Pet Disaster Preparedness: Be Ready If Danger Strikes

No one wants to think about disasters and emergencies when it comes to their pets; after all, the best part of owning a pet is their ability to help you through disasters and emergencies in your life by providing cuddly, unconditional love! However, bad things do happen, and having a pet disaster plan in place for them can take an enormous amount of weight off your shoulders.

While you’re planning for yourself, why don’t you plan for your pets, too? Most of planning for trouble is simple and straight-forward, and it’s no different for your beloved fluffy family members, either. Here, we’ll discuss some easy steps you can take to ensure that your entire family makes it to the other side safe and sound.

Prepare a Pet Emergency Plan

Planning ahead will give you and your pets the best chance of staying both safe and together in the event of an emergency.

Even during small, loud events like 4th of July celebrations, many pounds across the United States are overwhelmed by incoming pets that have bolted or otherwise escaped homes because of fear. Because of the constant issue with pet overpopulation, many of these animals will be put to sleep before they’re ever taken home. In fact, once a pet winds up at the shelter, less than 10% will ever be recovered by their guardians or owners.

This is both a shocking fact and a necessary one to consider; during a disaster, pets are often left behind, and while many people do try to help lost animals, there is often just not enough manpower to recover from the disaster, help people in need, and assist in animal rescue and collection as well. This means that pets that are captured during a disaster wind up at already overcrowded animal shelters, putting stress on both the shelter and animal.

Disasters are Predictable

Disasters rarely create new situations. We have seen horrendous events like Hurricane Katrina level an entire area, but it didn’t surprise us; we knew it would be devastating and in which manner. This means that we’ll know what a disaster might bring us, and can plan appropriately. Still, Hurricane Katrina left thousands upon thousands of animals loose in New Orleans, some of which that were not found until weeks after the disaster.

The Lamar-Dixon Expo Center served as a temporary shelter for horses, dogs, cats, and small pets after the hurricane was over, and temporary vet clinics popped up in locations all over the area in parking lots. Many pets were reunited with their human companions, but many were lost during the hurricane or never did find their way back to their families.

These are difficult circumstances to consider, but because of the sometimes heartbreaking consequences of a failure to plan for our pets, it is of utmost importance to consider them when we are planning for emergencies.

Pet disaster prepardness

Prepare Supplies and Travel Essentials

The first thing that needs to be considered when planning for your pets for disaster is your checklist of items you need to take with you that are for your pet. FEMA has an excellent resource that can be found here, which we recommend you print and keep with your preparedness kit to review occasionally. However, we’ll also break down what you’ll need here to give you an idea of where you should start.

Pre-Prep Steps

  1.  Start with labeling your home with clear indicators that you have pets. If you’ll have to leave your pet behind, stickers and signs can help rescuers locate your pet quickly and with more ease. If you do take your pet with you, you can write EVACUATED across your sticker so that rescuers can spend time looking for other people’s pets instead of yours.
  2. Find somewhere for your pet to go. Some pets can’t travel with us in the event of an emergency; large dogs, horses, and even easily stressed animals like cats should be transported somewhere safe when you leave your home. Avoid the shelter if you can; try and find a vet outside of your area, a hotel, or friends and family that can take your pet and care for them while the emergency is happening.
  3. Plan for the unexpected. In the event of a sudden illness, extended hospital stay, or death, it’s important that your pet have somewhere to go and to stay. Whether this is to live or only a temporary arrangement, finding someone responsible and trustworthy will mean the world to your companion if you were to be unable to return to them quickly.
  4. Tags, ID, and microchip information should be up to date. In the event of an emergency, a collar might be all that tells a rescuer to whom the captured pet belongs. Unfortunately, sometimes collars are lost in the scramble, so having a pet that is microchipped can provide a dependable, more permanent source of identification. If we are talking about a large pet, such as a pony, ensure that your pet still has some form of identification attached.
Pet Disaster Plan

What Should Be Included in Your Travel Kits

Since you’ll need supplies for your pet whether they are traveling with you or going to a safe location, it’s a good idea to make sure that you have your ducks in order and supplies readily available if the necessity to grab a bag and go ever comes. Keep a kit near your door or in a central location with your other emergency supplies.

For all pets:

  • At least a week of food, wet or dry (should be rotated every 2 – 3 months)
  • Important medical information and a week’s worth of necessary medications (should be rotated every 2 – 3 months)
  • A fresh water supply, good for at least a week (should be rotated every 3 – 6 months) – plan on a gallon per large pet and per person a day
  • Paper towels
  • Large and small disposable garbage bags for cleanup
  • Suitable watering and feeding dishes
  • Extra leash and collar or harness for cats
  • Blanket or bed
  • Ideally a travel crate or carrier large enough for a pet to temporarily reside in
  • A copy of a photo and shot record with your address and phone number attached, preferably in a water-proof bag

For dogs:

  • Toys and distractions, such as chews
  • A week’s worth of puppy pads to line a cage
  • A leash made from a sturdy material, such as chain link or leather
  • A martingale collar – when tightened correctly, martingale collars make escape from a collar by pulling almost impossible

For cats:

  • Disposable litter pans – these are sold at pet stores, or you could use disposable roast pans from the store
  • A cat litter scoop
  • A large bag of scoopable cat litter
  • A pillowcase – in a hurry, a cat can be secured in a pillowcase for transport​

Should I Bring It?

When in doubt, simply put yourself in this situation: you’re camping for a week with your dog. What will you need? What will be easy to carry from your campsite to your car? While you should be prepared, also consider what will be easy to transport and keep track of.

Create a Safe Shelter for Your Pet

Not all emergencies require evacuation, but these sorts of issues still need considerable planning. If it is safe to stay home during a disaster, then having a safe place for your furry companion is essential.

  • Make sure your shelter is indoors. If it isn’t safe for you to be outdoors, it is absolutely not safe for your pet to be outdoors, no matter how sturdy a shelter they may have.
  • Have a safe, enclosed crate or containment unit for your pet. Pets can become different under stress; you’ve probably seen a side of your cat you’ve never seen before when you’ve taken them for a vet visit. Aggression, disorientation, and confusion are not uncommon in pets that are upset or on edge. You should make sure you have a crate or other enclosed area for your pet to stay while they are indoors, even if they are usually an indoor pet.
  • Make their space comfortable and familiar. A comfortable bed, distractions (catnip for cats or frozen peanut butter for dogs, for example) and lots of comforting words can help your pet stay calm.
  • Have your emergency kit ready to go. Disasters can change quickly, and you should be ready to head out the door with your pets in tow if necessary. Keep your personal disaster kit as well as your pet disaster kit close.
  • Keep your pet’s safe shelter close to you. Don’t put your pet far away from you. In case you need to move quickly, easy access to your pet is essential to safety. Even a few minutes can make a huge difference in a situation that requires quick thinking.​
pet disaster prepardness

Evacuate if Necessary

If it becomes necessary for you to leave your home, or even if it is recommended by those who are tracking the storms in your area, you should immediately do so. Nothing is worth the risk of you and your family’s lives. This means there should be an emergency plan in place for you, your human family members, and your pets as well; you should never leave your pets behind. Remember, if something is not safe for you, it isn’t safe for them, either.

The key to a safe evacuation

The only way you can increase your chances of a safe evacuation is to ensure you are prepared ahead of time (our tips above may be helpful). If you’ve done everything you can to be prepared, you and your pets have a much better chance of escaping a disaster safely.

Get the whole family involved

Don’t be afraid to teach your kids about safety and evacuation plans; in fact, your entire family should be involved in ensuring everyone gets out together. Having a clear and easy to follow plan will reduce panic in the moment and help ensure a quick evacuation to safety.

When Evacuating Your Pet is Not an Option

No matter how much you plan, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to, and it becomes necessary to leave your pet behind. This should be a last-resort option. Never leave your pet if you have any sort of other option, even if it simply means grabbing your pet and taking him in the car without any supplies – this is preferable to leaving your pet by themselves during a disaster.

If possible, take your pet to a shelter or other place that is designed to take pets and has at least a Category 3 storm certification. While this is not guaranteed safety, chances are much better for your pet in a confined, safe location where they cannot escape and become lost.

If all else fails and you must leave your pet in your home alone, there are many common-sense things you can do to give your pet the best chance of survival and safety:

  • Ensure your pet is confined to a small space away from windows and objects that may fall
  • If floodwaters are a risk, secure your pet in the highest location possible
  • Leave at least five days of food and a two weeks’ worth of water in the room with your pet – your pet will take some time to go hungry, but he will not live long without a source of water
  • Give your pet some comforting objects and a bed & blanket in case of low temperatures
  • Unplug any appliances that may occupy the same space as your pet
  • Mark your house in some manner that indicates that there is a pet inside – spray paint works well
  • Return as soon as possible to collect or check on your pet

Because of the importance, we want to stress that you should never leave your pet in your home if you have another option during an emergency.

After the Disaster

Just like there is a beginning to every storm or emergency, there is also an ending. One way or another, the storm will pass, and you will be able to begin the healing process from the trauma you and your family endured. Though your pet may be an adaptable, positive animal, it is common for pets to feel just as much stress as you do, and often their behavior may change temporarily while they recover. Some of these changes may be dramatic. Behavioral changes include, but are not limited to:

  • Sudden aggression
  • Fear or anxiety
  • Clinginess or stress when you leave their sight
  • Defensiveness

Sometimes, love and reassurance will bring a pet back to normal, and they simply need some patience and understanding. Give your pet lots of love and comfort, and let them know that everything is safe now through both your tone and your actions. If you return home, your pet may feel disoriented; it may not smell or even look like home, and it may take some time – and perhaps some treats – to convince them that everything is okay.

In the vast majority of cases, pets do recover, and they recover well on their own with a little TLC. In the cases that an abnormal behavior persists – especially if it causes danger to you and your family – veterinarians have many tricks up their sleeves to help bring your pet back to their normal self.

Ensure your pet’s environment is secure; search for holes in fences, debris in the house that could hurt your pet, and any dangers that have cropped up from the disaster. Make sure you’re checking for issues at their level; stoop to their level and see if you can find anything that may not bother you, but could potentially bother them.

Bring Them Inside

Even if your dog or cat is usually an indoor/outdoor or even strictly outdoor pet, we recommend allowing them to be an indoor pet for at least a few weeks. Let them sleep near you, interact with them often, and give them plenty of reassurance. This will help them adjust to being home again and help them reorient themselves so that they are more comfortable when the routine is reestablished.

Everyday Emergencies

Sometimes an emergency is not something that requires evacuation or even extra prep – these are often sudden, more common disasters such as water shortages, power outages, and extremely cold weather. Power outages are common after even small storms – a fifteen-minute storm can knock out power across an entire state for days.

Prep for Big is Prep for Small, Too

Most of the steps in providing for your animals is the same in everyday emergencies – if you are prepped for the big emergencies, you are prepped for the small ones, too. Make sure you know where your emergency kit is; have extra food, medicine, water, and ID tucked away somewhere it is easy to grab; ensure your pet has a secure place to ride out the storm with you, and hunker down (Humane Society).

If you need to leave after the storm

Everything is said and done, everyone is safe, and you’re listening to the news only to find out that you’re going to be without running water and electricity for two weeks. The best part about this is that now, you have time to decide on what you’re going to do. Since it’s difficult to live somewhere without both things, you decide to leave and stay with your family a few states away. At this point, you have several options for your pets:

  • Take them with you: Simply ensure your family is okay with you bringing your animals, and take them with you
  • Leave them with your emergency pet guardian: During emergency prep, you should have established an emergency pet guardian that is not in your immediate area. Make sure that your pet has all the supplies they need to spend time there.
  • Take them to a boarding facility or vet’s office: Find a boarding facility or vet’s office to take your pet temporarily while you stay with family. Remember, boarding facilities and vets often require proof of vaccinations, so make sure you have copies of those in your emergency kits.
  • Stay with your pet at a hotel instead: Here are some excellent resources that will help you find pet-friendly hotels:

Make sure you print a list of hotels that will take pets from one of these sites in case your phone or internet are not working. No matter what you choose, having emergency plans ahead of time will aid you in your decision.

Conclusion

We cannot predict everything that is ever going to happen to us, so our best option is to plan for the unknown. Since we adopted our pets, we are responsible for their well-being as well as our own. Since they cannot plan for themselves, we need to ensure that we keep them in mind when we are prepping for disaster.

Prepping for disaster does not mean a disaster will strike. You may never use your emergency kit for yourself or your pets, but having one ready means that if you do need to use it, it will be there. Nothing is worse than not being ready for something when it happens; having an emergency kit sit unused is, at worst, some peace of mind that you have a plan.

It is better to be safe rather than sorry. If you waste a little dog food, medication, or space for an emergency kit, rest assured that the goal is safety and not use.

Don’t forget about yourself. As always, you do come first, and you should be prepped for your own safety as well as your animal’s safety. Just like you have spare water for your cat, you should have spare water for you; just like you have a bed for your dog, you should also make sure you have a safe place for you to sleep as well. You are an essential factor in keeping your pet safe, and hopefully, disaster prep will ensure everyone stays together and can enjoy life even after the storm.

About the author

Melanie Fox

Hi there, I'm Melanie Fox, editor at Beloved Bark. We look to provide people with the knowledge and tools to make smarter, more educated choices for their dogs. We have made it our mission to inform our followers with expert advice and recommendations, that will make a difference in your dog's life.

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