Tips and Tricks to Prevent Pet Escapes and Lost Pets
Dr. Emily Hoppmann, DVM and Amanda Clark, Veterinary Technician
Great summer weather means more time for us all to enjoy the beautiful outdoors and spend more time doing outside activities! It also signals time for friends and family members to start running in and out of yards, patios, and garages— providing plenty of opportunities for our pets to get creative and find escape routes to the outdoors. Unfortunately though, as the temperatures rise, we tend to see a dramatic increase in runaway pets and lost animals. One of the best ways to ensure a happy reunion with your pet if he or she escapes is to be sure to have him or her microchipped; however, we also wanted to offer these simple guidelines and tips that can help ensure that your pets remain happy and stay safe throughout the summer and all year long!
Periodically check your yard for escape routes. Dogs especially are naturally territorial animals and love to explore familiar areas; however, when they make an unplanned escape to the backyard, you need to be sure they remain safe in the confinements of your yard. Over the winter and throughout the stormy spring/summer seasons, fences, gates, and posts can shift in the ground and open up easy-to-fit-through holes or spaces. Check the perimeter of your fence throughout the spring (particularly after heavy winds and storms) and periodically throughout the year to help you pin-point any potential problem areas. If a gap has occurred, you may find it useful to apply zip-ties in order to bring pieces of the fence back together. Additionally, you can also place PCV piping into grooves in the fence if there are small spaces that your pet may be able to escape through within the fence. Always make sure that all gates remain closed and locked during the busy in and out times in the backyard. Keep playtime in the backyard monitored to prevent digging along or near the fence line. If your pet is a digger, it is helpful to pour a concrete barrier or to place concrete blocks below the fence level and cover it with dirt. Be mindful that dogs are extremely clever— any small hole dug under a fence can provide a great place to wiggle out and run away from home. It is not advisable to have invisible fencing as the only barrier in your yard because it allows other animals to enter your property while essentially trapping your pet in the yard. It does work well, though, as an addition to a physical fence (especially if your pet is a digger).
Inspect your pet’s leash and collar. Before your next walk or adventure out on the leash, inspect both the leash and collar to be sure they’re still in good working order and that they fit properly. Frayed leashes or old collars can allow for an easy and fast escape if they suddenly break, or if your pet can slip out. Be sure to check that all the clasps are working properly and provide a secure ‘click’ when clicked into place. If your pet’s collar is the type that fastens like a belt, pay extra attention to how it fits. Collars should fit snuggly against your pet’s neck—they should not be too tight as to cause unnecessary pressure on the trachea, nor should they be too loose to allow your pet to easily slip his/her head out. A quick and easy way to test whether or not your pet’s collar is fitted correctly is to follow the “three-finger rule”. You should only be able to easily slide three fingers side by side underneath the collar and have no extra room. If you’ve had bad luck with finding a quality leash or collar we recommend Lupine® brand leashes and collars due to their dependability, durability, and guaranteed lifetime warranty—even if the collar or leash becomes frayed or was chewed it’s 100% replaceable! We have a variety of Lupine® leashes and collars to choose from in our clinic.
Use caution when visiting dog parks. Take some time to scope out the dog park before you take your pet in – be sure to walk the perimeter of the fence to be sure that there are no places that your pet could make a break for it before letting them off leash. Not only do you want to look at the fencing, but you want to know where all the gates and exits are so that your pet is not able to slip out when another person enters or exits the park. This is why it is important never to take your eyes off your pet and be sure that they can obey commands such as “Come” and “Stay” even with the distractions of other people and pets around. It is often helpful to work with a professional trainer to ensure that you have complete control over your pet at all times. Observe both your pet and the other pets as well so you can get a feel for if the park is a safe environment for your pet and to ensure that your pet is not anxious in this environment. Are the pet owners bringing friendly dogs and keeping them under control? If not, use caution because aggressive or unruly dogs have the ability to scare your pet and provoke a fight or flight response, which could lead to an unwanted escape attempt—or worse, a dog fight. Generally speaking though, dog parks where people pay membership fees, owners have to show proof of vaccines, and parks that have breed restrictions (or have separate areas for small and large breed dogs) are typically well taken care of. However, if you ever notice an issue in the fencing or see problem areas where dogs could potentially escape from, make the park officials aware. You never know, you could potentially not only save yourself the nightmare of having your baby escape, but also save other pet lives by speaking up!
Protect your pet from loud noises. Noise phobia is a major culprit behind pet escapes—especially in the summer months when fireworks and thunderstorms are almost a weekly occurrence. Noise phobia escapes can be some of the worst and most dangerous type of pet escapes. Some animals become so afraid of loud noises, that they even go so far as to chew or break through wood doors, glass windows, and even metal fencing to escape the noises. It’s important to be aware of these types of events so you can better protect your pet and help them to feel safe and comfortable. On holidays that fireworks are expected to go off (Memorial Day, Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve, etc.) OR in preparation of large thunderstorms, you should keep your pet confined in a comfortable place within your home. This could be in a crate or carrier, a bathroom, or even a laundry room. Because dogs/cats are inherently den animals, typically any small, dark, confined area makes them feel safe and protected. It is also important for you to remain calm and act normally in these situations so that your pet doesn’t feel that there is anything to be feared. You do not want to show any extra attention or reward the fear behavior because that will reinforce your pet’s fears. It can help to have a recording of the noises that your pet is afraid of so that you can play it in a controlled way, slowing increasing the volume as your pet continues to not have anxiety to the noise, to work on helping ease their fears. However, some dogs that have extreme cases of noise phobias do require medical intervention to help sedate, or calm them during these traumatic events. If you suspect your dog has an extreme case of noise phobia, call us and voice your concerns so we can work with you to find a medication that allows your pet to rest easy. For some pets this is done with a medication that is just used for specific events that you can anticipate (such as fireworks) and for others, they need a daily medication if they are overly anxious or have extreme cases of distress over events that you cannot control, thus cannot pre-medicate for, such as thunderstorms. In some cases of extremely anxious pets, a combination approach works best but we can work together to help ease your pet’s fears.
Tag and microchip your pet! It only takes that one accidental slip through a collar or wiggle through the fence, and your beloved animal is all on their own! Microchipping pets has proven over the years to be the most effective way to reunite lost pets and their families. Microchips are small coded chips that are inserted with a needle underneath the skin, between the shoulder blades. This can be performed either awake or during a routine surgery such as a dental cleaning or spay/neuter. The microchips each have their own unique number, specific to your pet, which can be linked with your contact information. Your pet’s microchip information can be quickly accessed and easily managed online, making it very convenient and reliable to update throughout your pet’s life. All veterinarians and many rescues/ shelters, police, and other emergency responders worldwide have internationally recognized scanners that can read and translate the numbers associated with the family’s contact information. In addition to having your pet microchipped, all pets should wear identification tags in the event they become separated from you. Tags should include: ID tags with the pet’s name and your contact info, Licensing tags for your city (if applicable), Rabies tags (received when vaccinated, the microchip ID tag (signifies that the pet has a microchip implant), and emergency health protocol tags (if your pet has a medical condition that professionals should be alerted to). All of these forms of ID can help reunite you with your pet and potentially help to save their life if they get lost! It is also a good idea to have an identification card for your pet, with a photo and description (age, breed, sex, etc.), so you have all of that information at the ready in case you need it. We are able to provide you with a pet identification card for your pet with all the necessary descriptive information about your pet and all of our contact information, which can come in handy if your pet escapes or in times of natural disasters with potential evacuation scenarios.
Our hope is that these tips and tricks will help to keep your pets safe and happy for many years to come! We encourage you and your four-legged family members to enjoy outdoor time, but also to remain aware of potential escape routes and situations that could provoke your pet to want to escape. If you feel you have made all or many of these adjustments and your pet still seems to keep escaping, there could be an underlying cause for his or her anxiety and/or fear. We recommend that you make an appointment so we can have a more in-depth discussion about these extreme phobia behaviors if they are a concern. Also, always remember we are here to help provide you with all the necessary documents you should have in case you and your pet are ever separated. This includes everything from issuing duplicate vaccination certificates and providing your pet with an identification card, to implanting your pet’s microchip or helping to find the right medications to keep your babies from being so anxious that they try to escape!