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It wasn't just humans shaken by the big quake - hundreds of terrified pets fled during the tremors.

Last night, many of those pets, mostly cats and dogs and the odd rabbit, were yet to return to their homes, adding to the stress of their owners, who are turning to the internet in a desperate attempt to find their furry friends.

"Prissy is a 4-year-old desexed female who ran out the door this morning after the earthquake ... She was terrified and I couldn't grab her as she ran past me," said one Christchurch cat owner on the Pets on the Net website.

"I am desperate to find her as she is so timid and was so frightened. I expect that she will be in a garage or shed somewhere hiding in a corner. Please look for her if you live in the area."

Other chat sites carried messages from people who had found frightened pets.

"I've got two extra cats in my garage at present, they just arrived yesterday ... looking stressed," said a person on Trade Me's pets and animals message board.

Pet owners are also turning to the SPCA and Christchurch City Council's Animal Control centre for help.

Canterbury SPCA manager Geoff Sutton said his staff fielded about 50 calls yesterday. Many were ringing to report missing animals or seek advice on what to do with their pets if they were forced to leave their badly damaged homes.

Mr Sutton's advice was not to panic, saying many of the pets would probably return on their own within the next few days.While a large number of pets were missing, Mr Sutton said he was not aware of any reports of animals being injured during the quake, although one cat had become trapped in a wall.

The owners of that pet were advised to ring a builder who would probably do less damage than the SPCA in getting it out again.

Mr Sutton said help was available for people who had to leave their homes and were not able to take pets with them, starting with a visit to the council's Animal Control centre.

Snuggle Inn Boarding Cattery owner Noeline King said 14 cats were dropped off yesterday. Most owners had been forced to vacate because of leaking sewage, lack of water or structural damage.

What to do:
* Pet owners forced to leave their homes should take animals to the council's Animal Control Centre in Metro Place, Bromley. Animal Control will care for the pets or arrange care for them.

* Anyone with an emergency animal welfare incident can ring (03) 366 3886.

* People with pets missing for more than 24 hours should call SPCA Track-A-Pet line on 0900 56-787.

* People finding stray dogs should call the council's Animal Control Centre. Stray cats should be left alone and not fed if they are not injured.