8 Disaster Planning and Preparedness Tips for Pet Owners

BY Elizabeth Kowalski, CVT, FFCP

Dog hiding under bed

Although weather risks peak during specific seasons, you shouldn’t rely on the forecast to plan for potential emergencies. Emergencies require immediate action, which leaves little leeway for safely and efficiently gathering pets and important items.

Preparing and practicing a comprehensive disaster plan, including stocking a pet-specific first aid kit, can ensure your pet’s safety during an uncertain time. While your plan should be customized for your family and pet needs, some essential steps are universal. Here are eight tips to help you prepare for a potential disaster.

#1: Create a pet emergency kit

An emergency kit contains enough essentials to last a few days, in case you are stranded without access to rescue or veterinary services. Essential items for a pet emergency kit include:

  • Food
  • Manual can opener for wet food
  • Bottled water
  • Important medications
  • Vaccination records
  • Pet first aid kit
  • Restraint device (e.g., leash, carrier)
  • Comfort items (e.g., blanket, toy)
  • Waste bags
  • Collapsible food and water bowls

#2: Keep your emergency kit stocked

Items in your emergency kit that go unused will eventually expire and be less effective in an emergency, so regularly check your pet’s kit. Replace old food, water, medications, and other supplies with fresh, non-expired stock and inventory the first aid kit to ensure nothing is missing.

#3: Ensure your pet wears identification

All dogs and cats should wear a collar with their rabies tag and an identification tag attached, which can help identify them and help ensure they will be returned to you should you be separated during an emergency. However, microchipping offers the best chance at reuniting with a lost pet. The procedure is quick and doesn’t require sedation, making it an easy add-on to other services. Schedule a visit with an AAHA-accredited veterinarian to have your pet microchipped.

#4: Practice your evacuation plan

The same way you did fire drills at school, practice an evacuation so it becomes routine and to help you remember exactly what to do should the situation occur. Base your plan on your home, and determine where your pets can go if you must stay in a hotel or other accommodation that doesn’t allow them. Consider nearby family, friends, veterinary hospitals, and boarding facilities that you can reach by car, but will not be affected by the same emergency.

#5: Stay informed

In a serious disaster, you may need to shelter in place or evacuate your home. Because you may lose power or cell service, the most reliable way to get updates is via a radio. However, analog radios are scarce, so sign up for a mobile app that can send real-time updates and alerts instead.

#6: Take a pet first aid course

Consider taking pet first aid and CPR courses to learn basic medical care for a pet who is injured or in another emergency situation. The American Red Cross offers online and in-person pet first aid courses that will help your confidence when the worst happens. An in-person course will provide hands-on experience that will translate to current and future pets. Common topics covered in pet first aid include wound care, emergency transport, and actions to take in various pet emergency scenarios.

#7: Use a rescue pet sticker

Many veterinary and emergency organizations provide window stickers for pet owners to list all the pets inside the home. Place one at each entrance to your home, so rescue workers know the types of pets and number living in your home that they should try to find. If you evacuate with your pet, remember to note that on the sticker before you leave.

#8: Keep your pet calm

Emergencies and disasters are stressful, and the stress can easily spill over to your pet. Keep your pet secured in a carrier or on a short leash to prevent them from injury or from wandering off or running away should they become startled. If you regularly give your pet anti-anxiety or calming products when they are in stressful situations, ensure they are stocked in your emergency kit.

Emergencies, evacuations, and natural disasters can be distressing for people and pets, but advance preparations will help you remain calm, recall important pet care tips, and move your pet to safety without delay. For additional insight into preparing for disasters specific to your region, contact your local AAHA-accredited veterinary facility.