How to Prepare Your Pet For a Natural Disaster
Hurricane season is in full force. A vet breaks down what to include in an emergency go-bag for your pet.
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Hurricane Ian is currently striking southwest Florida with catastrophic storm surge, winds, and flooding — and will undoubtedly leave people and pets in dire straits in its wake.
While the pandemic lockdown gave us all a course in long-term survival, disasters like hurricanes, wildfires, and earthquakes call for quick, decisive action that’s almost impossible without a plan. This is especially true with the x-factor of a beloved pet you need to keep safe. The post-apocalyptic films make it look so easy: a lone survivor with their dog, moving through a wasteland, carrying all that they own on their backs. The reality is less cinematic (but no less scary): crates, toiletries, medication, phone lists...
Even as we near the end of National Preparedness Month, it’s never a bad time to learn some pet disaster-prep to limit stress and drama later. So, how do you prepare for a hurricane when you have a pet? Ready.gov boils prepping down to three points: make a plan, build an emergency kit, and stay informed. Here’s how that looks for pet safety, with tips from veterinarian Dr. Gary Richter.
1. Plan to Stay & Plan to Go
If you stay, do it safely. Identify a secure area of your home, close off hidden areas where nervous cats may try to hide, and remove toxic or dangerous products from the safe space. If there is an open fireplace, vent, pet door, or similar opening in the house, close it off with plastic sheeting and strong tape. And give a trusted neighbor, friend, or family member a copy of your house key in case you find yourself blocked in — ideally someone your pet knows and trusts.
If your home is unsafe for you, it’s unsafe for your pet. Be prepared to leave before you’re ordered to. And since most American Red Cross shelters cannot accept pets (service animals that assist people with disabilities are allowed) because of health and safety regulations, have a few options for your pet’s temporary housing. The American Humane Society recommends that you flag a few dog-friendly destinations: hotels, homes of friends or family, or kennels outside your immediate area.
2. Build an Emergency Kit
This is basically a go-bag for your pet. Dr. Richter recommends these crucial items:
Folding dog crate or cat carrier
Sherpa’s classic crates, dog carriers, and cat carriers are soft, foldable, and secure.
Pet food and water
Dr. Richter recommends preparing in advance: “a one-week supply of cat food or dog food, kept in watertight containers. This is especially important if your pet has specific dietary needs.”
Spare leash, collar and/or harness
“This is really important and really easy to forget,“ says Dr. Richter. “Collars and leashes can get lost or destroyed, and they are crucial to keeping your pet safe.” Indeed, the last thing you need is to have to scramble after or carry an animal whose leash or collar has gone missing. Whatever happens, you need at least one free hand.
Assume space is limited and you’ll have to carry what you need. Bowls like the ones we recommend in our car safety gear article are easy to carry.
Packable bed or blanket
Most plush dog beds can be compressed for easy portage. Ideally, have one your dog is already comfortable with.
Medication and flea treatment
Especially important if these are taken daily.
Copy of pet health records and proof of vaccines
Along with your vet’s contact info. Says Dr. Richter, “This is super important since all animals tend to have different medical needs.”
Toys, treats, and beloved items
“Be sure to pack an object that your pet responds to and finds comforting,” says Dr. Richter. “I recommend taking a towel with your scent on it, and placing it at the bottom of your pet’s crate.”
From cat litter and a portable litter box to poop bags and dog grooming wipes, pack whatever you can to keep your pet family clean and healthy on the move.
Your and your pet’s ID
Have proof you belong to your pet. Microchipping your dog or cat is the best way to ensure their long-term safety, especially if you get separated during a disaster. Also make sure they are wearing an ID tag on their collar, plus always keep dogs leashed and cats in carriers during moments of greatest flux. Finally, it can’t hurt to carry a photo of you with your pet in case records go missing and you find yourself in a situation at a shelter needing to prove ownership. Says Dr. Richter: “The truth is, there are a lot of Golden Retrievers out there and they all look like Golden Retrievers! Microchipping your pet is the best way to prove ownership and help locate them if you’re separated.”
CBD oil or sedatives
CBD tinctures and treats have a natural calming effect on pets and are perfectly safe. If your pet is high strung in general and you fear they will become a flight risk on the move, ask your vet in advance for sedatives or situational anti-anxiety medication.
Watch this video on how to build a pet disaster kit from The Humane Society:
3. Stay Informed
Local emergency management offices, animal shelters, and animal control departments regularly share pet safety tips as threats play out in emergency situations. Look up the best resources in your town and have their contact info at the ready. Also:
Follow emergency wireless alerts for news and updates from local and state officials.
Download the FEMA app for weather alerts from the National Weather Service, for up to five different U.S. locations.
Observe your pets closely after the fact — make sure you’re in control of them around damaged fences, risen waters, or other unstable conditions. Missing scent markers can disorient pets enough that they can’t find their way home on their own. Be aware of nose- or paw-level hazards like spilled chemicals, debris, or other disaster aftermath. And be patient with any new behavioral problems and consult a vet if they persist (pets can suffer from PTSD too). The good news is you’ve weathered the storm together. The better news is you’ve grown a bit together.
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Chris Norris is a writer, reporter, author, and longtime companion to West Highland terrier Gus, recently departed but intensely loved. Chris Norris is has written for The New Yorker, New York Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, GQ, Details, and NPR’s “All Things Considered.” He lives in New York City with his wife and 10-year-old son.