Preparing Yourself and Your Pets for Emergencies

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Tabby cat sniffing medication bottles on a windowsill

Emergencies can happen at any time, so it’s crucial for people with pets to be as prepared as possible for a potential evacuation or shelter-in-place situation that could last for hours, days, weeks or even longer. A good first step is knowing which hazards are most likely to impact your community, whether it’s wildfires, flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, or extreme heat or cold. Then, plan accordingly with a response for each scenario.

To help you prepare, ask yourself the following:

  • Where would I go?
  • What do I need to bring?
  • Where would my pets go?
  • Do my pets have identification (ID tag, microchip) so I can be contacted if we were separated?
  • Is the information on my pets’ ID tags and microchips up to date?

To make a truly effective plan, be sure to include every member of your household by gathering their input and determining everyone’s roles. It is also critical to designate an off-site meeting location for everyone in case some members of the family are not home during an emergency evacuation. Once your plan is complete, make copies for everyone to have on hand and update the plan as necessary.

Below are suggestions for preparing yourself and your pets for many types of emergencies.

Helpful training for both pets and humans

If your pets are not crate-trained or are uncomfortable being in a carrier, now is a great time to work on helping them feel relaxed and safe in them. Pets can feel stress and can panic as danger nears; some try to escape or run and hide, which means they can become lost before they can be safely evacuated. It’s important to get them as comfortable as possible in their crates so that both you and your pets can safely and quickly evacuate during an emergency.

Pets who have been crate-trained in the past but haven’t used a crate in a while may only need a refresher course. We have crate training tips for both dogs and cats.

If your dog is not comfortable wearing a collar or walking on a leash, please work on that as well because both are critical in emergency situations. We recommend putting a collar on your dog and walking him on leash at least once a day. To teach your dog to walk politely on leash, read Dog Pulling on Leash.

Training is not only beneficial to dogs; it can help you be better prepared for an emergency, too. Consider taking a pet first-aid and/or a pet CPR course (the Red Cross offers online classes) to ensure that you can attend to your pet’s potential medical needs as much as possible, since veterinary care may not be readily available during a crisis.

Preparing emergency supplies

Emergencies often require immediate evacuation, but they also can call for you to shelter in place in your home for a period of time. Either way, having an emergency bag or bin of supplies for yourself and your pet is an absolute must. Here is a basic emergency supply list for your pet:

  • A supply of wet and dry food and water
  • Your pet’s favorite toys and treats
  • An extra supply of any necessary medication (Remember that a vet might not be available and a crisis could last for a few days, a few weeks or more.)
  • A list of your pet’s medical needs, medicines taken (including dosing frequency) and veterinary contact information
  • Copies of current vaccination records
  • A collar with a current ID tag or microchip that includes your cellphone number
  • A crate labeled with your pet’s name and your contact information (Use masking tape and a permanent marker.)
  • A well-worn sweater or sweatshirt to put inside the crate so that your pet, surrounded by your scent, will be more comfortable while traveling
  • Extra poop bags
  • For cats, a small bag of litter and a litter pan
  • Blanket and towels
  • Food and water bowls
  • Can opener and spoons

Creating a first aid kit

A veterinarian might not be readily available if your pet is injured during an emergency situation, so it's a good idea to have a pet first aid kit. Include the following items in the kit:

  • Emergency contact list (including phone numbers for your veterinarian, an emergency vet clinic and a national poison control hotline)
  • Your pet’s prescriptions
  • Coban self-adherent wrap
  • Kerlex gauze roll
  • Sterile gauze pads (various sizes)
  • Abdominal (ABD) pads
  • Ace bandage wraps
  • Antiseptic pads or alcohol wipes
  • Antibacterial cream or ointment
  • Instant cold packs
  • Emergency blanket
  • Tweezers
  • Blunt scissors
  • Exam gloves
  • Styptic blood clotting powder
  • 10 ml. sterile saline syringes
  • Cotton balls and swabs
  • 3% hydrogen peroxide
  • Headlamp or flashlight
  • Collapsible water bowl
  • Muzzle
  • Sling for carrying medium or large dogs

Identifying potential caregivers, boarding options and pet-friendly lodging

You might be displaced by a disaster and be unable to retrieve your pets. You can prepare for that by asking family, friends or neighbors if they would be willing to temporarily watch or pick up your pets in an emergency. It’s ideal to have a few designated pet caregivers.

Once you’ve determined who those designated caregivers are, make a list of your pets’ daily routines, any special needs and the location of emergency supplies. Print out copies and send a digital copy to each designated caregiver.

Another option for displaced pets is a boarding facility. You’ll want to do some research in advance. If possible, visit the facility and interact with the employees to ensure that you are comfortable with the services provided. Information on your approved boarding facilities should also be given to your designated caregivers in case it turns out they are unable to house your pets.

Local sheltering facilities are usually created in real time leading up to or during an emergency. But it’s important to do your research now regarding potential sheltering options in your community and keep a list of those options on your phone.

Another possibility is that you might end up evacuating with your pets in an emergency. Pet-friendly lodging is becoming more and more common, but it’s a best practice to do some research in advance online and find several pet-friendly hotels within a five to 50-mile radius.

Taking photos of your pets

Take a good photo of your pet and keep a photo of both you and your pet on your phone in case you are separated. Also, consider printing out a few photos to have on hand in case your phone isn’t available or loses power, or you don’t have access to social media platforms. This will help to ensure identification of your pet and a successful reunion.

Click here for a printable checklist of emergency supplies for pets.

Click here for a printable checklist of what to include in a pet first-aid kit.

Learn more about natural disaster preparedness