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Now Is the Time - Disaster Preparedness and Your Pets

Disaster can strike anywhere at any time. Not only is this dangerous for humans—it also exposes our pets’ vulnerability since they completely rely on us for food, water, medical attention, and safety. Think you’re safe because you don’t live in a disaster zone? Think again. Disasters aren’t only natural. Yes, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, blizzards, thunderstorms, lightning, floods, mudslides, and tidal waves are all natural disasters that can endanger both you and your pets. But don’t forget things like gas leaks, electrical and water outages, fire, civil unrest, chemical spills, building collapse, industrial accidents, train derailments, car or plane crashes, burglary, vandalism, and explosions. Any of these incidents can put you and your pets in danger and could require you to evacuate your home or to shelter-in-place. The Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, which requires state and local preparedness offices to take pets into account when preparing their evacuation plans, was created after the mass heartbreak felt after Hurricane Katrina when an estimated 600,000 animals either died or were left without shelter. After a television crew captured a heart-wrenching story of a little boy who was forced to abandon his dog during an effort to rescue his family, a Zogby International poll found that 49% of adults say they would refuse evacuation orders if they couldn’t take their pets along with them. We love our pets so much that we would rather risk our lives than leave a beloved pet behind. However, leaving pets out of evacuation plans not only puts the animal and his or her owner in danger, it also endangers first responders and rescue teams when they have to take risks to save those who remain behind. If government agencies must consider pets in their evacuation plans, so should you. Here are some steps you can take right now to ensure that your pet will be safe during a disaster.

Have an Evacuation Plan

Photo by Daniel Tausis on Unsplash

Having an evacuation plan is the first step in protecting you and your pets in an emergency situation. The basic idea for an evacuation plan is to ensure you have the right supplies readily available and that every member of your household knows and understands what to do and where to go in an emergency. You should include plans for when the family is all together and also in case an emergency situation arises when family members are in different places. For example, is there a central, safe location where the family can meet if your home has become unsafe?

The most important way to protect pets during an evacuation is to take them with you. Even if you think you will only be gone for a few hours, once you leave your home you do not know what obstacles might delay your return. Just remember, if it is not safe for you, it is not safe for your pets. And NEVER leave a pet chained or tied to anything. Your evacuation plan should include a list of possible places to evacuate to, whether it is the home of a family member or friend or even a pet-friendly hotel.

Know How to Shelter-in-Place

In certain situations, government authorities will recommend that citizens shelter-in-place. Just as with evacuations, the shelter-in-place process will be more successful if you have prepared in advance. First, choose a safe area in your home, preferably an interior room without windows, where your family and pets can stay together. Make sure your pets are wearing collars with identification, and keep them leashed in case you have to make a hasty evacuation. If you are sheltering-in-place with cats, close off any hard-to-reach hiding areas like vents or underneath heavy furniture. Remove any unnecessary items from the room that could cause harm, such as paint, chemicals, and plants. Keep your emergency kit (more about making an emergency kit below) with you at all times.

Pack a Bag

The best rule of thumb for packing an emergency bag is to have enough supplies to last roughly two weeks. Necessary supplies for pets include food and water in cans or airtight containers (don’t forget a can opener), medications/supplements (plus pill treats if you use them), food and water bowls, a cleaning product with bleach, paper towels, trash bags, poop bags for dogs, a litter box and litter for cats, sturdy leashes/harnesses, pet carriers, towels or pet bedding, and your contact information in case you get separated from your bag. Also useful is a first-aid kit that includes instant cold packs, a hot-water bottle, and a digital thermometer (more on packing a first-aid kit below).

Your bag should also include an air/water-tight container for your pet’s medical records. This will be very important if you attempt to stay in a shelter or want to board your pet. Make sure the medical records include a rabies vaccination certificate, current vaccination record, microchip number, medication prescriptions, and for cats a record of the most recent FeLV/FIV test result.

I.D. Please

Equipping your pet with legible tags and a microchip is the key to ensuring that you will be reunited with your pet if you are separated during a disaster. Pet tags should include your cellphone number, a backup number for a friend or relative, and your pet’s name. If you have a microchip for your pet make sure you keep the information in the registry up to date when you move or change phone numbers. This will ensure that rescuers who find your pet can reach you, and it can also be used as proof of ownership if your pet is taken to a shelter. Also, make sure you write down your pet’s microchip number and keep it with you if you have to evacuate.

Take a Pet Selfie

Make sure to include a photo of you and your pet together in the air/water-tight container in your emergency bag. This will save you the additional emotional distress of proving that your pet belongs to you if you get separated and have to claim him/her from a shelter or animal-control facility. Make sure the photo is current, and write your contact information and your pet’s name and microchip number of the back of the photo. This photo could also come in handy if you get separated from your pet and need to enlist the help of others to find them.

Photo by Jon Grogan on Unsplash

Know Where to Go

Part of a solid emergency plan is to know where you can go to in advance. This takes just a few minutes of research, but it can mean all the difference in getting you and your pet to safety quickly in an emergency situation. An easy first step is to contact your local emergency-management office prior to any disaster or emergency and ask if they offer accommodations for pet owners. This way you will know before disaster strikes whether there is a shelter that will house you and your pet or if you have to make other plans. Second, check out pet-friendly hotels along evacuation routes, and call for reservations if you know you may need to evacuate. Ask if no-pet policies could be waived in an emergency. If hotels aren’t an option, ask family and friends in nearby areas if you would be able to stay with them. Here are some resources to find pet-friendly hotels:

Stick It

Many pet owners have rescue stickers affixed to a window of their home, but many others do not. These stickers are important in an emergency because they inform rescue workers of the need to rescue pets that may be trapped inside. Every home with pets should have these stickers placed in highly visible spots, including the rear of your home. You can also use this sticker to inform rescuers that you have already left with your pets. Simply write “EVACUATED” (if time and circumstances in an emergency situation allow) across the stickers so rescuers will not waste time or risk their safety looking for your pets.


In an emergency situation, especially in natural disasters, having the right vaccinations for your pet can spare them illness and may save their life. Many diseases are found in floodwaters so vaccinations are especially important when fleeing a hurricane or flood. Having your pet properly vaccinated can also protect you and your family because many diseases, such as leptospirosis, Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and ringworm, can be transferred from pets to humans. Additionally, many shelters that allow pets will want to ensure that the animals have proper vaccinations. You wouldn’t want to be turned away from safety because you don’t have the proper vaccinations and documentation for your pet.

Do It Now!

In the midst of a disaster is the worst time to begin making disaster plans. Do the research NOW and have your plan in place. Get together your supplies, pack your bag, and store it in a place where you can grab it in a hurry. Then you can relax because you are prepared. The same goes for evacuating. If news reports have been hinting at possible evacuations, or if hurricane warnings have been issued for days, don’t wait for a mandatory evacuation order—get out early. It is much better to get yourself and your pets to safety and find out you didn’t need to evacuate than it is to stay behind and require emergency services that put you and your pet (and first responders) in more danger.

Plan for the Worst

You can plan and prepare, but you can never guess exactly when a disaster will occur or how bad it might be. That is why planning for the worst-case scenario is a good idea. Here are some situations to plan for:

What if you aren’t home when disaster strikes?

If you are away when an emergency occurs, you might need to rely on neighbors, friends, or family in the area to look out for your pets. Of course these relationships and plans (such as exchanging phone numbers and house keys) need to be arranged in advance. Make sure that whomever you select to help in your absence knows what your plan is and where your preparedness kit is packed. Also, plan a meeting place if communication lines are down so you will know where to meet to collect your pets.

What if your pet gets lost or injured during evacuation?

Your emergency preparedness kit should include some first-aid supplies so you can clean any wounds/injuries your pet may have received until he or she can get veterinary care. Proper vaccinations should protect your pet from the harmful diseases often encountered in emergency situations, so it is important to keep those up to date. You should also keep your veterinarian’s contact information as well as the phone number for a 24-hour emergency veterinarian just in case your vet can’t be reached. If your pet gets lost, hopefully his or her microchip and the I.D. tag on their collar will help you to locate them. It is also handy to have the phone numbers for your local animal-services locations as well as local rescues and shelters so you can call them to find out if they have your lost pet. Facebook can be a good place to reach out—there are often local lost-pet pages. And neighborhood websites such as can be a good resource as well.

What if I am forced to leave my pet behind?

You should do everything you can to avoid leaving a pet at home alone in a disaster. Pets can get injured or loose, and many are unable to take care of themselves in a disaster and may suffer from exposure, predators, contamination, accidents, and other dangers. However, if a situation arises and you are absolutely unable to take your pets with you there are a few things you can do to make them safer. Be sure they have access to food and—even more importantly—water. Consider leaving a toilet accessible as a water source. Also, post a notice on your front and back doors letting emergency workers know there are pets inside that need rescuing. Make sure your pets are wearing collars with I.D. tags that have your contact information so you can be reached if rescuers are able to remove your pets to safety.

In Conclusion

Having a family pet is wonderful, but it also comes with responsibility. By developing an emergency plan and putting together a preparedness kit you are fulfilling a responsibility that may save the lives of your furry family members.

Helpful Links

Preparing Makes Sense for Pet Owners - Emergency Preparedness Pet Kit List

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