Pets and Disaster Preparedness

by Paul Konrardy

You need to plan ahead for what you’ll do with your pets in case of a disaster because they are a part of the family, too. Below are tips on how to prepare your pets for a disaster and what to do should a pet go missing.

Watch Saving the Whole Family: Disaster Prep for Your Pets video from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). The AVMA also has the following information:

More resources are available at the AVMA’s Pets and Disasters section.

Disaster Preparedness

  1. Vaccinate your pet.
    If you haven’t already done so, get those shots now. Infectious diseases can become a big threat after a disaster.
  2. Get your pet an ID tag.
    If a pet becomes lost or escapes during the confusion of an evacuation, proper identification will increase the chances of a safe return home. Consider having your pet tattooed or “microchipped.
  3. Take clear, color photos (frontal, left and right sides) of your pet, and store these with your pet’s license, medical records and ownership papers in a waterproof carrier to take with you.
  4. Contact your local animal shelter, humane society, and veterinarian or emergency management office for information on caring for pets in an emergency.
  5. Decide on a safe location(s) in your house (or a shelter if forced to evacuate) where you could leave your pet in an emergency.
    • For public health reasons, many emergency shelters cannot accept pets.
    • Prepare an emergency contact list of boarding facilities, hotels and veterinarians who could shelter animals in an emergency. Include your local animal shelter’s number in your list of emergency numbers, they might be able to provide information concerning pets during a disaster.
    • Find out which motels and hotels in your surrounding area allow pets, well in advance of needing them. Include these on your list.
    • Ask friends, relatives, or others outside the affected area whether they could shelter your animals. If you have more than one pet, they may be more comfortable if kept together, but be prepared to house them separately.

WHN TIP – Pets and Disaster Shelters: “One of the biggest misconceptions about pets and disasters is that they are included in government/municipal evacuation plans. That’s not always the case. As we saw after Hurricane Katrina people are sometimes encouraged by authorities to leave their pets behind. Similarly, when people become displaced and evacuate with their pets, people assume any help they receive will extend to their pets as well. In most cases pets, for fear of disease, disruption, etc. aren’t allowed in evacuation shelters. Your pet may be forced to go somewhere else. Take it upon yourself to be responsible for your dog or cat, and never assume. Bring everything you can to help your pet survive and don’t evacuate without your pet.” Chris Cutter, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)

  1. Make sure your pet has a properly fitted collar that includes current license and rabies tags.
  2. Include an identification tag that has your name, address, and phone number.
  3. If your dog normally wears a chain link “choker” collar, have a leather or nylon collar available if you have to leave him alone for several days.
  4. Keep your pet’s shots current and know where those records are.
  5. When assembling an emergency kit for the household, include items for pets:
    • Carrier or crate for your pet
    • Copy of medical records and microchip information
    • Extra food (The food should be dry and relatively unappealing to prevent your pet from overeating. Store the food in sturdy containers.)
    • Extra medication(s)
    • Have a current photograph in your kit, in case you’re separated from your pet.
    • Kitty litter
    • Large capacity self-feeder and water dispenser
    • Leash and collar
    • Water

The ASPCA has a list of items to be included in your pet disaster kit. Also, download this brochure developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in consultation with American Kennel Club, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, American Veterinary Medical Association and The Humane Society of the U.S.

Before The Storm

  1. Be safe, be smart.
  2. Bring your pets indoors as soon as there is a watch or warning issued.

If Evacuating

WHN TIP – Pets and Disaster Shelters: Pets are not permitted in public shelters, according to many local health department regulations.

  1. Refer to your list of emergency and shelter numbers. Start calling to confirm if your pet can be admitted to the shelter.
  2. Carry pets in a sturdy carrier and bring food, water and other items in your pet emergency kit.
  3. Bring proper identification, collars, leashes, and proof of vaccinations for all pets.

Evacuating But Leaving Pet Behind

  1. Ask friends, relatives, or others outside of the affected area whether they could shelter your animals.
  2. If you absolutely must leave your pets behind, prepare an emergency area in the home that includes a three-day supply of dry food and a large container of fresh water.
  3. Do not tie animals outside to trees or structures. Do not lock them in pens or cages. They may become scared or frightened and in danger of rising waters.
  4. Leave a note with your name, the name of your pet(s), a telephone number or location where you can be reached, and the name and number of your vet.

After the Storm

  1. If after a disaster you have to leave town, take your pets with you. Pets are unlikely to survive on their own.
  2. In the first few days after the disaster, leash your pets when they go outside.
    • Walk pets on a leash until they become re-oriented to their home – often familiar scents and landmarks may be altered and pets could easily be confused and become lost.
    • Also, snakes and other dangerous animals may be brought into the area with flood areas. Downed power lines are a hazard.
  3. The behavior of your pets may change after an emergency. Normally quiet and friendly pets may become aggressive or defensive. Watch animals closely. Leash dogs and place them in a fenced yard with access to shelter and water.

Missing Pets

  1. Most dogs and cats will try to stay close to their homes or will try to return to their homes even if the house was damaged or destroyed during the storm.
  2. Your pets may be trapped in a basement or damaged room or hiding in house debris. Do NOT attempt to go in a damaged home. Be smart and be safe. Try to check your house site by calling your pets’ names often, and leaving food and water nearby to entice them out.
  3. Contact your local and state animal shelters and humane societies with descriptions of your pets, and visit the shelters to see if your pets have been found.

Found Pets

When your pet(s) is found:

  1. If your pet has injuries, be very careful handling it. Use a blanket to cover and wrap the animal before you try to move it. This will help prevent injury to you and the animal.
  2. Even if it knows you, your pet may bite and scratch you due to fear and pain.
  3. If your pet has been injured or suffered frostbite from a storm, it should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
  4. Your pet especially needs access to clean water at this time.
  5. If you do not have access to pet food, a temporary dietary substitute for dogs, cats and reptiles is a 50-50 mixture of a protein food such as hamburger, chicken or cottage cheese, mixed with a starch such as rice, potatoes or pasta.
  6. If pets are not injured, consider giving them baths as they may have been exposed to dirt, refuse and contaminated water. This is also a way to check for cuts and other smaller injuries.
  7. If your pet has died or you have dead animals on your property, follow the advice from the Centers for Disease Control regarding the handling and disposition of dead pets.

For More Information

The Humane Society of the United States
Visit its disaster preparedness section here. The Humane Society of the United States is the nation’s largest animal protection organization representing more than 9 million members and constituents. The nonprofit organization is a mainstream voice for animals, with active programs in companion animals and equine protection, disaster preparedness and response, wildlife and habitat protection, animals in research and farm animal welfare. The HSUS protects all animals through education, investigation, litigation, legislation, advocacy, and fieldwork. The group is based in Washington and has numerous field representatives across the country.

Red Cross – Pet Disaster Preparedness
This section covers tips for dogs and cats, including how to create a pet emergency kit, develop an emergency plan and help pets recover once it’s all over. There’s also a link to the Pet First Aid App and a Pet Safety Checklist.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Related Posts