Preparing your pets for a Disaster

Be Prepared with a Disaster Plan
The best way to protect your family from the effects of a disaster is to have a disaster plan. If you are a pet owner, that plan should include your pets. Being prepared can save their lives.
Different disasters require different responses. But whether the disaster is a flood, fire, tornado or a hazardous spill, you might have to evacuate your home.
In the event of a disaster, if you must evacuate, the important thing you can do to protect your pets is to evacuate them, too. Leaving pets behind, even if you try to create a safe place for them, is likely to result in their being injured, lost, or worse. So prepare now for the day when you and your pets might have to leave your home.

Identification for Your Pet

  • Keep up-to-date identification on your pet at all times.
  • Keep current color photos of your pet with your emergency supplies.

1. Have a Safe Place to Take Your Pets
Red Cross disaster shelters cannot accept pets because of states' health and safety regulations and other considerations. Service animals that assist people with disabilities are the only animals allowed in Red Cross shelters. It may be difficult, if not impossible, to find shelter for your animals in the midst of a disaster, so plan ahead. Do not wait until disaster strikes to do your research.

  • Contact hotels and motels outside your immediate area to check policies on accepting pets and restrictions on number, size, and species. Ask if "no pet" policies could be waived in an emergency. Keep a list of "pet friendly" places, including phone numbers, with other disaster information and supplies. If you have notice of an impending disaster, call ahead for reservations.
  • Ask friends, relative, 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.
  • Prepare a list of boarding facilities and veterinarians who could shelter animals in an emergency; include 24-hour phone numbers.
  • Ask local animal shelters if they provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets in a disaster. Animal shelters may be overburdened caring for the animals they already have as well as those displaced by a disaster, so this should be your last resort.

2. Assemble a Portable Pet Disaster Kit
Whether you are away from home for a day or a week, you'll need essential supplies. Keep items in an accessible place and store them in sturdy containers that can be carried easily (duffel bags, covered trash containers, etc.). Your pet disaster supplies kit should include:

  • Medications and medical records (stored in a waterproof container) and a first aid kit.
  • Sturdy leashes, harnesses, and/or carriers to transport pets safely and ensure that your animals can't escape.
  • Current photos of your pets in case they get lost.
  • Food, portable water, bowls, cat litter/pan, and can opener.
  • 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.
  • Pet beds and toys, if easily transportable.

3. Know what to do as a Disaster Approaches
Often, storm watches are issued hours, even days, in advance. At first hint of disaster, begin to act -

  • Call ahead to confirm emergency shelter arrangements for you and your pets.
  • Check to be sure your pet disaster supplies are ready to take at a moment's notice.
  • Bring all pets into the house so you won't have to search for them if you have to leave in a hurry.
  • Make sure all dogs and cats are wearing collars and securely fastened up-to-date identification. Attach the phone number and address of your temporary shelter, if you know it. or of a friend or relative outside the disaster area. You can buy temporary tags or put adhesive tape on the back of your pet's ID tag, adding information with an indelible pen.

You may not be home when the evacuation order comes. Find out if a trusted neighbor would be willing to take your pets and meet you at a prearranged location. This person should be comfortable with your pets, know where your animals are likely to be, know where your pet disaster supplies kit is kept, and have a key to your home. If you use a pet sitting service, they might be available to help, but discuss the possibility well in advance.

Planning and preparation will enable you to evacuate with your pets quickly and safely. But bear in mind that animals react differently under stress. Outside your home and in the car, keep dogs securely leashed. Transport cats in carriers. Don't leave animals unattended anywhere they can run off. The most trustworthy pets might panic, hide, and try to escape, or even bite or scratch. And, when you return home, give your pets time to settle back into their routines. Consult your veterinarian if any behavior problems persist.

Enjoy your pets knowing they are safer thanks to your forethought.

  • Get prepared
  • Make a plan
  • Update Information

Emergency Disaster Care
Your animal's best protection is being with you, and taking your pet requires special planning. Remember that evacuation shelters generally don't accept animals, so locate a safe place for your pets before disaster strikes.

  • Hotel/Motel Name, Address & Phone Number
  • Kennel Name, Address & Phone Number
  • Friend/Pet Sitter Name, Address & Phone Number
  • Vet Name, Address & Phone Number
  • List of Medical Concerns
  • Unique Behaviors

Caring for Birds in an Emergency
Birds should be transported in a secure travel cage or carrier.

  • In cold weather, wrap a blanket over the carrier and warm up the car before placing birds inside.
  • During warm weather, carry a plant mister to mist the birds' feathers periodically. Do not put water inside the carrier during transport. Provide a few slices of fresh fruits and vegetables with high water content.
  • Have a photo for identification and leg bands.
  • If a carrier does not have a perch, line it with paper towels and changes them frequently.
  • Try to keep the carrier in a quiet area. Do not let the birds out of the cage or carrier.

About Other Pets


Snakes can be transported in a pillowcase but they must be transferred to more secure housing when they reach the evacuation site. If your snakes require frequent feedings, carry food with you. Take a water bowl large enough for soaking as well as a heating pad.

When transporting house lizards, follow the same directions as for birds.

Small Animals Small mammals (hamsters, gerbils, etc.) should be transported in secure carriers suitable for maintaining the animals while sheltered. Take bedding materials, food bowls, and water bottles.

Tornado Information

Tornados present an intense situation since your lead time might be more limited than in other disasters. Remember what happened to Dorothy in the movie Wizard of Oz when she wouldn't go to shelter without Toto, her faithful pet? By planning ahead you can take care of yourself and your pet.

When a tornado watch is given, you can begin preparations just in case they are needed. Locate your pets and put them in carriers or on leashes. You can put them in your predetermined safe place with food and water until the watch ends.

Pre-emergency training of cats and dogs to follow you to the basement of place of shelter on command can avoid a scramble when a warning occurs. Practice this training regularly to keep your pets and you ready for any emergency by making a game of going quickly to shelter and rewarding them with treats.

If needed, wrap cats and small dogs in a blanket or pillow case to carry them quickly to shelter. Keeping treats or a favorite toy in the shelter area can help calm your pet during the wait for danger to pass.

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