(Editor's note – this article was update 8/11/18 with a link to helpful information about train travel with your pet.)
You’ve probably got your disaster plan written and supplies in place and you’ve gone over the plan with family members and you’re feeling pretty well prepared.
But what about Fido?
If you have pets and have not given their safety the same consideration as the rest of your family, you are possibly putting yourself, your pets, and first responders in danger. Even if you have prepared a safe place for them, pets left behind during a natural disaster may be injured, lost, or killed. If you’re a pet owner you have a responsibility to educate yourself on what type of shelters and assistance are available in your area that will accommodate pets during a disaster. Your disaster preparedness plan should include all animals and pets in your care.
The top priority is to ID your pet. Chips are great, but most people don’t have the ability to read one. An old-fashioned collar and tag is your best defense against losing your pet any time, and especially during times of natural disaster. A tag should include your phone number and, if possible, the phone number of an out of state contact. This applies to cats kept indoors—in case of natural disaster cats can easily get out of the house.
Make sure your pet’s chip is registered in your name and include a backup contact. If you move or change phone numbers, have the chip information updated.
Well in advance of any need, know where you can go with your pets. Many shelters won’t allow pets. Local and state health and safety regulations do not permit the Red Cross to allow pets in their disaster shelters. The first point of contact for this information is your local office of emergency management. They should be able to tell you where pets will be welcome. However, even if pets are allowed, make sure you verify any restrictions on number, size, and species. And even if pets are not normally allowed at a motel or shelter, find out if pets might be allowed in an emergency.
Have the address and twenty-four hour phone number of veterinarians and local boarding shelters. Have plans for where you might go outside of your immediate area, should the need arise, and have veterinarians and boarding shelter addresses and phone numbers for them also. If you pet does get lost during a natural disaster, you may very well find him or her in a local shelter or pound. Know the location of all animal shelters in your area.
Ensure you have a pet carrier for each pet labelled with the pet's name, your name, and contact information. Part of your plan should be to familiarize the pet with the container. Trying to get Rover into an unfamiliar crate with a tornado approaching is the kind of excitement nobody appreciates. Your pet should be comfortable with being inside the container in whatever method of transportation you will use in case of an emergency.
Disaster preparedness is not just for earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes.
You may find your home inaccessible with pets uncared for simply due to a winter storm, icy roads, or health emergency. Your emergency preparedness plan might include an arrangement with a neighbor who also has pets to exchange emergency care. Make sure the pet is familiar with and comfortable with the caretaker and that the caretaker knows your pet’s feeding and medication schedule and daily routine. If you have a relatively large number of pets, they may need to be split up.
Blackouts or brownouts during extremely hot or cold weather can also be dangerous for animals, just as for humans. Just because your pet has fur doesn’t mean it can survive extreme cold or a shut-up house in hot weather. If a power loss forces you from your house, take your pet with you.
If you are able to remain in your home during a disaster, ensure you have a safe space for an extended stay without access to outside food, water, or medications.
An interior room without windows is best. If there are windows and there is a possibility of air contamination from outside, be prepared with plastic sheeting and duct tape to secure the area. (See our previous article on preparing for volcanic eruption.)
Remove any toxic chemicals or plants or other environmental hazards, and have enough food, water, medication, cat litter, and plastic bags (for excrement) to last at least a week.
A frightened or nervous cat can find itself in a confined location (inside air vents) from which it could be very difficult to extricate. Close off small areas to avoid this.
Hurricanes, tornadoes, and strong winds can take out fences and external shelters. Include a plan for temporary accommodations if these are part of your pet’s normal environment.
When disaster strikes–
If disaster strikes and you have to evacuate the area, leave as early as possible. Don’t wait for an emergency evacuation order. By that time you may be forced to leave your pets behind and you may not be able to get back to take care of them. Emergency conditions and rescue activity may make it impossible to get your pet to cooperate with rescue workers, or even to get into a crate or car. In an emergency situation when human lives are at stake, rescue personnel may not be able to pay attention to your pet.
After the emergency familiar sights and smells in your pet’s environment may have changed, making it easy for your pet to be disoriented or lost. Your pet will need some adjustment time and may show behavioral problems.
When returning to your home, verify that no wild animals, also trying to escape the disaster, have taken residence in your home or surroundings. They’re not only dangerous to you but can be dangerous to your pet.
Pet Emergency Kit
- Have a supply of food sufficient for one at least one week. Keep it in a sturdy, easy to carry, watertight container. Ensure dry food is kept fresh by rotating it with your pet’s daily food. Canned food should not be used past its expiration date. If you use canned food, make sure you have a manual can opener in your emergency kit.
- Fresh water sufficient for at least a week. If your water supply is declared unfit to drink, it’s also unfit for your pets. Follow American Red Cross guidelines for storing emergency water for your family and your pets.
- Cat litter and pan.
- Select toys and a bed, if your pet is used to sleeping on one. Familiar items will help your pet feel more comfortable.
- Medication. Plan on medications being inaccessible for at least a week. Make sure any medications are current (not expired).
- Information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to foster or board your pets, or if a neighbor should be taking care of them
- Current vaccination and other medical records
- Photographs of you with your pets to prove ownership
- Photographs of your pets in case you need to make “lost pet” fliers
- Your plan includes a location you’ll go to in case of evacuation. Have ID tags prepared for the new location.
- Carrier or leash for each animal. Cats or other small animals may benefit from an EvacSak.
- Place a pet rescue sticker on your front door to let emergency workers know there are pets inside. Number and type of pets and vet number. If you have to evacuate, make sure you write “EVACUATED” across the sticker to let rescue workers know.
What if you and your pet are separated?
- First make sure your family members are safe and secure.
- If you have relocated to a shelter inform a pet caretakers at the shelter if there is one. Give the pet caretaker your pre-made missing pet handout.
- Contact the local animal control authorities and give them information about your pet.
Web sites for pet-friendly accommodations
Links below will give you some good information regarding traveling with your pets. I recently received a comment from a reader who suggested I also add a link to a site with information on air travel with a pet. (Emergency or not.)
This article at CreditCards.com is full of good tips to keep your pet safe and comfortable as he or she travels through airports and in the air with you. (I had no idea you could get frequent flyer points for traveling with a pet. Who knew?) Thanks, Julia!
Another friendly reader sent me a link to information on traveling with your pet via train. He said during air travel animals, as with their people, can struggle with the air quality, air circulation, temperature, and cabin pressure that accompanies flying in a plane. Additionally, trains offer a much safer and easer alternative when traveling with a pet. Check out more information here. Thank you, David!