, with about equal numbers of dogs and cats represented. Of the 93 percent of dogs and 74 percent of cats found, people located just six percent and two percent respectively at a shelter.
While pets get lost year round, AKC Reunite reports that more pets go missing during the July 4th holiday than any other time of the year. Summer then, is an excellent time to share lost pet prevention messages with your clients.
How to prevent lost pets
Veterinary practices can use the following types of educational messages in social media posts and marketing content targeted to pet parents:
- Take extra precautions with newly adopted pets such as double-leashing in public, connecting to both a body harness and neck collar
- Keep pets crated in the car during transport
- Implement a two-door rule where pets always have two doors closed between them and the outside. If needed, text everyone, add big signs, or install a hook/eye latch on the inside of doors to keep family members from accidentally opening doors when pets like birds, rabbits, and ferrets play loose in the house
- Give pets a safe, behind-closed-door space during social events and holidays
- Regularly inspect fences and window / door screens for possible escape spots
How to reunite lost pets
Pet identification — ID tags and microchips — increases the likelihood of lost pets getting returned home. It's critical, though, that people keep contact information updated in practice records, on tags, and with microchip registries.
In one study of microchipped animals in shelters, the most common reasons owners could not be found included:
- Incorrect or disconnected phone number
- Microchip registered to someone other than the current family
- Microchip not registered at all (only 58.1 percent of microchips are registered)
To combat this issue, implement a microchip process where the veterinary practice team ensures people register new chips right away, before leaving your facility. Also encourage people to review their chip registry information at least once a year on Check the Chip Day in August.
Pet tracking technology is gaining popularity. Typically, the technology attaches to a pets' collar and an app monitors location. However, many options charge subscription fees and use major cell networks to track lost pets, which may not work in areas with poor reception.
Elaine Le, who writes Sibe Life, uses Whistle to keep track of her Siberian Husky, Gatsby. She says, “The real-time location tracking was extremely helpful when I had a dog walker," — letting her know when he left and returned as well as his route.
Emily Hall from KittyCatGo prefers the Marco Polo Pet Tracker because it does not rely on GPS or cell service and has no monthly fee. However, because it uses radio frequency which works better with line of sight, the device's range can be small — half mile to two miles.
Ken Lambrecht, DVM, medical director at West Towne Veterinary Center in Wisconsin, likes the FitBark GPS best because he says, “It's used in 20+ universities for activity-related research, even seizure detection." The company recently turned its attention to cats, with smaller and waterproof collar attachments.
Veterinary teams can be proactive on the issue of lost pets.
- Provide continuous messaging to clients about lost pet risks and prevention strategies
- Recommend pet ID and tracking tools
- Validate clients whose pets have ID
- Make checking ID tags, scanning microchips, and checking chip registries for updated information part of wellness exams
Through a combination of education and technology, veterinary practices can do their part to reunite lost pets with their owners, or—even better—prevent pets from going missing in the first place.