Disaster Preparedness for Pets
The key to survival in a disaster, crisis or emergency is advance preparation. Take the time to make a plan and assemble an emergency kit for you and your pet. By taking these steps now, you will greatly increase your pet’s chances of survival.
Click here to download our Disaster Preparedness for Pets brochure. For another great resource, the AVMA provides a free electronic download of their publication, Saving the Whole Family.
Prepare for Everyday Emergencies
These types of everyday emergencies could happen at any time, anywhere in the country. By preparing for these events and making plans to protect yourself and your pets, you will be far better equipped to deal with a larger more serious emergency.
- The roads are icy, traffic is a mess, and you decide to stay with a friend instead of risking the drive home from school or work. Who will check on your cat and feed her?
- While you were out running errands, a propane truck overturned on the street near your neighborhood and you are not allowed to go home. A police officer tells you the electricity to your neighborhood was shut off. How can you make sure your birds stay warm?
- Your mother-in-law has had a heart attack and you are going to meet your spouse at the hospital. It may be a long night. Who will give your dog his medicine?
Consider taking the following actions to make sure your pets are taken care of when everyday events like these prevent you from caring for your pets:
- Find a trusted neighbor and give them a key to your house or barn. Make sure this person is comfortable and familiar with your pets.
- Make sure the neighbor knows your pets’ whereabouts and habits, so they will not have to waste precious time trying to find or catch them.
- Create a pet emergency/disaster kit and place it in a prominent place where your neighbor can find it.
- If the emergency involves evacuation, make sure the neighbor would be willing to take your pets and has access to the appropriate carriers and leashes. Plan to meet at a prearranged location.
- Some pet sitting services may be available to help their pre-existing clients, but you should discuss this possibility and make a definite plan with them in advance.
Disaster Supply Checklist for Pets
Every member of your family should know what he or she needs to take when you evacuate. You also need to prepare portable supplies for your pet. Keep everything accessible, stored in sturdy containers that can be easily transported (duffel bags, covered trash containers, etc.), and ready to go at a moment’s notice.
In your pet disaster kit, you should include:
- Food and water for at least five days for each pet, bowls and a manual can opener if you are packing canned pet food.
- Medications and medical records (stored in a waterproof container) and a first aid kit. A pet first aid book is good to include, too.
- Cat litter box, litter, garbage bags to collect pets’ waste, and a litter scoop.
- Sturdy leashes, harnesses, and carriers to transport pets safely and securely. Carriers should be large enough for the animal to stand comfortably, turn around and lie down. Your pet may have to stay in the carrier for hours at a time while you are away from home. Be sure to have a secure cage with no loose objects inside it to accommodate smaller pets. These may require blankets or towels for bedding and warmth, and other special items.
- Current photos and descriptions of your pets to help others identify them in case you and your pets become separated, and also to prove that they are yours.
- Pet beds and toys (if you can easily take them) to reduce stress.
- Information about your pets’ feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to board your pets or place them in foster care.
Other useful items include newspapers, paper towels, extra plastic trash bags, grooming items and household bleach. It’s helpful to also have a small kit in your car in cases of evacuation.
Find a Safe Place Ahead of Time
Because evacuation shelters likely won’t be equipped to accept pets (except for service animals), you must plan ahead to make certain your pets will have a safe place to stay. Don’t wait until disaster strikes to do your research.
- Contact hotels and motels outside your immediate area to check policies on accepting pets. Ask about restrictions on number, size and species. Ask if “no pet” policies would be waived in an emergency. Make a list of the animal-friendly options (including their contact phone numbers and physical addresses) and keep it handy – save this information in your cell phone, too. Call ahead for a reservation as soon as you think you might have to leave your home.
- Check with friends, relatives or others outside your immediate area. Ask if they would be able to shelter you and your animals, or just your animals, if necessary. If you have more than one pet, you might need to house them at separate locations.
- Make a list of boarding facilities and veterinary offices that might be able to shelter animals in emergencies; include 24-hour telephone numbers.
In Case You’re Not Home
An evacuation order may come, or a disaster may strike, when you’re at work or out of the house. Plan ahead and make arrangements for a trusted neighbor to take your pets and meet you at a specified location. Be sure the person is comfortable with your pets and your pets are familiar with him/her, knows where your animals are likely to be, knows where your disaster supplies are kept and has a key to your home.
If you use a pet-sitting service, it may be able to help, but discuss the possibility well in advance.
Don’t Forget ID
Your pet should be wearing up-to-date identification at all times. This includes adding your current cell phone number to your pet’s tag. It would be helpful to include the phone number of a friend or relative outside your immediate area, too. You want to make sure there’s a number on the tag that will be answered even if you’re out of your home.
If your pet is microchipped, make sure contact information in the microchip database includes your current cell phone number.
When You Evacuate, Take Your Pets With You
The single most important thing you can do to protect your pets is to take them with you when you evacuate. Animals left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost or killed. Animals left inside your home can escape through storm-damaged areas, such as broken windows. Animals turned loose to fend for themselves are likely to become victims of exposure, starvation, predators, contaminated food or water, or accidents. Leaving dogs tied or chained outside in a disaster is a death sentence.
- If you leave – even if you think you may only be gone for a few hours – take your animals. When you leave, you have no way of knowing how long you’ll be kept out of the area, and you may not be able to go back for your pets.
- Leave early – don’t wait for a mandatory evacuation order. An unnecessary trip is far better than waiting too long to leave safely with your pets. If you wait to be evacuated by emergency officials, you may be told to leave your pets behind.
If You Don’t Evacuate, Shelter in Place
If your family and pets must wait out a storm or other disaster at home, identify a safe area of your home where you can all stay together. Be sure to close your windows and doors, stay inside, and follow the instructions from your local emergency management office.
- Make sure your pets are indoors as soon as local authorities say there is an imminent problem. Keep pets under your direct control; if you have to evacuate, you will not have to spend time trying to find them. Keep dogs on leashes and cats in carriers, and make sure they are wearing identification.
- If you have a room you can designate as a “safe room,” put your emergency supplies in that room in advance, including your pet’s crate and supplies. Have any medications and a supply of pet food and water inside watertight containers, along with your other emergency kit supplies. If there is an open fireplace, vent, pet door, or similar opening in the house, close it off with plastic sheeting and strong tape.
- Listen to the radio periodically, and don’t come out until you know it’s safe.
After the Disaster
Planning and preparation will help you survive the disaster, but your home may be a very different place afterward.
- Don’t allow your pets to roam loose. Familiar landmarks and smells might be gone, and your pet will probably be disoriented. Pets can easily get lost in such situations.
- While you assess the damage, keep dogs on leashes and keep cats in carriers inside the house. If your house is damaged, they could escape and become lost.
- Be patient with your pets after a disaster. Try to get them back into their normal routines as soon as possible, and be ready for behavioral problems that may result from the stress of the situation. If behavioral problems persist, or if your pet seems to be having health problems, talk to your veterinarian.
Click here to download our Disaster Preparedness for Pets brochure.
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