We're rounding out National Pet Preparedness Month, a prime time to review your family's emergency response plan and make sure it covers your pets. Whether it's dealing with a flood or a fire, your four-legged friends rely on you to keep them safe and healthy during an emergency – but how can you do that if disaster strikes?
Enjoy this featured content from our Pinnacle PartnerTM Pets Best.
We got expert advice from veterinarian Dr. Deborah Mandell, Pet Care Advisor for the American Red Cross, about how to keep your four-legged family members safe during an emergency.
Step 1: Make a pet emergency kit
A pet emergency kit is something you can grab and take with you at a moment's notice. You'll want your kit packed and ready ahead of time, so you don't have to look for supplies in the heat of the moment.
But what should you include in a pet emergency kit? The good news is that most of what you need to include will be the same, regardless of whether you live in a region prone to wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and so forth. Mandell says to include these essential items in your kit:
- Food and water bowls (along with food and water)
- Bedding or a blanket
- Litter and a litter pan for cats
- Leash or harness
- Garbage bags or doggy waste bags
- Paper towels
- Carrier for small dogs and cats
- Manual can opener if you're bringing canned food
- Air-tight container if you're bringing dry food
- Sealed plastic bag with medical records
You'll want to include the following in your bag of medical records:
- Up-to-date vaccination records
- Information on any medical conditions your pet has
- Prescribed medications with directions
- Your veterinarian's name and number
- Out-of-area emergency contact numbers
- A recent photo of your pet
- A second collar with an ID tag and your microchip information
- An ID tag with out-of-state numbers
Emergency pet medication
When it comes to food and medication, Mandell suggests packing at least a week's worth of each. However, this could be tricky depending on the medication: Some require refrigeration, others have short expiration dates, and some controlled substances can't be purchased in advance.
"Discuss the medication with your veterinarian," Mandell says. "Discuss if they can give you a separate smaller bottle to keep in your kit."
Having a cooler on hand can help refrigerated medication last longer. And if your pet is diabetic, you might want to include something like molasses or glucose paste in your kit. Of course, always talk to your veterinarian before making such decisions.
N95 for dogs
If you're in a wildfire-prone region, remember that pets can be extra sensitive to smoke and fire. Canine N95 masks do exist, but whether they're a good option can vary from dog to dog. If you're interested in adding this to your emergency kit, talk to your veterinarian. Some pets can tolerate the masks, but others will just get scared, Mandell says.
Step 2: Assemble a pet first aid kit
In addition to a pet emergency kit, assemble a pet first aid kit stocked and ready to go. Many pet owners keep both kits in the same bag. This makes it easier to grab if you must leave in a hurry.
When putting together the kit, Mandell suggests including items for bleeding, wounds, and taking your pet's temperature. Stock your kit with these essentials:
- Gauze and sponges
- Adhesive tape
- Non-adhesive or non-adherent sterile gauze pads
- Rectal thermometer
- Sterile eyewash
- Sterile water-based lubricant
- Leash and muzzle
- Disposable non-latex, powder-free gloves
If you have extra space, consider including tick removers, towels, nail clippers, Benadryl for dogs (if approved by your veterinarian), an emergency blanket, or reflectors for at night. And include some items your pet will find comforting, like a favorite toy or treat.
Pet First Aid app
Mandell also suggests keeping the American Red Cross Pet First Aid app on your phone so you can have a quick resource handy. The app also has useful lists to help you assemble emergency kits and first aid kits.1
The Red Cross also has an online course on Cat and Dog First Aid that can help you be prepared for a multitude of different emergency situations, including health emergencies.2
Step 3: Prep your pet's microchip
If your pet isn't microchipped, now is the time to visit your veterinarian and get that done. This is a vital part of pet disaster preparedness.
“The microchip is extremely important because collars can come off," Mandell says. “So your pet's only ID might be the microchip."
Getting the microchip is just the first step: You'll also need to register it online so that your pet's information is in an accessible database. The microchip company will have a website where you can register your pet's information. If you're not sure where to go, don't hesitate to ask your veterinarian for help.
Step 4: Get a pet carrier for an emergency
Whether you have a cat or a dog, you'll need a good pet carrier in an emergency. Even if your cat is harness-trained, a carrier is still the safest mode of transportation.
“I love seeing cats that like harnesses – they just make me smile," Mandell says. "But you don't know how they're going to react with all the chaos. If there's a lot going on and you're trying to grab everything, the safest thing is just putting them in a carrier so you can carry them."
There are pros and cons to using a hard carrier versus a soft carrier. In the end, it comes down to what works best for your furry friend and household.
“You want the carrier to be big enough for them to stand, turn around, lay down and be comfortable," she says.
Hard carriers tend to be sturdier, and they can hold some of your emergency supplies when not in use. Soft, collapsible carriers are easier to store near your home's exit where you'll be leaving in an emergency.
“It's dependent on your lifestyle and what your pet is most comfortable in," she says. “We see a lot of pets in collapsible carriers and they're completely fine. But they might not have as much room as a hard carrier."
Some pets will also travel better and experience less motion sickness in one type of carrier versus another. It's a good idea to test traveling with your pet in a carrier, to see how he reacts. If your pet is prone to motion sickness, talk with your veterinarian about medication options.
Step 5: Run emergency drills at home
If there's a loud noise or sirens blaring, will your dog try to escape? Will your cat hide and be tough to find? Dogs and cats are unpredictable, which is why it's so important to run emergency drills at home with your pets.
“If you test your fire alarm so you make that noise, your animals most likely will scatter to where they're going to hide," Mandell explains. "You will find out where they like to hide and how they react. And then you can practice the best ways to get them out."
Some animals can be coaxed out of their hiding place with food, but not all animals can be coaxed by snacks when they're truly scared, Mandell says. Knowing if they typically run under the bed or hide in the walk-in closet when they're scared can save a lot of precious time.
Mandell adds that if your pet hisses or growls when scared, you may need to practice wrapping them in a towel to get them into their carrier.
Step 6: Build a pet evacuation plan
A vital part of pet disaster preparedness is having an evacuation plan in place. This involves four steps: knowing how you'll get your pets out of the house, locating safe places to shelter your pets, setting up emergency notifications, and being prepared in case a pet gets lost. Follow these key steps to create an airtight pet evacuation plan to keep your fur friends safe.
Getting your pets out of the house
First, figure out how to get your pets out of the house if a disaster hits, whether you're at home or not.
“Practice getting cats and small dogs into their carriers and getting leashes onto larger dogs when they're scared," Mandell says. “Part of your evacuation plan includes discussing with your family who's going to get what pet and who's going to get the emergency kit, along with where you're going to meet.
You'll also want to find a neighbor who can be a “point person" in case disaster strikes when you're not home. That neighbor should have a key to your house and be able to get your pets and your emergency kit. Designate a place to meet your neighbor in this scenario.
Good pet planning also includes preparing for a worst-case scenario if you are incapacitated. Have a friend or family member ready to take in your pets and give their number to your neighbor. You might even set up a pet trust with your lawyer to help pay for expenses. Also, ensuring that you have pet insurance can help.
Finally, keep up-to-date stickers on your windows to inform firefighters about how many pets are in your house in case a fire starts while you're away.
Find a safe place to evacuate with your pets
Write down a list of safe places to go that accept pets, and look for locations to take refuge in all directions from your house.
“Most American Red Cross shelters can't accept pets because of health and safety concerns," Mandell says. “Service animals that assist people with disabilities are allowed in Red Cross shelters."
The Red Cross app provides a pet-friendly hotel locator that you can use when making a list of pet-friendly locations that accept dogs and cats. Look for boarding kennels and veterinary hospitals too. Talk with family members and friends to see who has a spare room for you or a couch to sleep on, as well as space for your pets. Have a plan for all directions, since you don't know where a natural disaster might strike.
“If you need to leave, always take your pets," Mandell says.
Follow local emergency notifications
Depending on the type of emergency, keeping close tabs on your local emergency notifications can be super important.
Sometimes, local authorities will mandate that you need to evacuate a region. Mandell notes that, in these situations, if you don't leave when an evacuation is ordered, emergency responders might not be able to help you evacuate with your pets later. So follow emergency notices and leave when you're asked to do so.
“If there's a tornado warning or flood warning, get all of your pets inside," Mandell says. “Keep them in one room with their collars and IDs on so you can evacuate with all of them super-fast if you need to."
But no matter what the emergency, be ready to leave quickly: “Getting out of there sooner rather than later is going to be by far the most important thing," Mandell says.
Prepare in case your pets get lost
It's not fun to think about, but make a plan in case your pets get lost during a disaster so that you can act fast.
If a pet goes astray, the first thing you'll want to do is contact the police, shelters, and veterinarian hospitals in your region, Mandell advises. Sometimes people bring lost pets to these locations. Keep a list of these phone numbers ahead of time, so you're not looking them up at the last minute.
You can also use social media to help track down your pets. The Red Cross has a Pet First Data app which links to multiple social media sites. You might also consider using Amber Alert Fido Finder. Local communities may even set up "lost pet" Facebook groups after a disaster.
“Social media by far is extremely helpful in reuniting pets with owners," Mandell says.
Step 7: Keep calm...and emergency prepare on
The disaster may be declared officially over, but the emergency may not be done for you and your pets. If you're staying somewhere new, keep your pets on a leash or in a carrier as they acclimate to the new environment. Remember that adjusting can take time, so be patient. Give them comforting toys and just be there with them, Mandell advises.
If you're back at home after an emergency, she says to “walk the house or the yard or anywhere your pets would be to make sure there is no debris or dangers."
And remember that all those different smells and experiences can stress your pets, causing them to act a little differently for a while. Getting your pets back to their normal routine can help them move past the trauma and fear, whether it's taking them for walks again or feeding them at the times of day that they're used to.
“Talk to your veterinarian about any concerns, or to see if there's anything else you can do for your pet," Mandell says.
The last word: Preparation is the key
Natural disasters and emergencies can be unnerving to think about, but you can face them with confidence when you are prepared. Just a little bit of preparation can go a long way and could mean the difference between life and death for your pet. By taking these simple steps, you'll be prepared to deal with the most common and some not-so-common pet emergencies.
Ensuring that you have excellent pet insurance is another way to prepare for the unexpected. Pet insurance reimburses you when your dog or cat gets sick or injured. So if something comes up, you won't have to worry about whether you can afford treatment.
Interested in learning more about pet insurance options? It's easy: Click here to request more information.
1. "Pet Disaster Preparedness," American Red Cross, https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/pet-disaster-preparedness.html. Last accessed May 26, 2022.
2. "Cat & Dog First Aid Online Training," American Red Cross, https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class/first-aid/cat-dog-first-aid. Last accessed May 26, 2022.