We never want to imagine that something bad will happen to us or our pets, but the unfortunate reality is that emergencies, natural disasters, and other unforeseeable accidents are all too common. No matter what part of the world you live in, you need to have an emergency plan for your family – and that plan needs to include the furry members, too.
Being prepared not only simplifies complex situations and ensures no family members are lost or injured, but it can also mean the difference between life or death in some scenarios. You might have a preparedness plan, but is your pet included?
It’s National Pet Preparedness Month, an effort to ensure that all families include the needs of their beloved pets when they make plans for how to handle unexpected emergency situations. From house fires to hurricanes, there are a variety of reasons it’s useful to have a plan and an evacuation kit for your pet. Here are our preparedness tips to keep you ready.
Create an Emergency Plan for Your Pet
If you have an emergency plan for your family, then you have a starting place to create one for your pet. But it might not be as simple as assuming the family pet will come with you wherever you go. Here’s what to consider when designing an emergency plan for your pet:
- Find out what shelters might be available in a disaster and understand their pet policy
- Identify hotels in surrounding areas that accept pets
- Prepare a list of possible locations for your pet to evacuate with or without you
- Remember that you may have to separate your animals
- Use your resources to create a solid plan
Emergency Shelters Often Don’t Allow Pets
For a variety of reasons, public shelters often don’t allow pets. Bringing family pets along could make the shelter environment dangerous for someone in the shelter with a severe pet allergy – and having many animals who are unfamiliar with each other in an enclosed space could create other safety concerns. During National Pet Preparedness Month, identify what shelters will be available to your family in the case of an emergency and whether or not you will need to find separate accommodation for your pet.
Keep a List of Pet Friendly Hotels in Surrounding Areas
As part of your emergency plan, identify hotels in nearby towns or cities that allow pets. If you have to evacuate and there is no public shelter available to you, this list of pet-friendly hotels can be a useful resource. Always call these hotels to confirm their pet policy, as website information can be unreliable and outdated – especially during an emergency.
Consider Other Evacuation Options for Your Animal
There are a number of reasons you might not be able to take your pet with you during evacuation for an emergency. Perhaps you’re going to stay with a family member who has a severe pet allergy, or you’re going to a public shelter with a no-pet policy. Whatever the reason, it’s important to have a plan for your animal if you should have to separate from them. Talk to your friends and neighbors to see what they will be doing with their pets – it’s possible they’d be willing to do the major favor of taking yours along, too. Veterinary offices and animal shelters sometimes have solutions for pet evacuation, too.
Don’t Risk Your Pets’ Lives to Keep Them Together
Especially if you are a family with both cats and dogs, it is possible you will have to separate your pets in order to keep them safe in an emergency. It is not ideal to be separated from your pets in the first place, and having them separated from one another is even more difficult. But the most important thing is that your pets are safe, even if that means placing them in different accommodations.
Consult Local Resources for Additional Solutions
If you really aren’t sure where to begin in arranging accommodations for your pet in an emergency, contact local resources such as the emergency management office or animal control. They should be able to point you in the right direction. Don’t wait until disaster strikes to find resources and solutions. Put your plan together now, and be sure it includes your entire family.
Assemble a Pet Preparedness Kit
A pet preparedness kit is a simple, easy-to-gather collection of items that can potentially save your pet’s life in an emergency. Some people create two kits: a smaller one for easy evacuation and a larger one for sheltering in place. Your pet preparedness kit should include:
- The basics: food, water, and medication
- A pet first aid kit (that includes current vaccination info)
- Additional supplies like a collar, identification tag, leash
- Toileting and grooming items
- At least one comfort item for your animal
- A photograph of you with your pet
The Fundamentals: Seven Days of Food, Water, and Medicine
The fundamentals of an emergency preparedness kit for animals are not unlike what is needed for people. You should have a minimum of seven days’ worth of food, water, and medication for your pet – some people pack up to two weeks of these necessities. As a benchmark, a 60-pound dog will need about half a gallon of water per day for drinking. For smaller animals, you could get away with less, and larger animals will need more. Err on the side of caution.
Pet food should be stored in an airtight container and you will need to change out the medication with some regularity to keep it from expiring. Include bowls for your pet to eat from, as well.
What to Include in a Pet First Aid Kit
It’s possible your animal will need first aid in the case of an emergency. In case you can’t access a veterinary office, you should keep a few things on hand to care for minor injuries and illnesses. You can buy pre-made kits online or at pet stores, or you can use this guide from the American Veterinary Medical Association to build your own kit. Don’t forget to keep your pet’s medical records, including up-to-date vaccinations and medication prescriptions, in this section of the kit.
Keep Extras of Your Pet’s ID Tag, Collar, and Leash
Your pet should always have their properly fitted collar and identification tags on their body, but it’s advisable to keep an extra set of identification tags as well as a collar and leash in the emergency kit. It’s very easy for such things to get lost or damaged, and you don’t want to be left without an option for identifying or controlling your pet. Also, make sure your pets are microchipped and you keep the contact information current.
A Kit Should Include Toileting and Grooming Items
Your pet will still have bathroom needs, even in an emergency. Keep doggie bags and cat litter in the emergency kit, too. Items like a brush and pet shampoo can be good to have, as well, in case your pet needs an unexpected bath.
If There’s Room, Comfort Items Can Reduce Stress
If possible, your emergency kit should include a comfort item for your pet. This might be a t-shirt that smells like you or a special toy or even a collection of their favorite treats. While this isn’t technically a necessity, it can be incredibly useful during a time when your pet is sure to be stressed out and afraid.
Be Sure to Have a Photo of You and Your Pet Together
One item many people forget to include in their emergency preparedness kit for pets is a photograph of them with their pet. Should you become separated, this photo allows you to search for your pet more easily and also quickly proves your relationship with the animal.
Other Tips for Staying Prepared
- Your pet should be comfortable with the carrier
- Keep vaccinations and records up to date at all times
- Microchipping is even more important during an emergency
- Add a sticker alert to your door for rescue workers
- Keep the whole family (and possibly neighbors) informed about your emergency plan
Be Sure Your Pet Is Carrier-Trained
One major tip for simplifying and streamlining your family’s emergency response is ensuring that your dog or cat is comfortable with being transported in a carrier. A pet that is comfortable with their carrier and feels safe in it will be much easier to manage at a time when you need to get them contained and transported quickly. Crate training for dogs and cats is crucial to an effective emergency response plan.
Maintain Updated Vaccination Records for All Pets
Vaccination records will likely be required at any place that you can shelter with your pet, whether a public shelter or a hotel. Having printed copies of their vaccination records and medical history will be useful, especially if you can’t contact their veterinarian. Keep these copies in a waterproof container to ensure their safety. You can obtain complete records from your veterinary office. These should include all surgeries and shots your pet has had, as well as any current health issues and prescribed medications.
Microchipping Can Be Life-Saving in an Emergency
Microchipping your pet is always a good idea, and it can become a life-saving tool during a natural disaster or other emergency that separates you from your pet. If your pet gets loose during a crisis, a microchip might be the only way you are reunited with them. Tags and collars can be lost, but rescued pets will always be scanned for a microchip. Keep your information up to date with the microchipping company or national registry so they know how to reach you.
Alert Rescue Workers of Your Pet’s Presence
Another tip for National Pet Preparedness Month: make sure emergency workers know that there are pets in your home if they arrive during an emergency. Fire fighters can’t save your dog or cat unless they know they are in the house. The ASPCA’s free pet safety pack includes window and door stickers that identify the type and number of pets in your household.
Keep the Family and Neighbors Updated on Your Emergency Plan
In order for your emergency plan to be effective, your entire household must know exactly what to do in an emergency. The pet preparedness kit doesn’t help unless the person evacuating the home or sheltering in place knows where it is located. Be sure that everyone is prepared for various scenarios: what to do if only certain people or pets are in the house, and what to do if cell phones and other methods of communication do not work. Be mindful of your pets as family members while you have conversations about how to navigate emergency situations.
Your Pet May Be Traumatized by an Emergency
National Pet Preparedness Month is all about expecting the unexpected. Unless the whole family is ready – furry members included – no one is ready. Don’t get caught off guard when a natural disaster or other emergency occurs. With the proper plan and a fully stocked emergency kit, you should be able to weather any storm (literal or metaphorical) and keep your pets safe.
It’s worth noting that, even with the proper preparedness and a generally successful outcome after an emergency or natural disaster, your pet might experience some emotional trauma from the crisis. Stressful situations like an evacuation or natural disaster event can be extremely troubling for your animal and you might notice behavioral issues, anxiety, or depression in your cat or dog following such an event. Consult your veterinarian for ways you can support your pet’s mental health after an emergency.