Disaster Preparedness for Pets

Frequent natural disasters seem to be the “new norm” – hardly a day goes by without reports of hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, fires, earthquakes, toxic chemical spills, etc. This page provides information on how disasters affect your pets and what you can do to help them.

Much of the information for this page was developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in consultation with the American Kennel Club, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, American Veterinary Medical Association, and The Humane Society of the United States.

When Hurricane Katrina resulted in massive flooding in New Orleans, many people refused to be evacuated without their pets with often dire results for both them and their pets. Since then, agencies involved in rescue have changed their policies and you may now be able to take your pet(s) with you if you must be evacuated.

If you are like millions of animal owners nationwide, your pet is an important member of your household. The likelihood that you and your animals will survive an emergency such as a fire or flood, tornado or terrorist attack depends largely on emergency planning done today. Whether you decide to stay put in an emergency or evacuate to a safer location, you will need to make plans in advance for yourself and your pets.

Keep in mind that what’s best for you is typically what’s best for your animals. If you must evacuate, take your pets with you if at all possible. However, if you are going to a public shelter, it is important to understand that animals may not be allowed inside. Plan in advance for shelter alternatives that will work for both you and your pets.

Prepare a Disaster Kit!

Think first about the basics for survival, particularly food and water. Consider two kits. (1) Set aside everything you and your pets will need to stay where you are. (2) The other kit should be a lightweight, smaller version you can take with you if you and your pets have to get away. Be sure to review your kits regularly to ensure that their contents, especially foods and medicines, are fresh.

Food: Keep at least three days of food in an airtight, waterproof container.

Water: Store at least three days of water specifically for your pets in addition to water you need for yourself and your family.

Medicines and medical records: Keep an extra supply of medicines your pet takes on a regular basis in a waterproof container.

First Aid Kit: Talk to your veterinarian about what is most appropriate for your pet’s emergency medical needs. Most kits should include cotton bandage rolls, bandage tape and scissors; antibiotic ointment; flea and tick prevention; latex gloves, isopropyl alcohol and saline solution. Include a pet first aid reference book.

Collar with ID Tag, Harness or Leash: Your pet should wear a collar with its rabies tag and identification at all times. Include a backup leash, collar and ID tag in your pet’s emergency supply kit.

In addition, place copies of your pet’s registration information, adoption papers, vaccination documents and medical records in a clean plastic bag or waterproof container and add them to your kit. Even if you never have to face an emergency situation, you should talk to your veterinarian about permanent identification such as micro-chipping, and enrolling your pet in a recovery database. Often in disaster situations where pets are free-roaming, rescue groups will pick them up. They may end up in shelters far away, even in another state. If you are separated from your pet, you will have the best chance of being reunited if your pet is micro-chipped. Keeping your emergency contact information up to date and listed with a reliable recovery database is always important.

Crate or Other Pet Carrier: If you need to evacuate in an emergency take your pets and animals with you provided that it is practical to do so. In many cases, you will need a sturdy, safe, comfortable crate or carrier ready for transporting your pet. The carrier should be large enough for your pet to stand, turn around and lie down.

Sanitation: Include pet litter and litter box if appropriate, newspapers, paper towels, plastic trash bags and household chlorine bleach to provide for your pet’s sanitation needs. You can use bleach as a disinfectant (dilute nine-parts water to one-part bleach), or in an emergency you can also use it to purify water. Use 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented or color safe bleaches, or those with added cleaners.

A Picture of You and Your Pet Together: If you become separated from your pet during an emergency, a picture of you and your pet together will help you document ownership and allow others to assist you in identifying your pet. Include detailed information about species, breed, age, sex, color and distinguishing characteristics.

Familiar Items: Put favorite toys, treats or bedding in your kit. Familiar items can help reduce stress for your pet.

Plan What You Will Do in an Emergency

Assess the situation. Depending on your circumstances and the nature of the emergency the first important decision is whether you stay put or get away. You should understand and plan for both possibilities. In any emergency, local authorities may or may not immediately be able to provide information on what is happening and what you should do. However, watch TV, listen to the radio or check the Internet for instructions. If you’re specifically told to evacuate, shelter-in-place or seek medical treatment, do so immediately.

Create a plan to get away. Plan how you will assemble your pets and anticipate where you will go. Plan your route. If you must evacuate, take your pets with you if practical. If you go to a public shelter, keep in mind your animals may not be allowed inside. If possible, secure appropriate lodging in advance depending on the number and type of animals in your care. Consider family or friends willing to take in you and your pets in an emergency. Other options may include: a hotel or motel that takes pets or a boarding facility, such as a kennel or veterinary hospital that is near an evacuation facility or your family’s meeting place. Find out before an emergency happens if any of these facilities in your area might be viable options for you and your pets.

Develop a buddy system. Plan with neighbors, friends or relatives to make sure that someone is available to care for or evacuate your pets if you are unable to do so. Talk with your pet care buddy about your evacuation plans and show them where you keep your pet’s emergency supply kit. Also designate specific locations, one in your immediate neighborhood and another farther away where you will meet in an emergency.

Gather contact information and addresses of vets in the area you would be likely to go if you must evacuate, also area animal control agencies and emergency veterinary hospitals. Keep one written copy of these phone numbers with you and one in your pet’s emergency supply kit. Remember, in a disaster situation, you may not have phone service.

Obtain “Pets Inside” stickers and place them on your doors or windows, including information on the number and types of pets in your home to alert firefighters and rescue workers. Consider putting a phone number on the sticker where you could be reached in an emergency. And, if time permits, remember to write the words “Evacuated with Pets” across the stickers, should you flee with your pet.

Pet Behavior During a Disaster

Following a disaster, familiar scents and landmarks may be altered. Pets may become confused and lost, so it is critical to maintain close contact with and leash pets when they go outside. Also, snakes and other potentially dangerous animals displaced by the disaster may have migrated into the area (especially after flooding). In addition, downed power lines can also be a hazard for people and their pets. Be aware of your surroundings and protect your pet(s) and yourself.

As with children and even adults, disaster-related stress may change a pet’s behavior. Normally quiet and friendly pets may become aggressive or defensive. Watch your animals closely, and be cautious around other animals – even pets you know. If you evacuate, take your pets with you if at all possible.

Contact local emergency management for information regarding availability of emergency shelters for pets. However, if you have no alternative but to leave your pet at home, there are some precautions you must take, but remember that leaving your pet(s) at home alone can place your animal(s) in great danger! Confine your pet(s) to a safe area inside – NEVER leave your pet(s) chained outside! Leave them loose inside your home with food and plenty of water.

Locating a Missing Pet After a Disaster

FEMA supports local efforts to search for and rescue pets after a disaster and you may be able to locate your missing pet using supported resources.

Pets displaced by a disaster are frequently kept in shelters and by organizations in the State where the disaster occurred. Contact your local humane society, animal welfare organization, County or State Animal Response Team to locate the shelters or organizations near you. Additionally, a member of the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition may be able to assist in locating the appropriate local response organization.

The search and rescue of pets lost during disasters is undertaken in a coordinated effort between State and local government and local animal response groups with support from FEMA and a range of national animal welfare organizations (such as National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition, the Humane Society of the United States, and Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams).

If you are trying to locate pets lost as a result of a disaster, contact your local or State emergency management agency.

You can check www.211.org or dial 211 to determine if an area has additional services which can assist in locating pets or caring for pets after a disaster. The 211 center’s referral specialists question callers and then access databases of resources available from private and public health and human service agencies to match the callers’ needs to available resources, and link or refer them directly to an agency or organization that can help.