Including your pets in a natural disaster plan


Whether you hear the sound of a smoke detector, a tornado siren, or the agitated weatherman’s hurricane warning, an impending natural disaster is enough to twist anyone’s stomach in knots. You have a plan, though, so at least your family will be safe. But do those plans include your four-legged family members, too?

A look at the numbers

  • An estimated 15,000 pets were rescued by the New Orleans SPCA after Hurricane Katrina.
  • About 90,000 area pets were never accounted for after the 2005 hurricane.
  • 500,000 dogs and cats were displaced or died as a result of Katrina.
  • Hundreds of pets were lost, displaced, or given up to shelters after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017.
  • Dozens of pets were burned or displaced by California wildfires in 2017.

While we hope we never have to use a disaster plan, if you do, it’s vital to include your pets in it – many pets displaced in natural disasters are never reunited with their owners. Here’s how to include your pets in your natural disaster preparedness plans:

What to prepare before disaster strikes

You should know:

  • Who is responsible for pets in the event of a fire, tornado, or other sudden event.
  • Where your pet’s emergency essentials are located.
  • How you will get your pets, especially large ones or those that live in tanks, to safety in a hurry.
  • Where your safe room or meeting place is.
  • Possible evacuation routes in the event of wildfires or hurricanes.
  • Whether your pets can stay with you when you evacuate, or boarding facilities in the area.
  • Veterinarians in the area to which you evacuate.

You also should prepare for an event that keeps you from getting home to your pets, such as a flash flood:

  • Give a trusted neighbor or nearby friend a key to your home.
  • Task them with evacuating or feeding your pets in your absence.
  • Get a free sticker from the ASPCA that alerts first responders to pets in the home.

If you or a friend can get your pets, try to remove the sticker or write “Pets evacuated” on your door, so first responders don’t look for animals that aren’t there!

What to place in your pet’s emergency essentials kit

Your emergency preparedness kid should include:

  • Leashes and harnesses.
  • Bottled water.
  • Bowls (a couple of collapsible bowls would work well for this).
  • Cat litter and a pan (a cheap pan or even an aluminum baking pan is fine).
  • Manual can opener if your pet eats canned food.
  • Travel ID tag, to update with current lodging and contact number.
  • Copies of medical records in a waterproof bag along with your vet’s contact information and a list of medical conditions and feeding schedules. This helps if you must board your pet.
  • Your pet’s medications.

Keep this in your pet’s carrier so it’s ready to go if disaster strikes. If your area is prone to flooding, keep it in a waterproof container that floats instead. “Life hack” – can’t find a waterproof container that floats? Glue or wrap pool noodles around it!

It’s also wise to keep a current photo of your pet on you, just in case you get separated. Microchip your pet before disaster strikes and keep identification tags up to date.

How to handle your return home

When you return home, be patient and careful. When the fire, hurricane, tornado, or other disaster is over, your home may be a different place. You may see:

  • Fallen fences
  • Blocked paths along your regular walking route.
  • Missing doors or roofs
  • Fallen trees.
  • Loss of familiar landmarks.
  • Unknown animals – domestic or wild – that are lost or disoriented.
  • Dangerous debris.

All of this adds up to a dangerous environment for your pets. If possible, leave your pets in a safe place while you do an initial assessment. If you must bring them with you, keep them in carriers or on a reliable leash so they don’t leave your sight.

How to reassure your pets

Your pets are tuned into your stress and even to atmospheric changes. They may:

  • Act out by crying, barking, or howling.
  • Chew items they wouldn’t normally chew.
  • Have accidents indoors or in a car.
  • Growl or bite you or other people, especially strangers.

To keep them calm, you can:

  • Talk to your pets in a soothing voice.
  • Give plenty of belly rubs, ear scratches, or other physical signs of love.
  • Keep a routine, if possible – go on walks at regular times, feed as normal, etc.
  • Avoid introducing them to new people if you can help it.
  • Be generous with treats.
  • Bring favorite toys and blankets, if possible.

No matter what, do not punish your pets – they are stressed, scared, and confused.

We can’t always anticipate disasters. Plan now to maximize the outcome for your family and your pets. Call us for information on microchipping and other disaster preparedness.