Turn on the news and you are likely to see tragic stories of disaster from all over the globe. Hurricanes, wildfires, flooding, and even man-made crises like chemical spills, dominate our news cycles and remind us that emergencies can happen anytime, anywhere. When these disasters strike, it’s not just human members of the community that are impacted; in times of crisis, our four-legged family members need us more than ever. Creating an emergency preparedness plan for your pets is essential to ensuring their safety and comfort during these increasingly common difficult times. Read on to learn how you can create a plan to safeguard your pets in the event of a natural disaster or other unexpected emergency.
- Identify Potential Risks. Begin your plan by identifying the potential risks in your area. Consider the types of natural disasters and emergencies that could occur, such as hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, or power outages. By understanding the specific threats in your region you will be able to tailor your pets’ plan accordingly.
- Assemble an Emergency Kit. Organize a dedicated emergency kit for your pets. The American Red Cross put together a list of items this kit should include:
- Sturdy leashes, harnesses, and/or carriers to transport pets safely and ensure that they can’t escape
- Food, drinking water, bowls, cat litter/pan, and a manual can opener if your pets eat canned food
- Medications and copies of medical records
- A first-aid kit (visit the American Kennel Club (AKC) for suggestions on what to include in your pet first aid kit)
- Current photos of you with your pets in case they get lost
- Information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian
- Pet beds and toys or other favorite items, if easily transportable
Ensure that all supplies are stored in waterproof containers and regularly check and replace items as needed.
- Develop a Communication Plan. Effective communication is imperative during emergencies. Establish a communication plan to stay informed about emergency updates and evacuation orders. Sign up for alerts from local authorities and keep a list of emergency contacts including your vet, local animal shelters, and pet-friendly hotels where you can stay temporarily if necessary.
- Create an evacuation strategy. If you have to evacuate your home, the surest way to protect your pets is to evacuate them too. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR PETS BEHIND — if it isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for your pets either. Look up pet-friendly shelters, boarding facilities, or hotels in your area or along your evacuation route. Ensure you have the necessary leashes and carriers to transport your pets safely. Familiarizing pets with their carriers and including them in practice evacuations will help reduce stress during actual emergencies. Always have a backup evacuation route in case your primary route is inaccessible.
- Prepare for sheltering in place. In some emergencies staying at home may be the safest option. You can prepare to shelter in place by stocking up on supplies for both you and your pets, including an extended supply of pet food, water, and any necessary medications. Creating a safe space for your pets within your home, away from windows and other potential hazards, will help keep them safe as you ride out the crisis.
- Update identification. Make sure your pets’ identification (ID tags and collar) are secure and up-to-date. You may also want to consider micro-chipping your pets for an added layer of security. Maintain recent photos of your pets to aid in their safe return should you become separated during an emergency.
- Train and socialize your pets. Obedience and sociability are things pet owners always strive for, but these skills are essential for pets in emergency situations. Ensuring your dog or cat is capable of following basic commands and staying calm around strangers can be a lifesaver during an emergency. Further, practicing your evacuation procedures with your pets will help familiarize them with the process, reducing stress and anxiety and making them more manageable for you when it matters most.
- Regularly review and update your plan. Finally, once you have your plan in place make sure to review it periodically and adapt it to address any changes in your pets’ needs, your family structure, or your living situation. This is also a great time to confirm all contact information is current and supplies are in good condition.
Creating a pet emergency preparedness plan is an act of love and responsibility. Taking the time now to put together a well-thought-out plan can make all the difference when it comes to keeping your pets safe and secure during emergencies.
Note: This blog is geared primarily toward dog and cat owners. For tips on disaster planning for livestock, horses, birds, reptiles, or small animals like gerbils or rabbits, please visit The Humane Society of the United States or American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).