Natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods can happen suddenly and sometimes, with little warning. That’s why it’s so important to have a preparedness plan in place in case of such an emergency.
You may already have one for you and your family, but having an emergency plan that also includes your pets will help ensure the safety of allmembers of your household in case of an evacuation, when time is of the essence. Compiling an emergency preparedness plan and gathering the necessary supplies may seem overwhelming, and we know these scenarios can be frightening to think about. But the earlier you start to “hope for the best, and plan for the worst,” the better prepared you, your family, and your pets will be in the event of an emergency.
This article will help you put together a plan for your pets, and was assembled with the advice of some of the most renowned and respected experts on the topic of pet safety and emergency preparedness, including:
The American Red Cross
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The Humane Society
The American Kennel Club (AKC)
Gear & Supplies to Keep in Your Emergency Preparedness Kit
Every plan will look a little different depending on your pet and situation. Do you have a cat, or dog, or both? Based on where you live, what kind of emergency are you most likely to encounter—floor, earthquake, tornado? You’ll want to think through your unique situation to anticipate the specific items you would need in such an emergency.
In general, however, there are a few essential items that you should make sure you have on hand in any kit.
Food & Water: The CDC suggests that you have enough food and water for two weeks for each pet, plus bowls and a manual can opener if food is canned. It’s also a good idea to have a couple of extra gallons of water stored, just in case you need to rinse your pet off, etc.
Medications: Make sure to have a substantial amount of extra medication saved for emergencies, along with medical paperwork (which should be placed in a waterproof pouch to keep them safe). You should also think about having a cooler and ice available for medications that need refrigeration, and talk to your vet about how to keep those medications safe and effective for your pet.
Leashes, Harnesses & Other Gear: Not only should your pets be wearing collars with identification tags, but you should also have sturdy leashes and harnesses that they’re comfortable wearing. This will help keep them safe and under control during stressful situations.
Animal First Aid Kit: A first aid kit is always good to have on hand, just in case any injuries occur during the chaos. The American Kennel Club has a helpful canine first aid kit guide that’ll show you how to build your own, and you can read our article about it, too: How to Create an Awesome Pet First Aid Kit: A Step by Step Guide.
Crate & Blankets: The carriers you have should be ones that your pet is already familiar with and ones that are roomy enough for them to spend time (possibly a lot of time) in. Don’t forget to include some blankets or towels to keep them warm and cozy—and maybe a special, snuggly toy that will help them stay calm.
Cat Litter & Poop Bags: These are the less-glamorous essentials to keep your pet’s waste under control and sanitary. Oh, and don’t forget the scoop and portable litter box. Some say that aluminum trays work just fine.
Current Photos With Pet(s): A useful suggestion from the Humane Society: include a current photo with your pets so that you’ll be able to show what they look like (if you become separated), and also prove that they’re yours if that comes up.
Supplies for the Humans: The ASPCA suggests that you also have an emergency kit for the humans as well (which seems pretty obvious), with items like batteries, flashlights, a radio, rope, permanent markers, baby wipes, cash, important papers and medication, and whatever else you may need. Need help creating an Emergency Preparedness Kit for humans? Visit the American Red Crosswebsite for useful tips and trick on creating your own kit.
If you want to learn more, the AKC has an incredibly useful evacuation checklist for pets that goes into more detail about the supplies you may want to have on hand in case of emergency, be sure to check it out for more details.
How to Prepare Ahead of Time
Though we know it’s impossible to know exactly when a disaster is going to strike, there are ways to prepare our households (which include our pets, of course) for when the worst happens.
1. Know the disasters you’re likely to face
Are you in a tornado zone? Are earthquakes or wildfires a regular occurrence? Is flooding something that is likely to happen seasonally? Whatever it is, make sure you stay up-to-date on the news and weather forecasts, so that you’re sure to have supplies on hand.
The AKC has some excellent suggestions about how to stay informed, including accessing the official website of the Department of Homeland Security (Ready.gov), keeping an NOAA Weather Radio set to your local emergency station, and receiving severe weather alerts from the National Weather Service via an app created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
2. Microchip your pet
If your pet happens to escape during a disaster, having them microchipped makes a joyous family reunion far more likely. And don’t forget to register the microchip with a current phone number so that shelter, hospital, etc. will be able to reach you quickly.
3. Crate train your pet
That makes them easier to transport and handle in an emergency situation (plus, most pups enjoy have a safe area, like a crate, to chill in).
4. Get a “Rescue Alert” sticker
Place it somewhere easy to spot (like close to the front door), and fill in the information about the types and numbers of pets you have, along with important numbers.
The ASPCA site even tells you how to get one from them, though you may be able to find them other places as well. And if you do evacuate, and have time, you can write “EVACUATED” on the sticker so everyone is aware of the animals’ well-being, and rescue workers don’t waste precious time looking for them.
5. Have an evacuation plan
This means that you’re prepared if you need to leave your house with your pup suddenly. Sadly, not all spots for evacuees are going to be pet-friendly, so you’ll need to do a little research beforehand to understand the best places to go. Luckily because of the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act more than 30 states have shelters that can accommodate people with pets. You can even use this map to find out the rules/laws in your state.
It’s also a good idea to find pet-friendly motels in your area in case you need to stay somewhere with your pets in a pinch and speak to friends or relatives who may be able to watch your pet for a while if needed. Also, establish a neighbor your trust, or someone else, who can check on—and worst case, evacuate—your animal if you’re unable to get back to your residence.
You can even as your veterinarian if they have any suggestions about boarding facilities or other options in case an emergency situation arises. It’s all about being prepared and communicating your needs before something disastrous occurs.
Other Information to Include in the Plan
Aside from gear and supplies, there are a few other things you’re going to want to include in your Emergency Preparedness Plan.
One important thing to have is information about your pet written down in case you need to board them last minute, give them to a trusted caregiver, or place them in foster care. This information includes their medical conditions and history, behavior issues or quirks that are important to know, info about their diet, and contact information for your veterinarian.
Speaking of vets, it’s also essential to have your pet’s medical records, especially proof of vaccination records, included with the plan. Some places you go to may require to see these documents before allowing your pet to stay. Shelters are especially interested in knowing vaccines for rabies, distemper and leptospirosis are up-to-date to keep everyone safe.
Also make sure to include the important contact information from your evacuation plan, including the places you’ve researched beforehand that are pet-friendly where you can stay, and the list of phone numbers of everyone who may be able to look after your furry friends during an emergency (shelters, foster homes, neighbors, friends, relatives, etc.).
Common Behavior in Pets During & After an Emergency
Emergency situations can be incredibly stressful for everyone and your pets are no exception. And since you’re the one who knows your pet best of all, you’re going to want to ensure your pet’s success in case the worst happens.
This means making special preparations that are directly relevant to your furry best friend. Considerations to think about are, for example:
Pets that don’t get along with other animals: In order to keep this behavioral issue under control, make sure to pack a crate with a blanket for privacy, and even a soft muzzle if you think that may help—just make sure they’re used to putting the muzzle on (with positive reinforcement, of course) beforehand.
Pets that hate new things: Practice your plan as much as possible before, like having your pet practice jumping into crates in the car in case of a quick exit. It’s also good to know the spots where your pet hides when they’re scared so that you can grab them in a hurry if needed. Get your whole family involved in practicing with the pets—since it’s good for everyone to be on the same page.
All pets: Be patient and gentle with your furry friend during this time—they may not act entirely like their normal selves during these stressful circumstances, so practice safe handling techniques and try not to add to their frightened state of mind.
The CDC also has some great suggestions about handling pets after an emergency situation. According to their website, “After an emergency, familiar scents and landmarks may have changed. Pets can become confused and lost, so it’s important to keep pets on leash or in a carrier when they’re being transported or when you go outside.”
The CDC also suggests the following steps and precautions upon returning home:
Check your home for sharp objects, spilled chemicals, and exposed wiring to protect your family and your pets from injury.
The behavior of animals may change dramatically after a flood, flash flood, thunderstorm, or hurricane. Normally quiet and friendly animals may become irritable.
Monitor animals closely and only release them in a safe and secure environment.
Contact a veterinarian if you notice any signs of stress, discomfort, or illness in your pets.
Emergency situations are frightening to experience, for people and pets alike, but being as prepared as possible will help you and your loved ones in even the darkest of times. Because that’s when we all need each other the most. So let’s make sure we all get through these tough times together…furry friends included.