Take Care of Your Pets Before Disaster Strikes
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 pets
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.
Also consider having your pets microchipped. A microchip is a small implant that’s injected under the skin and provides pets with a permanent identification that can’t fall off, be removed, or become impossible to read. If your pets are taken to a veterinary clinic or animal shelter, they will be scanned to obtain their unique microchip number. The veterinary clinic or animal shelter will then call the pet recovery service and report the microchip number and you will be contacted using the information on file. Make sure to register your pets’ microchip numbers and keep your contact information up to date.
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. (Microchips can also help reunite you with your pets in case of a separation.)
Assemble all of this into a pet emergency preparedness kit that you can grab as you leave.
If you cannot take your pets when you evacuate and must leave them in your home, put a Rescue Alert Sticker on your door to let people know there are pets inside.
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.
After you've evacuated with your pets, make sure you keep a close eye on them 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.
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, and it may take several weeks for them to return to normal. If your pets remain extremely anxious or develop other behavioral or health problems, contact your veterinarian.
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.
Horses and Livestock
Taking care of horses and livestock (such as cattle, sheep, and goats) during a disaster or emergency poses additional challenges. Here are several resources for you:
- Caring for Livestock During Disaster – 1.815, Colorado State University Extension
- Disaster Preparedness Guidelines for Livestock Owners, Indiana State Board of Animal Health
- Disaster Preparedness Guidelines for Horse Owners, Indiana State Board of Animal Health
- Disaster Preparedness for Owners of Livestock, Horses and Poultry, North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
If you have pet fish, here's a resource to help you prepare for emergencies:
- Dealing with Aquariums and Ponds During Power Outages, North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine
Taking care of pet birds during a disaster or emergency also poses additional challenges. Here’s a resource with tips for making a disaster kit specifically for pet birds:
Ready.gov has a brochure and a Web page with information for pet owners about how to prepare for a disaster. The Web page also includes tips for people who own large animals, like horses and livestock.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has a Web page (Pets and disasters) that provides disaster preparedness information for animal owners. You can also download the association’s detailed brochure, “Saving the Whole Family,” for free. This brochure includes information about many species of animals, including dogs, cats, horses, livestock, birds, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.
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 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 pets in evacuation centers (Pets in Evacuation Centers). CDC also has a blog post that discusses 5 things pet owners should know to keep their pets safe in an emergency.
RedRover is a non-profit organization focused on helping animals and people in times of crisis. The charity’s website has a Resource Library with emergency planning materials for all types of animals, including horses, reptiles and amphibians, birds, cats, and dogs (click on “Disaster Preparedness Materials” in the “All Subjects” dropdown menu).