How to Prepare for a Disaster With Pets

Floods, wildfires, earthquakes, and severe weather—ensuring safety for your family and pets in case of emergency or evacuation is easier if you’re prepared. Discuss emergency planning with the family so everyone knows how to stay safe, and follow these guidelines for including your dogs in your contingency plan.

What to Keep in an Emergency Kit for Dogs

  • Pet-specific first aid kit – Include allergy medication in case your dog is stung, bitten, or exposed to allergens—but be aware that Benadryl and other medications can make animals drowsy, limiting responsiveness and mobility.
  • Food and water for one week, with bowls
  • Medications for one week
  • Copies of vaccine records, medical information, and recent photos of your pet
  • Extra safety gear: leash, identification tags, and collar – Blank tags can be useful to indicate a temporary address. And in case your dog escapes, a personalized collar helps rescuers see your contact information from a distance.
  • Dish soap, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant
  • Garbage bags for pet cleanup
  • Towels and blanket

Disaster Preparedness: It’s Important for Pets, Too

Ensuring your dog’s safety in case of emergency starts long before a hurricane or severe weather is predicted. With an emergency plan in place, your family—including pets—has a better chance of getting out in time, having important supplies on hand, and staying safe. Not only should you have supplies for yourself—keep a dog emergency kit in an area that is easy to access at a moment’s notice.

There’s more to consider than the items you’ll need during an evacuation. Plan ahead. Which routes will you take if evacuated, and which hotels or shelters along those routes accept pets? Some emergency shelters accept only service dogs, and others won’t allow any pets.

Make a plan for how to get your dog if you can’t make it home during a disaster. Speak with neighbors who may be able to retrieve your pet—and his supply bin—and meet you in a predetermined location. Your emergency contact should be someone familiar with your dog—a person with whom your dog would leave.

How Do You Keep Pets Safe During a Disaster?

Fearful or uneasy dogs may benefit from an anxiety vest, especially if you ride out a severe storm at home. Keep your dog confined while you pack your vehicle so he doesn’t slip out a door or hide. A car harness or crate keeps your dog secure in the car. Small dogs should be transported in a carrier.

Evacuate early. If an evacuation order is likely, leave before the need becomes urgent and roads are congested—and take your pets with you. Animal Control Officers and animal welfare advocates may provide pet rescue services if you must leave them behind—but resources will be limited during an emergency, so this should not be your first option.

If you shelter in place, keep your pets indoors, and be vigilant. Pack your car, even if you choose to remain. Then, if evacuation becomes mandatory you will need only to get your family and dog into the car. Ensure you have water to last during an extended power outage should a tornado, blizzard, or other event confine you to your home. A filled bathtub or sink extends your bottled water supply and also provides a source of water for pets and for cleanup.

Losing a pet is difficult, especially during an emergency. If your dog goes missing, inquire with shelters and animal control officers daily, post physical and digital lost pet flyers, and notify the veterinarian’s office and microchip company. Explore your property and ask neighbors to check yards and outbuildings as well. If you are proactive, your pet has a better chance of being found safe.

When Is it Safe to Return Home With Pets After an Evacuation?

After you’ve evacuated, you may not be able to return home for hours, days, or even weeks. Don’t go back home until official word is given that your area is safe, as it may be hazardous to return prior to approval. Contaminated water, downed power lines, unstable roads or bridges, and other damage pose a risk to your health, and your pet’s.

Pets will need time to reacclimate. Check your home and yard for signs of damage, and allow ample time to transition after returning home. The disappearance of familiar scent markers, sights, and sounds can leave pets feeling disoriented and nervous. Keep your pets indoors until you’ve surveyed the damage and made repairs.

Avoid stressful activities or unnecessary changes during the recovery period. Strenuous exercise, changes in diet, bathing, or rearranging a familiar room too soon after returning home can delay a pet’s acclimation.

Stress can wreak havoc on the immune system. The risk of illness may increase after a stressful event or stay at a shelter, and exposure to disease or contaminated water sources can sicken animals. Make an appointment with your veterinarian if your pet appears ill or if you’ve provided first aid. While it may save your pet’s life, first aid is not a substitute for veterinary care.

How Do I Help Animals After a Disaster?

The desire to help your neighborhood—or a community across the state or country—is commendable. However, emergency personnel and rescue organizations rely on trained staff and volunteers to provide coordinated care. If you are not already trained for animal disaster response, consider donating supplies or funds to involved organizations and add your name to the volunteer roster for future needs. Reach out to local shelters and organizations to ask how to lend a hand. Needs may include transportation of strays, temporary foster care for displaced pets, or picking up and distributing supplies. Rescue organizations offering temporary care for displaced pets will need people to adopt the homeless animals already in their care.

We can’t predict tornadoes, wildfires, and other disasters, but with preparation, pets are safer during an emergency situation. Don’t leave pets behind if you must evacuate—their best chance of survival depends on you. As the adage goes, an ounce of prevention—or in this case, preparation—is worth a pound of cure.

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