The Complete Guide To Disaster Preparedness For People With Pets

You know the old saying "hope for the best, but plan for the worst"? Well, any animal knows that goes double when your pet's safety is involved. We run disaster drills and pack survival kits to make sure we're ready if Mother Nature decides to reign down some terror on us in the form of tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, and floods. It's important for pet owners to make sure that those plans include taking care of their pets' safety, too.

Here's a guide to preparing for disaster when your pet is involved.

Pack a pet-friendly disaster kit

firefighter with dog in lap
credit: Jevtic/iStock/GettyImages

We pack disaster kits for the humans in our house, and it's important to have your pet's needs in mind when packing emergency kits as well. The ASPCA recommends the following pet-focused items for your disaster kit:

  • Pet first-aid kit and guide book (ask your vet what to include)
  • 3-7 days' worth of canned (pop-top) or dry food (be sure to rotate every two months)
  • Litter or paper toweling
  • Liquid dish soap and disinfectant
  • Disposable garbage bags for clean-up
  • Pet feeding dishes and water bowls
  • Extra collar or harness as well as an extra leash
  • Photocopies and/or USB of medical records and a waterproof container with a two-week supply of any medicine your pet requires (Remember, food and medications need to be rotated out of your emergency kit—otherwise they may go bad or become useless)
  • Recent photos of your pets (in case you are separated and need to make "Lost" posters)
  • At least seven days' worth of bottled water for each person and pet (store in a cool, dry place and replace every two months)
  • A traveling bag, crate or sturdy carrier, ideally one for each pet
  • For cats: Disposable litter trays (aluminum roasting pans are perfect)
  • Especially for cats: Pillowcase, toys, scoop-able litter
  • Especially for dogs: Extra leash, toys and chew toys, a week's worth of cage liner

Tornados

"Tornados typically happen with little or no warning, but pet owners can still take steps to protect their animals," says Nicole Forsyth, the President and CEO of RedRover, an organization dedicated to bringing animals out of crisis during disasters. "Animals left to fend for themselves during disasters suffer terribly, and residents can compound their own stress by worrying about missing pets."

How to prepare your pet before a tornado:

  • Make sure your pets are microchipped—this is the best way to get reunited if tragedy strikes and you're separated from your furbaby.
  • Make sure your cell phone number is on your pet's ID tag so you're easy to reach if someone else finds them during an emergency.
  • Get a rescue alert sticker and place it on or near your front door. This will alert rescue workers that there's a pet (or pets) in the house. If you have to evacuate, write "EVACUATED" on the sticker before leaving.
  • Make arrangements with a trusted neighbor to check in on or retrieve your pets if disaster strikes when you're not home.
  • Keep smaller pets indoors—if you live in an area that's vulnerable to tornados, consider making your cat or small dog an indoor-only pet. Since tornados strike so suddenly, it can be hard to round up pets who are allowed to roam outside.
  • Do practice runs bringing your pet to your safe space. During a tornado, it's important to get to a safe space, like a basement or room without windows. These places are safest during a storm, but can also be scary for animals. Doing practice drills with your furry family will help them get used to these spaces and reduce the chance of additional freak outs during the stress of a real storm.

What to do with your pet during a tornado:

For cats:

  • Here's a special consideration for cat owners: Find your cat and secure them in your designated safe space as soon as a tornado watch is issued, since cats are prone to hiding during storms and you don't want to be stuck searching for them during a real emergency.

For all animals:

  • Move animals to your designated safe space when you and the rest of the humans in your household move (you can move caged and aquarium-based animals early, when the tornado watch is issued, if you prefer).

Hurricanes and floods

How to prepare your pet before a hurricane or flood:

  • Make sure your pets are microchipped—this is the best way to get reunited if tragedy strikes and you're separated from your furbaby.
  • Make sure your cell phone number is on your pet's ID tag so you're easy to reach if someone else finds them during an emergency.
  • Get a rescue alert sticker and place it on or near your front door. This will alert rescue workers that there's a pet (or pets) in the house. If you have to evacuate, write "EVACUATED" on the sticker before leaving.
  • Make arrangements with a trusted neighbor to check in on or retrieve your pets if disaster strikes when you're not home.
  • Make sure you keep your pet up to date on its vaccinations and keep copies of those records with your disaster kit. If you have to evacuate and stay in a shelter or hotel, you may need your pet's health records.
Dog Shivers in the Flooded Aftermath of Hurricane Harvey
credit: Citysqwirl/iStock/GettyImages

What to do with your pet during a hurricane or flood:

  • The number one rule to remember during a hurricane or flood is to keep your pet with you. If you have to evacuate, take them with you.
  • Evacuate early if you have a pet—doing anything with an animal takes extra planning and extra time. If you're in an area that's likely to be evacuated, considering leaving early if you have a pet to take with you.
  • If possible, bring your pet's carrier or crate with you when you evacuate so they'll feel more secure in your new temporary home.
  • The FDA recommends pet owners contact their local emergency management agency in advance to find out which shelters in their area allow pets, in case disaster strikes (we've also included resources for finding pet-friendly hotels below).

Earthquakes

How to prepare your pet before an earthquake:

  • Make sure your pets are microchipped—this is the best way to get reunited if tragedy strikes and you're separated from your furbaby.
  • Make sure your cell phone number is on your pet's ID tag so you're easy to reach if someone else finds them during an emergency.
  • Get a rescue alert sticker and place it on or near your front door. This will alert rescue workers that there's a pet (or pets) in the house. If you have to evacuate, write "EVACUATED" on the sticker before leaving.
  • Make arrangements with a trusted neighbor to check in on or retrieve your pets if disaster strikes when you're not home.

What to do with your pet during an earthquake:

  • If you're outside walking your dog during an earthquake: Get to safety and do your best to keep a hold on your dog's leash.
  • If your dog or cat is in a crate or carrier when an earthquake hits: Leave them inside.
  • If you're home with your cat during an earthquake: Let them run and find shelter in your home on their own. They will mostly like instinctually hide in a safe place and might scratch, bite or otherwise lash out in fear if you try to restrain them.
  • If you're home with your dog during an earthquake: If your dog will tolerate it, hold them and take them with you to a safe space—like in a bathroom or under a sturdy table. If your dog is too scared to be held, allow them to hide on their own. Like cats, they will usually find a safe hiding space instinctually.

Fires

How to prepare your pet before a fire:

  • Make sure your pets are microchipped—this is the best way to get reunited if tragedy strikes and you're separated from your furbaby.
  • Make sure your cell phone number is on your pet's ID tag so you're easy to reach if someone else finds them during an emergency.
  • Make a plan with your family so you all know who is responsible for your pets in the event of a fire.
  • Know your pet's hiding spots. Pets tend to hide when they're scared (like during a fire) and knowing your pet's favorite places to hide will help you locate them as quickly as possible during a fire.

What to do with your pet during a fire:

Look up pet-friendly hotels in your area:

If disaster of any kind strikes and your home is left uninhabitable, you may need to find a pet-friendly hotel. It's a good idea to do this research before disaster strikes and to have a plan in place for where you'd like to stay so you don't have to deal with any extra stress during your emergency.

You can reference our guide to which hotel and motel chains are pet-friendly. In addition, here are some more resources for finding pet-friendly hotels:

What to do with your pet after any disaster:

Dog in Rain After Tornado
credit: BanksPhotos/E+/GettyImages
  • Don't let your pet roam outside after a disaster, even if they used to be an "outside" dog or cat—the disaster may have changed the landscape, moved or destroyed landmarks, or otherwise alter the surroundings in a way to make them unfamiliar to your pet, who could get lost even if they previously knew their way around .
  • Be prepared for changes in your pet's behavior. The trauma of living through a disaster can cause pets to become anxious and, in some cases, can even make animals become aggressive or defensive.

For any disaster that's possible in your area, it's crucial to be prepared ahead of time. Make sure you have a pet emergency kit packed, and do your best to stay calm if a natural disaster strikes.