Natural disasters can strike anywhere, destroying property and endangering lives. Such disasters displaced over 42 million people from their homes in 2014, and earthquakes, storms, and floods cause billions of dollars in damages.
Even “small” disaster events can be dangerous — people often think of earthquakes, floods and tsunamis when they think of natural disasters, but last year alone, severe thunderstorms caused 98 deaths in the United States, and winter storms and cold killed 115 — twice the number of people killed by earthquakes.
In a disaster scenario, keeping your beloved pets alive and safe can be just as important as looking after your family. Pets can’t plan for disasters or know what to do in case of emergency — but humans can. No one knows for certain when a natural disaster will strike. But being prepared and having a disaster plan can help keep you, and your pets, out of harm’s way.
The best way to deal with a disaster is to be prepared, both for your sake and your pet’s. The first step you should take in preparing for a disaster is to know what kinds of disasters are likely in your area. Is your house on a flood plain? Do you live in an area prone to earthquakes or forest fires? Knowing what could happen is the best way to prepare for what might happen.
The next step is to find out what resources are available in your area. Many cities and towns have pet shelters or assistance programs that can help look after your pet in case of emergency or disaster. For example, not all Red Cross shelters take pets, and not all animal shelters have emergency facilities. Don’t make assumptions — consult your local veterinarian or animal shelter and find out what resources are available. You can most likely set up an appointment with the vet to find out what you can do to plan for disasters.
Make sure your pet has an identification collar with the most relevant contact information, or microchip your pet so they can be found. Purchase a pet carrier with your pet’s name and your contact information on it. Make sure your pet is familiar with the carrier, so you don’t struggle with getting them into it should disaster strike.
Have an evacuation plan in case of emergency and know how your pet will fit into it — will you keep them with you, or leave them with family or at a shelter? If you rent your home or apartment, can your landlord help? If you have homeowner’s insurance, your policy may cover the cost of your pet’s lodgings when you are evacuated. Contact your insurance agent to make sure. (Renter’s insurance is unlikely to cover such pet-related details.)
Make a list of local motels, boarding facilities, and phone numbers of people who could take care of your pet in case of emergency. Consider making a pre-made handout for your pet, with a photo, contact details, and other vital information, in case you get separated.
Consider placing stickers around your home that will notify emergency and rescue personnel that there is a pet on the premises. Keep muzzles, leashes, or restraints somewhere where rescue personnel can easily find them.
You should also have a readiness kit in case of disaster, not only for yourself, but for your pet as well. Food, water, blankets, flashlights, emergency cash, disinfectant and first aid kits are a must for both kits. A pet’s emergency kit may also include feeding dishes, litter trays, collars, cage liners, and toys. Food and medication should be rotated out of the kit when necessary, to ensure you don’t go into a disaster with expired necessities.
- Pets and Disasters from the CDC
- Animal Emergency and Disaster Planning Information from USDA
- Pet Safety from the American Red Cross
- Caring for Animals from Ready.gov
- Make a Disaster Plan for Your Pets from the Humane Society
- Pets and Disasters from the AVMA
During a Disaster
Now that you’re prepared for the possibility of disaster, your next step is knowing what to do should disaster actually happen.
How you should respond will depend on what kind of emergency is at hand: will you shelter in place, or evacuate your home?
If you are sheltering in place, there are some steps you can take to help make sure your pet is safe. Find a safe room with few or no outside windows for you and your pet to take shelter in. Get rid of any hazards, and if possible, close off any small areas where pets could try to hide and get stuck. Remember, in a disaster scenario, your pet will be afraid too, and will need your help!
If your disaster scenario requires you to evacuate, take your pet with you if possible. Some pet owners believe their pets can “fend for themselves” in a disaster scenario. This is rarely the case. Not all pets will survive for long on their own, and may get lost permanently. If you must evacuate your home temporarily and leave your pet behind, confine them to a small room with plenty of food and water, to reduce the possibility of harm.
Make sure you know your evacuation route. If there are emergency shelters in your area, find out if they take pets — many will not, unless they are service animals. If the emergency shelter will not take animals, you may have other options, such as friends or neighbors. Find out if there are animal shelters or pet-friendly hotels somewhere along your evacuation route — sites such as the Humane Society can help with this.
After a Disaster
Lost pets can be one of the most heartbreaking aspects of a natural disaster. During Hurricane Katrina, over 6,000 pets in the area were lost. In many such cases, organizations such as FEMA, HSUS, and petfinder.com work to reunite pets with lost owners.
If you get separated from your pet while in an emergency shelter, contact the shelter personnel — if you have made a handout with your pet’s details, give it to whomever handles the pets at the shelter.
Social media has also proven effective in finding lost pets and service animals — pet owners can post to Facebook groups or pages and spread the word to thousands of others about their missing pets. Some pet owners take to writing blog posts or posting on Twitter with photos of their lost pets.
If you are separated from your pet during an emergency and have microchipped your pet, contact the microchip company so you can get started finding your pet again. If your pet doesn’t have a microchip, the best course of action may be to contact animal control.
Last but not least, be understanding and patient with your pet in the wake of a disaster. Your pet may take days or weeks to recover from the stress and trauma of surviving a natural disaster — just like a person.
If you are able, consider donating to your local animal control organization or Humane Society in times of disaster, to help other pet owners reunite with their loved ones.
- Disaster Preparedness from the ASPCA
- Animals and Disasters: How Katrina Changed Their World
- Disaster Declarations from FEMA
- Disaster Statistics from the Natural Hazards Center
- Helping Pets in Danger After Disasters
- Finding a Lost Pet from Adopt and Shop
- Pets Before and After a Disaster Strikes
- Using Social Media to Recover Lost Pets from Vetstreet
- Finding Pets After a Tornado
Disaster Preparedness Materials
Preparing for disaster can be stressful and difficult to think about. However, being prepared can help prevent tragedy for both you and your pet. These printable resources and checklists can help you form an emergency plan to help keep your pet safe if and when the worst-case scenario happens.
- Disaster Preparedness Checklist for Pets
- Community Pet Preparedness from Ready.gov
- Pet and Service Animal Preparedness from FEMA
- Pet First Aid and Disaster Preparedness from APDT
- Evacuation Planning for Pets from San Bernardino County
- Pet Emergency Supply List from FEMA
- Pet Emergency Checklist from the CDC
- Information for Pet Owners from Ready.gov
- Introduction to Disaster Preparedness from the Red Cross
- Disaster Preparedness and Mitigation from The Peace Corps
- Emergency Plans for Animals from the California DANR
- Animals in Disaster Course from FEMA
- Animals in Disaster Response Training from Lane County