How to keep your pets safe from theft

thief carrying away a golden retriever puppy

Danny Baggs

Posted September 06, 2022

Pet theft is on the rise and a serious concern for cat and dog owners in Victoria. Here’s how to increase your pet security to keep Fido and Fluffy safe from harm.

Coming home to a missing pet is devastating – and according to statistics from the Crime Statistics Agency (CSA), more Victorian families are experiencing this loss in recent years. Domestic pet theft – such as dog theft or cat theft – in Victoria skyrocketed almost 50 per cent from 2019 to 2020, coinciding with pandemic lockdowns.

“Spending more time at home, as we did during the lockdowns, drove an increase in pet ownership – whether pets were stolen for re-sale or sold through legitimate channels,” says Neighbourhood Watch Victoria CEO Bambi Gordon.

As shelters emptied and breeders’ waiting lists extended indefinitely, prospective dog owners turned to more anonymous sites to purchase a pet. “Facebook doesn’t allow pets to be sold or given away,” says Gordon, “but Gumtree still allows some pet advertising.” Many of these advertisements are created by dognappers and catnappers, who burgle homes or take dogs from parks and outside shops to turn a quick profit. Other stolen pets are kept as breeding dogs in puppy mills. “Those targeted tend to be pure-breds of fashionable cross-breeds,” says Gordon.

When it comes to pets, Victorian households lost a total of $480,159 in 2022 (year ending March), according to the CSA. With one Victorian home burgled every 20 minutes, there is plenty of opportunity for innocent dogs and cats to be stolen and resold. To help you avoid losing your cat or dog to burglars, here are the top ways to increase your pet security.


pet theft table

Domestic pet theft spiked in 2020 when the lockdowns hit, according to the Crime Statistics Agency.

How to keep your pets safe from thieves

Secure yards, locked gates and closed garage doors

Backyards that are visible and accessible to strangers can be pet theft hotspots. Petnappers can jump low fences and lift your cat or dog over or entice them to jump themselves with treats and toys. Make sure to keep your home secure by fencing your backyard appropriately, especially if your pet is often in the yard, and locking your garage door. Keep an eye on any pets roaming outside, don’t allow them outside your yard, and limit their outdoor access when you’re not home. “If possible, lock the dog door or cat flap when you’re not at home, which also improves security for the house and property in general,” adds Gordon.

Discover vulnerabilities in and around your home with RACV and Neighbourhood Watch's How Safe Is My Place tool.


brown dog standing with front paws up on a wooden fence

Low, unsecured fences can be an opportunity for dog theft. Image: Getty

Get your pets microchipped

One of the first security measures you should take with your cat or dog is to have them microchipped and keep your linked contact details up to date. That’s why if you find a lost pet, you should take them straight to a vet, shelter or council pound. These places can scan the pet’s microchip, discover who their rightful owner is, and contact them with the good news. Don’t be tempted to keep a lost pet that you’ve found without trying to locate its owner: this is ‘theft by finding’.

Use smart GPS trackers

There’s a reason many backcountry hikers take a personal locator beacon with them: in an emergency, it allows rescue services to track them down using GPS locating services. A smart pet GPS tracker works similarly. If your pet is lost or stolen, you can activate the tracker and locate their real-time position. “Advanced trackers with an app will notify you as soon as the pet moves outside its home,” advises Gordon.


large dog with a smart GPS tracker tag on its collar

Smart GPS trackers can help you find a missing dog or cat. Image: Getty

Invest in a home alarm system

Home alarm systems are major burglar deterrents because of all the attention they draw to forced entries. Choose a reputable provider like RACV Security that provides:

  • Professional installation by a security technician

  • Easy arming and disarming, such as from your smartphone

  • 24/7 monitoring that sends out highly trained operators to assess the situation if your alarm is triggered, who can send out patrol or emergency response services when required

  • Servicing and maintenance for your security system, plus basic training and ongoing support

Chat to your security system provider about pet-friendly alarm options. Some detectors are pet-friendly, allowing pets to move around inside when the system is armed without triggering the alarm. This new technology is based on the animal’s size and weight, with algorithms recognising animal versus human movements.

If your pet is not small enough to avoid setting off a home alarm system, consider motion sensor lights around your entrances and backyard. Motion sensor lights can help deter burglars from approaching otherwise secluded or unlit homes.


RACV technician installing a home security system

Home alarm systems and home security cameras can help keep your pets and home contents safe.

Invest in security cameras around the home

Home security cameras, also called CCTV surveillance systems, allow you to spot suspicious behaviour in and around your home. In the event of a break-in, they can help police to identify the burglar, leading to a higher chance of an arrest. Security cameras also offer effective visual deterrence for criminals considering entering your home.

For best results, select a provider that allows you to live-stream or play back footage right on your smartphone, so you can keep an eye on your home from anywhere in the world. Make sure that any cameras are heavy duty, high definition, weatherproof (if outdoors) and have automatic night vision for clear images and video in the dark.


dog in car at beach

Leaving your dog alone in a car is an invitation to pet thieves. Image: Getty

Be extra vigilant when out with your pets

When it comes to preventing theft, your best bet is to stay vigilant. “Watch out for people peering in windows and jumping fences,” Gordon advises. “Also be aware of who is hanging around – and any suspicious behaviour at off-lead dog parks. If possible, always keep your dog on a lead.” Be aware that thieves are on the lookout for high-value breeds like French bulldogs and keep tight-lipped about how much you paid for your pup.

Here are some of the most common locations that dogs are stolen:

  • Outside storefronts – many dog owners tie their pooches up outside while they duck into a shop. This provides thieves with a great opportunity to take your dog: you aren’t around, and others will assume they are the owner. So, if you won’t be able to take your dog everywhere you’re going, it might be best to do your shopping trip solo and go for your dog walk later.

  • Cars – apart from the health dangers of leaving your dog in a car, it only takes a few seconds for thieves to smash your car’s window and snatch your dog. Thieves often look out for smaller dogs like Yorkshire terriers or chihuahuas for how easy they are to grab and go.

  • Dog parks – there have been reports of thieves grabbing pups at dog-friendly parks and beaches by clipping free-roaming dogs onto a leash and leading them away while their owners aren’t looking. Keep a watchful eye on your dogs at any off-leash area.

  • Empty houses – when you leave for work, make sure all your doors and windows are secure. If you go on vacation without your pets, it’s best to leave them with friends or check them into a trusted pet hotel. Check any pet sitters very carefully and avoid leaving your pet in an empty home for extended periods, even if they’re supplied with automatic feeders. In addition, consider removing signs, doormats and outdoor decorations advertising the fact that you have a dog or cat, especially if it declares its breed.


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