Disasters can happen anywhere at any time. A tornado can blow down your house. An Earthquake can collapse a bridge. A tsunami can sweep away your town. A fire can wipe out a forest. Being prepared can make your life easier and increase your chances of survival when a disaster does occur. But being prepared does not just apply to people. Preparation can save the life of your pet, too.
There are a lot of pets in the United States of America. There are approximately 78.2 million pet dogs, 86.4 million pet cats, and 5.3 million pet house rabbits. Pets now outnumber children four to one. When planning for disasters, most people plan for the essentials they and their children might need, escape routes to get away from trouble, how to contact friends and family, and how to protect their property. But people often forget to plan for their pets.
When it comes to pets and disasters, the number one rule to remember is: If it is not safe for you, it is not safe for your pets. If you should not be outside during a hurricane or tornado neither should your animals. If you should evacuate during a fire or flood, so should your animals. If it might kill you, it might also kill your animals.
So how do you make preparations for your pets to survive a disaster? Obviously there is a big difference between preparing for your pet hamster and your pet horse. I’m going to address some general preparations for smaller pets first.
What to do BEFORE a Disaster
1). Get a Pet Rescue Alert Sticker.
There are a wide variety of sticker styles, some are available online, or to order, or at local stores or organizations. The purpose of the sticker is to let rescuers know that pets live in your house. You need to place the sticker somewhere, on a window or door, where it can be easily seen. If you have to evacuate, and if you have time, write “evacuated” across your sticker so rescuers don’t spend time searching unnecessarily.
Click the link to order free Pet Alert Stickers from the ASPCA.
2). Have Up-to-Date ID and Records.
Make sure your pets all have collars with easily visible ID. You can order ID tags online also some stores and pet stores have machines where you can make your own. The ID should have your pet’s name and your phone number (cell phone number is best). If the ID tag is large enough, you can include any specific medical needs and your vet’s name and number. You should have a photo of your pet in case the pet gets lost. Even better, include a photo of you and your pet, together, to help prove your ownership. You also need to have current medical and vaccination records. Many pet shelters will not accept pets unless they have proof of vaccines. Get a waterproof bag or envelope to keep all your records and photos in. Consider microchipping your pets to better your chances of locating a lost animal.
Click the link to print out a free lost pet flyer. You can add your pet’s photo and keep a few copies with your records in case your pet gets lost.
3). Prepare a Pet Emergency Supply Kit.
There are many websites that carry a wide variety of pre-made kits that you can purchase but you can also make your own kit. There are also many different lists of necessary items on many different websites.
Click on link for a checklist for cats and a separate one for dogs.
Click the link for a brochure that includes a checklist.
Here is a general list of Emergency Supplies that I have put together that you might want to include in your Pet Go Bag or Evac Pack:
– Water for each pet for 3-5 days (at least ½ to one gallon per pet per day).
– Food for each pet for 3-5 days (canned or dry food, but high water content canned food can help with hydration).
– Food and water bowls plus a manual can opener.
– Records and photos should be kept with your Pet Go Bag, keep them in a waterproof envelope or container. Also include written instructions for feeding schedules, behavior issues, and veterinarian name and phone number.
– Any medications and medical records (also should be in a waterproof container).
– Collar or harness and leash for each pet.
– Carrier / cage for each pet. They should be large enough for your pet to stand up, turn around, and lie down because you do not know how long your pet may have to be in the carrier / cage. Also, your pets should be separated because stress and fear can cause animals to strike out, even at their best friends.
– Sanitation supplies. For cats, you need disposable litter trays (aluminum roasting pans work well), litter, and scoop. Also garbage bags to collect pet waste. You may also need newspapers, paper towels, liquid dish soap, disinfectant, and bleach.
– Pet First Aid Kit and a book on pet first aid. You can purchase pre-made First Aid Kits or put together your own.
Click the link for a list of first aid kit contents.
Click the link for a basic cat first aid kit.
Click this link for a basic first aid list for dogs.
Click this link for horses.
Click this link for birds.
Click this link for reptiles and amphibians.
Here is a basic First Aid Kit list that I have put together: bandages, gauze pads, medical tape, Qtips, antiseptic wipes, emollient cream, scissors, tweezers, latex disposable gloves.
– Pet toys and bed and blanket.
4). Arrange a Safe Haven Ahead of Time.
Red Cross Disaster Shelters will only accept service animals and it is not safe to leave your pets in your car, so you need to make arrangements for your pets before you have to evacuate.
Click this link to print out a handy, free boarding instructions paper for your pets.
– Make arrangements for friends or relatives to keep your pets.
– Contact your vet for a list of boarding kennels and facilities.
– Locate pet friendly hotels / motels. Here are a few online resources:
Click the link for Pet Friendly Hotels.
Click this link for Pets Welcome.
Click this link for Pets Allowed.
– Ask your local animal shelter, but only as a last resort because their space will be very limited and it will be on a first come, first serve basis.
– You also need to make arrangements for friends or relatives to come and take care of your animals if you are away from home and unable to get back.
5) CPR. Learn CPR for pets in case your pet is injured during a disaster.
Click here for a handy graphic on CPR for pets.
6). Practice. Get your pets used to wearing collars or harnesses and walking with a leash. Condition your pets to their carriers and cages. Be aware that animals often react to severe weather and may hide or isolate themselves. Know how to find and gather up your animals and how long it takes to get them ready for disaster.
What to do DURING a Disaster
1). Bring your pets indoors well in advance of a storm. You do not want to waste time trying to find a frightened pet that has run away.
2). If you have to wait out the disaster at home, do it safely. Go to a safe room or area. Bring your pets with you. Keep the dogs on leashes or in cages, keep the cats in carriers. You do not want to waste time finding them should you have to evacuate. Separate dogs and cats. Keep small animals away from both cats and dogs. Muzzle the dogs. If at all possible, keep each pet separate so they do not become irrationally afraid and hurt each other.
3). Keep your supplies in your safe area and make sure your go bags are ready to go.
4). Move dangerous items (such as tools and toxic plants) and block off unsafe nooks and crannies so that your pets do not get into them. Remember: lit candles and heaters can be dangerous around pets. Excited animals can knock them over and cause fires.
5). Listen to the radio or watch TV. You and your pets should not come out of your safe room until you get the all clear.
– If you must evacuate, take your pets with you. If it is unsafe for you, it is unsafe for your pets. Remember, once you leave, you may not be able to come back for your animals. Animals left behind can easily get injured, lost, or killed. They can die from starvation, exposure, accidents, predators, or contaminated food or water.
– Leave early, do not wait until the last minute.
– If you live in a mobile home, evacuate right away.
– Take your emergency supplies and records.
– Do not forget your pet go bags; they will need their supplies. Also, remember that only service animals can stay in Red Cross Shelters. Call ahead to your friends, families, pet friendly hotels, etc. and make sure there is a place for your pet. Remember that many people will be looking for some place for their pets.
7). If you have no choice but to leave your pets behind, do your best to keep them safe.
– Never leave your animals chained up outside.
– Indoor is best. Leave them loose inside your house.
– Put down plenty of food and water.
– Provide extra water by taking the lid off the toilet tank, leaving the lid up, and propping the bathroom door open.
– Make sure your Pet Rescue Sticker is easily visible.
– Provide your contact info and also info for your vet.
What to do AFTER a Disaster
1). Do not let your animals loose after the storm or disaster. Familiar landmarks and scents can be changed by disasters or may be gone altogether. Dogs and cats can become confused by the changes and may get lost. The disaster may have driven snakes and other dangerous wildlife into your yard or house. You need to keep your pets close so that they are not attacked or killed. Also, you need to beware of dangerous debris such as downed power lines or poles and nails or jagged metal or wood.
2). Monitor your pets’ behavior. They may be upset and stressed by the disaster and all the changes. Your pets could become withdrawn or defensive or aggressive. If the problems persist, check with your veterinarian.
3). Try to get your pets back into their normal routine as soon as possible.
4). If you have a lost pet that cannot be found after a disaster, contact your local animal control office to find out where lost animals are being kept. Remember to bring a photo of your pet with you. You can also use your photo to make “lost pet” signs.
What do you do if you have large pets like horses, cattle, sheep, and goats, and other livestock? Large animals need many of the same things as smaller pets, just in larger amounts. But there are also some special problems and needs that go with large pets and livestock.
Click here for specific tips on disaster preparedness for horses.
Click here for disaster preparedness for livestock.
Finally, here is a list of websites if you want to read more on Preparing Your Pets For Disaster:
Click here for ASPCA
Click here for Care2 Disaster Preparation for Pets
Click here for the FEMA page on caring for animals
Click here for a brochure on how to create an emergency plan and kit
Click here Humane Society for Shelter Pets Disaster Preparation
Click here for the Petswelcome.com disaster tips
Click here for The Humane Society of the United States disaster plan
Click here for The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and their pet preparedness page. There are many links to other sites as well as printables.
Click here to go to Petfinder.com for a first aid kit list.
Click here Red Rover disaster preparation and many other links