The best way to protect your family from the effects of a disaster is to have a disaster plan. If you are a pet owner, that plan should include your pets. Being prepared can save their lives.
Different disasters require different responses. But whether the disaster is a flood, fire, tornado, or a hazardous spill, you might have to evacuate your home.
If you must evacuate because of a disaster the best thing you can do to protect your pets is to evacuate them, too. Leaving pets behind, even if you try to create a safe place for them, is likely to result in their being injured, lost, or worse. So prepare now for the day when you and your pets might have to leave your home.
Have a Safe Place to Take Your Pets
- Red Cross disaster shelters do not typically accept pets because of state health and safety regulations and other considerations. Service animals that assist people with disabilities are the only animals allowed in Red Cross shelters. It may be difficult, if not impossible, to find shelter for your animals in the midst of a disaster, so plan ahead. Do not wait until disaster strikes to do your research.
- Contact hotels and motels outside your immediate area to check policies on accepting pets and restrictions on number, size and species. Ask if "no pet" policies could be waived in an emergency. Keep a list of "pet friendly" places with other disaster information and supplies. If you have notice of an impending disaster, call ahead for reservations.
- Ask friends, relatives, or others outside the affected area whether they could shelter your animals. If you have more than one pet, they may be more comfortable if kept together, but be prepared to house them separately.
- Prepare a list of boarding facilities and veterinarians who could shelter animals in an emergency. Include 24-hour phone numbers.
- Ask local animal shelters if they provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets in a disaster. Animal shelters may be overburdened caring for the animals they already have, as well as those displaced by a disaster, so this should be your last resort.
Assemble Portable Pet Disaster Supplies
Whether you are away from home for a day or a week, you'll need essential supplies. Keep items in an accessible place and store them in sturdy containers that can be carried easily (duffel bags, covered trash containers, etc.). Your pet disaster supply kit should include:
- Medications and medical records (stored in a waterproof container) and a first aid kit (see "Pet First Aid" for a list of what should be in a pet first aid kit).
- Leashes, harnesses, and/or carriers to transport pets safely and ensure that your animals can't escape.
- Current photos of your pets in case they get lost.
- Food, portable water, bowls, cat litter/pan, and can opener.
- Information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to foster or board your pets.
- Pet beds and toys, if easily transportable.
Know What To Do as a Disaster Approaches
Storm watches are generally issued hours, even days, in advance. At the first hint of disaster, begin to act. Call ahead to confirm emergency shelter arrangements for you and your pets. Check to be sure your pet disaster supplies are ready to take at a moment's notice. Bring all pets into the house so you won't have to search for them if you have to leave in a hurry.
Make sure all dogs and cats are wearing secure collars with up-to-date identification. Attach the phone number and address of your temporary shelter, if you know it, or of a friend or relative outside of the disaster area. You can buy temporary tags or put adhesive tape on the back of your pet's ID tag, adding information with an indelible pen.
You may not be home when the evacuation order comes. Find out if a trusted neighbor would be willing to take your pets and meet you at a prearranged location. This person should be comfortable with your pets, know where your animals are likely to be, know where your pet disaster supplies are kept, and have a key to your home. If you use a pet sitting service, they might be available to help, but discuss the possibility well in advance.
Planning and preparation will enable you to evacuate with your pets quickly and safely. But keep in mind that animals react differently under stress. Outside your home and in the car, keep dogs securely leashed. Transport cats in carriers. Don't leave animals unattended anywhere they can run off. The most trustworthy pets might panic, hide, try to escape, or even bite or scratch. And, when you return home, give your pets time to settle back into their routines. Consult your veterinarian if any behavior problems persist.
Caring for Birds in an Emergency
- Birds should be transported in a secure travel cage or carrier.
- In cold weather, wrap a blanket over the carrier and warm up the car before placing birds inside.
- During warm weather, carry a plant mister to mist the birds' feathers periodically. Do not put water inside the carrier during transport. Provide a few slices of fresh fruits and vegetables with high water content.
- Have leg bands and a photo for identification.
- If the carrier does not have a perch, line it with paper towels and change them frequently.
- Try to keep the carrier in a quiet area. Do not let the birds out of the cage or carrier.
Caring For Other Pets in an Emergency
Snakes can be transported in a pillowcase, but they must be transferred to more secure housing when they reach the evacuation site. If your snakes require frequent feedings, carry food with you. Take a water bowl large enough for soaking, as well as a heating pad.
When transporting house lizards, follow the same directions as for birds (above).
Small mammals (hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, etc.) should be transported in secure carriers suitable for maintaining the animals while sheltered. Take bedding materials, food bowls and water bottles.
Tornados present an intense situation since your lead time might be more limited than in other disasters.
When a tornado watch is announced, begin preparations just in case they are needed. Locate your pets and put them in carriers or on leashes. You can put them in your predetermined safe place with food and water until the watch ends.
Before an emergency happens, train cats and dogs to follow you to the basement or place of shelter on command. This can avoid a scramble when a warning occurs. Practice this training regularly as a game and reward with treats to keep your pets and you ready for any emergency.
If needed, wrap cats and small dogs in a blanket or pillowcase to carry them quickly to shelter. Keeping treats or a favorite toy in the shelter area can help calm your pet during the wait for danger to pass.
If you have any questions about how to keep your pets safe in the case of a disaster, contact ARL Animal Care & Control at (515) 284-6905.