Animal & Veterinary

Taking Care of Pets During a Disaster or Emergency

Hurricanes, wildfires, floods, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, civil unrest—emergencies can strike at any moment. In many cases, you may need to evacuate your home. Are you prepared to care for your pets during an evacuation?

If you must evacuate, take your pets with you if at all possible. You’re the best person to care for them. Also, as the American Veterinary Medical Association pointed out in its brochure about preparing for a disaster, if the situation is dangerous for people, it’s dangerous for animals, too.

Preparing to take your pet

Before you leave your home, know where you can take your pets. During an emergency, temporary public shelters may not allow animals inside. If this is the case, you’ll need to find alternatives. Have a list of pet-friendly motels or hotels, or plan to go to the house of a friend or relative who will let you bring your pets.

You never know when an emergency will arise that will force you to leave your home, so even if you have no plans to travel with your pets, it’s still a good idea to get them used to a crate or carrier. If your pets are already familiar with the crate or carrier, you may have less trouble getting them into it and they may have less anxiety during travel.

What to take

When you evacuate your home, be sure to take:

  • At least a 1-week supply of food and fresh water for your pets;
  • Medications, if your pets take medication;
  • Copies of your pets’ vaccination records and other medical records;
  • Information about your pet insurance policy, if you have one; and
  • Photos of your pets to help others identify them if you become separated.

Assemble all of this into a disaster kit that you can grab as you leave.

Relying on a neighbor

If you get trapped away from your home due to a disaster or other emergency, your pets will be better off if you’ve already arranged for your neighbor or nearby friend to take care of them during a crisis.

The temporary caretaker should have phone numbers to reach you (a cell phone number may be best), and all the instructions necessary to properly care for your pets. Those instructions should include a signed authorization for veterinary care, and financial limits to the veterinary care.


Emergencies can make pets display unexpected or uncharacteristic behaviors. Normally well-behaved pets may become aggressive and defensive after a major disruption in their lives. Animals may not return to more typical behavior for several weeks.

Make sure you keep a close eye on your pets in their new surroundings, both inside and outside. Ideally, dogs should be leash-walked or under your supervision in a secured fenced-in area. Cats should be confined to one room or a small indoor area until they get acclimated. Allow your pets plenty of time to rest and get used to their new environment. Provide familiar toys and beds, if possible.

Hopefully, you’ll never have to evacuate your home and worry about what to do with your pets. That being said, it’s smart to be prepared and have a plan. Like insurance, it’s better to be prepared with a plan and never use it, than it is to find yourself having to figure out at the last minute what to do with your pets when a disaster strikes.

More Information

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a detailed brochure entitled “Prepare for Emergencies Now: Information for Pet Owners” that describes what pet owners can do to prepare for an emergency.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has a Web page (Pets and disastersdisclaimer icon) that provides disaster preparedness information for animal owners. You can also download the association’s detailed brochure, “Saving the Whole Familydisclaimer icon,” for free.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA/APHIS) has a brochure entitled “Saving Pets Saves Lives” that describes how APHIS can help local and state emergency response officials before and during an emergency.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many disaster evacuation centers—specifically Red Cross evacuation centers—can’t accept pets because of states’ health and safety regulations. CDC has a Web page that addresses the health and safety concerns regarding animals kept in non-Red Cross evacuation centers (Animals in Public Evacuation Centers).

RedRover is a non-profit organization focused on helping animals and people in times of crisis. The charity has a Web page with tips on how to make sure your pets are protected during an emergency and includes links to lists of pet-friendly accommodations both in the U.S. and internationally (RedRover Pet Disaster Preparednessdisclaimer icon).


Page Last Updated: 07/26/2016
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