Pet disaster preparedness: Keep your pets safe in an emergency

Wed Jun 01 2022

Closeup of a tan Pomeranian peeking out from beneath an orange blanket

Your pets are part of the family. Unfortunately, emergency shelters might turn away your furry, feathers, or finny companions if you don’t take steps well before trouble appears. So today, we kick off Pet Disaster Preparedness Month with top tips on packing a pet emergency kit, evacuating with pets of all kinds, and keeping your pet safe even in dire situations.

Evacuating with pets

Take your pets with you, no matter what disaster you’re facing. Your pets can’t care for themselves in a hurricane, fire, flood, earthquake, or other emergency. Their survival depends on you.

An evacuation order means you need to leave as quickly as possible, so your disaster preparedness plan has to include your pet and their emergency gear. Otherwise, you may waste time trying to figure out how to get everyone to safety. You may want to:

  • Find a pet-friendly evacuation shelter. The Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006 ensures that state and local emergency planning addresses the needs of people with pets and service animals. Check if your state has pet-friendly shelters, but you may have to call local motels or ask family members for help.
  • Pack a pet emergency kit. During a mandatory evacuation order, you’ll need at least some supplies so you can care for your pet while you’re away from home.
  • Plan for worst-case scenarios. If you and your pet are separated, you want to have resources on hand that can help you find them, including recent photos, microchip numbers, and registration numbers.
  • Look for a temporary caregiver. Disasters can strike when you’re away from home, so you might want to find a neighbor who is willing to evacuate with your pet if you’re unable to. This person needs to be familiar with your pet and have access to your home. Perhaps find other pet owners in your neighborhood to set up an arrangement.
  • Make a list of emergency veterinarians near your shelter. In case your pet is injured during the disaster. Be sure to have a couple of animal hospitals on this list in case some aren’t open 24/7.
  • Make sure your pet is recently vaccinated. Most emergency shelters will turn away animals that don’t have proof of vaccinations. Keep your pet’s vaccinations up to date, and keep a copy of their vaccination records in your emergency kit.
  • Provide comfort. Emergencies are stressful for animals, too. Bring a sturdy crate to keep your pet safe during transport. When possible, bring their favorite toys to provide comfort and familiarity.

Note: Emergency shelters should allow service animals, but make sure that you have their paperwork in your emergency kit. You want to eliminate any doubts about your animal.

Disaster preparedness tips for non-traditional pets

Having a nontraditional pet can make evacuations difficult as shelters and hotels may not allow them. Here are some tips to help you prepare for disaster when you have:

  • Birds. Make sure you have a carrier or travel cage for your birds and that you’re prepared for the weather. This means your pet emergency kit needs a blanket to protect your birds from the cold and a spray bottle with water so you can moisten their feathers when it's hot. Add a catch net, timed feeder, and cage liner while you’re at it.
  • Reptiles and amphibians. While snakes can be transported in a knotted pillowcase, other pets need a sturdy carrier. You also need to bring some sort of heat source, like a blanket, heating pad, or warm water bottle if you can’t use a heat bulb.
  • Livestock. With livestock, it’s even more important to anticipate trouble because you will most likely need to transport them to higher ground. Make sure your horses are well socialized and used to being handled by strangers and practice getting them in your trailer quickly.
  • Small animals and rodents. You want to transport hamsters, gerbils, and other small animals in a secure carrier that has a small tube or other hiding spot. Be sure to add their food, extra bedding, and a water bottle to your pet emergency kit.

Pet emergency kit: What to include

Assembling a pet emergency kit well before a disaster helps you get out of harm’s way at a moment’s notice while still being sure that you have all the essentials, such as:

  • A 3-day supply (minimum) of pet food in a waterproof container.
  • A 3-day supply of bottled water specifically for your pet.
  • Bowls.
  • A manual can opener.
  • A crate or carrier they can comfortably stand in.
  • A collar with an ID tag, safety harness, and leash.
  • Medical records, proof of registration, and vaccination records in a waterproof pouch.
  • A two-week supply of medicine.
  • A first-aid kit.
  • A photo of you and your pet in case you need additional identification.
  • Favorite toys and bedding.
  • Waste cleanup supplies.
  • An emergency contact list, including veterinarians and nearby shelters.

Check your emergency kit at least once a year so you can replace expired items and update your pet’s information.

Protect your pet during a disaster

Another key to pet disaster preparedness is learning how to protect your pet in the middle of an emergency. Loud noises can scare an animal that’s already on edge, and dramatically different smells and landmarks can make it hard to find the way home. To keep your pet safe during a disaster, you may want to:

  • Keep pets close to you. Bring your pet inside at the first sign of trouble to keep them from wandering off. You should also learn how to handle an anxious pet safely, so you’re ready to crate them if you need to.
  • Select a safe room to shelter in place. If you’re not evacuating, find an interior room with few windows for sheltering in place. Remove any chemicals and plants that may be toxic to your pet.
  • Don’t leave them outside alone. While your backyard is usually safe for pets, keep in mind that storms may have created escape routes. Worse, the storm might have brought out other dangers for your pets, such as downed trees and damaged power lines.
  • Don’t let your pet drink from stagnant water. Floodwaters can hide a myriad of hazards, including household, medical, and industrial waste, so keep your pets away from them.

Additional tips for pet disaster preparedness

  • Keep a rescue alert sticker on your front door to let neighbors and rescuers know your pets are inside and need to be evacuated.
  • Keep pet vaccinations up to date.
  • Keep your pets leashed when they are not in the home.
  • Don’t let your pet drink tap water after a disaster until it’s safe for drinking.
  • Microchip your pet and attach an ID tag to their collar so they can be returned to you.
  • Know where to search for lost animals, such as local shelters and animal hospitals.

Don’t leave your pet to chance during an emergency. A little preparation goes a long way towards getting your entire family companions included! through a disaster safe and sound.


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