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The Ultimate Pet Disaster Preparedness Guide

By Megan Lindsey

Pets are valued members of our families. Keeping you and your animals safe during a disaster takes some preparation. This guide is aimed at enabling pet owners to protect and care for their animals prior to, and during disasters. Follow these suggestions to set yourself up for success.

This PathFinderEX Pet Preparedness guide is aimed at enabling pet owners prepare, protect and care for their animals before, during, and after disasters. It is primarily focused on cats, dogs and small animals. Stay tuned for future articles on disaster planning for horses and livestock.

Get Your Pet Ready

· Identification Tags. A tag with your information may be critical in reuniting you and your pet. We suggest that all tags include the pet’s name, a phrase like “I’m Lost,” your phone number, and the number for a non-local emergency contact. Cell towers may be overloaded and cell phones non-functional, so the non-local contact may be able to arrange for your pet’s safety and eventually reunite you.

· Microchips. Have your pets microchipped. Microchips are affordable and will work even if your pet slips its collar. Make sure the chip information is up to date and includes a non-local emergency contact.

· Vaccinations. Keep your pet current on vaccinations. If you do not, they might not be able to access emergency boarding or shelters. Check with your veterinarian for guidelines in your area. Consider including vaccines given to sheltered animals, like canine influenza and Bordetella.

Do Your Research

Getting you and your pets ready for a disaster involves doing some work in advance. You should identify:

· A local contact who can take responsibility for your animal if you are sick, injured, or unable to return. Make sure this designated caregiver is someone who you can trust, and preferably already knows your pet(s). Ideally, this is a person who is home or nearby during the day. This person should have key to your home.

· Local and non-local boarding options for your animals.

· Local and non-local hotels that will accept pets.

· Local organizations that might be able to help, such as shelters, county animal services departments, non-profits, animal-related business, etc. In a disaster these organizations may be organizing animal rescue and emergency shelters. Go beyond the obvious- for example, local social media groups have mobilized members in the past to rescue and shelter animals.

Get Your Kit Ready

Be sure to include the following in your family’s emergency kit:

· Pet food and bottled water for at least five days, in a waterproof container.

· Secure carriers, safety harnesses and leashes.

· Medications and behavioral aids.

· Medical records, including your pets’ vaccinations. Keep electronic copies on hand as well, like an image in your email. A pet first-aid book may also be useful.

· Recent photos of you with your pets in case you are separated. If you are separated, this can prove that they are your pets when you are reunited.

· Bedding and comfort items, like a favorite toy.

· Plastic bags, kitty litter, litter scoop, household bleach and paper towels for collecting and cleaning your pets’ waste.

A disaster is not the time when you can train or desensitize your pet. Expect them to be afraid, stressed, possibly in pain and react accordingly. There are some non-prescription behavioral aids you should consider having on hand, like Adaptil, Feliway and ThunderShirts. Consider discussing with your veterinarian having small amounts of a sedative like acepromazine on hand.

Where Will You Be?

What are the odds that you will be gone during a disaster? Do you work long hours, or have a long commute? You might be away from home when disaster strikes, and unable to return for some time. What will happen to your animals if you cannot get home? Therefore, it is crucial to have a local contact who can get to your animals and make sure they are safe.

Have signage on your front door or window informing emergency responders about the number and types of animals inside. The ASPCA offers free (with suggested donation) pet rescue window decals. Emergency responders will be looking for animals as well as humans and will work to make sure your animals are safe.

Prepare for the worst. While it may seem gross, a toilet seat left open might be the only emergency source of water your animal has until someone arrives. Your pet may be able to survive for quite a while without food, but not without water.

During a Disaster

Do not leave your pets behind! If it is not safe for you to stay, it is not safe for them. This is where your emergency kit and previous legwork will come in handy. You may need to go somewhere that does not allow pets, like a hospital or shelter.

You may not be able to leave on your own and might need to rely on emergency responders to evacuate. First responders are trained to protect life at all costs. However, they may be unable to evacuate both you and your pets. If you cannot leave with your animals, you have the choice to remain at home with them. Make sure you provide information about you and your animals to initial responders, so that a team that is equipped to included pets knows that you are still in need of evacuation.

Always keep your pets leashed or in a carrier during an evacuation. Even a well-trained pet might run and refuse to return out of fear. You maximize your pet’s chances of safe evacuation if you can keep them under your control.

End Note

PathFinderEX is committed to providing emergency responders with disaster response training that acknowledges the importance of companion animals. We are committed to providing training on including pets in emergency disaster response. Our goal is to include companion animals in all PFX trainings. To support us in this effort, please visit

This blog post was originally published to the PathFinderEX website on June 16, 2020.

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