Natural disasters come in many forms: hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, violent storms, and more. Where you live plays a big part in what severe conditions you’ll likely face — the East Coast is frequently in the path of hurricanes and forests on the West Coast may fuel wildfires.
We’ve seen the recent damage done by massive storms like Hurricane Ida — leaving both people and animals without homes, electricity, or access to clean water. Shelters nationwide stepped in to help care for animals who were evacuated or rescued. With hurricane season ongoing until the end of November, we’ve put together a guide with our veterinarians to help pet owners like yourself plan and prepare for natural disasters
The best way to prepare for an emergency is to have a disaster plan in place ahead of time. Some extra preparation (even if it seems a little excessive) can go a long way in protecting you and your pet during a natural disaster.
First, always be prepared
Here are some steps you can take to be proactive in keeping your pet safe before a disaster happens.
- Make sure your pet has a collar and identification tag — If you become separated from your pet, you’ll have a higher chance of being reunited with them if they’re wearing a tag with your information on it.
- Put your cell number on your pet’s tag — Be sure your phone number is correct so if someone finds your pet, they can easily reach you.
- Microchip your pets — Even if your pet wears a collar and tag, it’s important to microchip them for permanent identification. Any shelter or vet can scan a found pet for a microchip and get the owner’s contact information.
- Keep your pet up-to-date on vaccinations and preventatives — Some natural disasters can cause exposure to stagnant water, other animals, and overcrowding, which can put your pet at risk of getting sick.
- Store a leash and carrier near the exit of your home — Make last-minute evacuations quick and easy by keeping these items in a convenient location to grab as your leave the house.
- Have proper equipment for pets to ride in the car — These can include pet seat belts, harnesses, and carriers to keep them secure during a drive.
- Prepare a disaster kit for your pet — An evacuation will go more smoothly if you have everything you need readily on hand for all two- and four-legged family members.
Pet disaster kit checklist
We recommend storing all of these items in a waterproof duffle bag or satchel that’s easy for you to carry. Here’s what to pack in your pet’s disaster kit:
Food and medicine
- 3-7 days’ worth of dry and canned food. Make sure it’s stored in air-tight containers.
- Two-week supply of medicine. This includes prescription meds and flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives.
- Supply of water for at least 7 days. Fresh water for cleaning and drinking.
- Feeding dish and water bowl. Consider packing collapsible bowls. Something simple like these Rest-Eazzzy Expandable Dog Bowls are great to have on hand.
- Liquid dish soap. It’s important to clean the bowls after each use (make sure the soap is pet-friendly).
- Anti-diarrheal liquid or tablets. Stick to OTC meds from pet stores and avoid Pepto-Bismol and Imodium, unless directed by your vet.
- Antibiotic ointment. Handy to put on minor cuts or scratches.
- Bandage tape, cotton bandage rolls, and scissors. Important for packing/wrapping/taping up any injuries.
- Isopropyl alcohol/alcohol prep pads. Always wash tools with alcohol to make sure they’re clean before using.
- Latex gloves. To keep your hands clean.
- Saline solution. Good to use to wash out wounds.
- Towel and washcloth. In case you need to dry or wash your pet.
- Tweezers. Handy for splinters.
- Litter, litter pan, and scoop. A shirt gift box (like what presents come in) with a plastic bag works well as a disposable pan.
- Newspaper, paper towels, and trash bags. These are good for making spots for your dogs to use the bathroom and to dispose of waste.
- Household chlorine bleach or disinfectant. To thoroughly clean all areas exposed to pet waste.
Keep multiple copies of these papers — it may even be helpful to laminate them in case they get wet.
- Identification papers. Proof of ownership in case your pet’s lost.
- Medical records and any medication instructions. If your pet needs to be boarded, you’ll need these.
- Emergency contact list. This includes veterinarian and pharmacy.
- Photo of your pet. To share if your pet were to go missing.
- Crate or pet carrier. Keep them labeled with your contact information. Here’s a list of betterpet’s favorite dog crates and kennels.
- Extra collar/harness with ID tags and leash. In case it breaks or gets lost.
- Flashlight and extra batteries. If you lose power, this is essential.
- Muzzle. Even the calmest dogs can become fearful and potentially dangerous.
- Favorite toys and treats. So your pet has something to chew on and play with.
- An extra blanket or familiar bedding. Having familiar scents and objects can help calm a stressed pet.
- Calming supplement. If your dog gets anxious, you can try one of our favorite calming supplements (ask your vet first).
Make a disaster plan
Here are some important questions to answer in your disaster plan for both you and your pet.
Where will you stay? Animals may not be allowed in certain hotels or disaster evacuation shelters (such as Red Cross centers), unless they’re service animals. Identify shelters, out-of-town friends, or relatives where your pets and other animals can stay. You can find boarding facilities or animal hospitals near your evacuation site that could hold your pet until you’re able to return home.
Who will help your pet if you’re not home? Create a buddy system in case you’re not home during an emergency. Ask a trusted neighbor who can check on your animals and can evacuate them if necessary.
Where’s the closest veterinarian or animal hospital? Find a veterinary center or animal hospital in the area where you’ll be evacuating — Add their contact information to your emergency kit. It’s also helpful to keep at least 3 different vet’s numbers in your phone in case your regular vet is out of reach or can’t help for whatever reason.
Do you have a rescue alert sticker? If you shelter at home with your pets, place this sticker on your front door to let people know that there are pets inside. If you evacuate with your pets, if time allows, write “EVACUATED” across the sticker.
Are you evacuating or sheltering in place?
Remember, during a disaster, what’s good for you is good for your pet. We highly recommend following your governor’s or local guidelines and recommendations on whether or not you should evacuate. It’s important not to ignore evacuation warnings — you could be putting multiple lives in danger. If it’s safe for you to stay home, be prepared to lose power and for high temperatures if you’re without AC in the summertime.
If you shelter in place, take these precautions
Only shelter in place if it’s considered safe by your local or state officials. Here are a few tips to make your pet comfortable if you stay at home.
Select a safe room — Preferably an interior room with no (or few) windows.
Remove any toxic chemicals or plants — Pets are notorious for getting into things they shouldn’t be, especially when they’re stressed.
Close off small areas — Such as vents or under furniture where frightened pets could try to hide and get stuck. If you have a small animal like a cat, they’re more likely to burrow away in a hiding place.
Practice safe handling of your pet in case they’re stressed — Pets have the potential to become aggressive when scared or stressed, so owners need to know how to best handle them to keep everyone safe.
Prepare a spot for your pets to poop and pee — You’ll need plenty of plastic bags, newspapers, containers, and cleaning supplies to clean up the pet waste.
Only use your phone as necessary — Make sure it’s fully charged and keep it handy in case you need to call for an emergency or stay in contact with loved ones.
Don’t allow pets to go outside until the danger has passed — They have the potential of getting lost or seriously hurt.
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If you evacuate, take your pet with you
It’s absolutely vital that you bring your pets with you when you evacuate. Leaving your pet alone without care isn’t responsible and can lead to them getting lost, injured — or worse. Think of it this way — if it isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for your pets. Remember to make plans for ALL of your pets, including feral or outdoor cats, horses, and animals on farms.
Here are some tips to find a safe place to stay ahead of time.
Call your family or friends — Check if you and your pets, or just your pets, can stay with friends or family members that live outside of the disaster zone. If you have multiple pets, you may have to split them up into several houses.
Check if evacuation shelters in your area allow pets — Not all evacuation centers allow animals, so make sure you find ones that do ahead of time. Here’s a great resource from the CDC on how to care for your animal in an evacuation center.
Reach out to hotels and motels — Check with ones outside of your immediate area if they accept animals, and make sure there’s no restrictions on size, number, or species. You can also use sites like BringFido or Dog Friendly to find pet-friendly lodging.
Consider boarding facilities — Reach out to boarding facilities outside of your immediate area and see if they’d have room to hold your pets if necessary.
Contact your local animal shelter — Some shelters may be able to provide foster care or shelter for pets in an emergency. Their resources are usually stretched thin, especially during natural disasters, so be sure to check with ones outside of your local area, too. The Humane Society can also help you find a shelter in your area.
After a natural disaster
Depending on the amount of damage caused, it’s important to take these steps to keep you and your pet healthy. If your home sustained a lot of damage, it may be unsafe to remain there.
Wash your hands after handling your pet, food, and poop — Natural disasters can contribute to the transmission of some diseases from pets to people, including rabies, leptospirosis, and diseases from tick, flea, and mosquito bites.
Keep your pet in a carrier or on a leash — After a disaster, familiar scents and landmarks may have changed. Pets can become confused and lost, so it’s important to keep them on a leash or in a carrier when going outside or being transported.
Don’t allow your pet to interact with other animals — This can include other people’s pets, wildlife, or stray animals. We don’t know if they’ve come into contact with anything contaminated, so it’s best to avoid interactions.
Avoid stagnant water, especially from flooding — Water that’s been at a standstill, especially from flooding, can contain heavy metals or bacteria that can be harmful to you and your pets.
Don’t allow your pet to play in or drink contaminated water — Flood water may bring in all kinds of dangerous materials or objects.
👉 Stay at least 35 feet away from fallen power lines and anything they’re touching.
What to do if your pet was injured
Remain calm — if your pet was injured, start off by assessing their injuries. Is it something you can care for with your first aid kit? Or is it a serious injury? Call the vet numbers saved in your phone if it’s something more serious than you can handle. If you’re sheltering in place, the vet may be able to help you over the phone or you can call a telehealth service that offers video chat.
Tips on handling hurt animals
If your pet gets hurt, here are the best ways to handle them safely.
Never assume that even the gentlest pet won’t bite or scratch if injured — Pain and fear can make any animal unpredictable or dangerous.
Don’t attempt to hug an injured pet and always keep your face away from its mouth — This might scare the animal more or cause them pain, and you risk being bitten in the face.
Perform any contact with your pet slowly and gently — They’ll likely be stressed or scared and fast movements can make matters worse. Stop if your animal becomes more agitated or stressed.
Try to get your pet to a veterinarian as quickly as possible without risking injury or illness to yourself or your family — Vets will be stretched thin during emergencies, so reach out to clinics outside of your immediate area if need be.
Returning home with your furry friend
Coming back after a disaster has hit can be stressful for everyone. Here are some tips on how to make it as easy as possible for both you and your pet if you’re returning home.
Check your home for sharp objects, spilled chemicals, and exposed wiring — Disasters can cause a lot of destruction, leaving behind potentially harmful objects to you and your pet.
The behavior of animals may change dramatically — Even normally quiet and friendly animals can become irritable and potentially dangerous.
Monitor animals closely and only release them in a safe and secure environment — Scared and stressed animals are more likely to run away, so it’s important to keep an eye on them somewhere safe.
Contact a vet if you notice any signs of stress, discomfort, or illness in your pets — Schedule a check-up or see if they can help you over the phone.
How to find a lost pet
If you lost your pet during the disaster and can’t find them, here are steps to take so you can bring them home.
Call the microchip company — Let them know your pet is missing and make sure all the information about your pet, including your current contact information, is updated and current.
Contact your local humane society or animal control — Many shelters and organizations will house pets that were lost during disasters, and you can contact animal control to make them aware in case they find them.
If you stayed in a shelter, inform the pet caretaker — Give them a missing pet flyer and ask them to keep an eye out for your beloved pet.
Being prepared can keep you and your pet safe
Natural disasters may strike at any moment — some you can plan for, and others you can’t. By following our guide and your local guidelines, you and your pets will be well prepared to handle any emergency.
See below for additional resources to help you plan natural disasters: