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Disaster Preparedness for Pet Owners

Earthquakes, floods, wildfires, hazardous material spills—man-made or natural disasters can strike anytime, anywhere. While no two disasters are the same, taking precautionary steps now will give you a head start on dealing with a catastrophic situation.

Put a preparedness plan in place now to keep you and your pets safe. Remember, your pets depend on you for their safety.

If You Evacuate, Take Your Pets

Pets are not better off left at home if you evacuate—if it isn’t safe for you to be there, it’s not safe for them either. Animals left at home can be injured, lost, or killed. Animals left inside your home can escape through storm damage, such as broken windows; those turned loose to fend for themselves are likely to become victims of exposure, starvation, predators, contaminated food or water, or accidents.

Never leave your dog tied or chained outside in a disaster situation or if you evacuate your home.

If you think you might need to evacuate, bring your pets into the house and confine them so you can leave with them quickly. Make sure your disaster supplies are ready to go, including your pet emergency kit.

You will need sturdy leashes, harnesses and/or and carriers to transport your pets safely and to ensure that they can't escape. A carrier should be large enough for an animal to stand comfortably, turn around, and lie down. Remember, your pet may have to stay in the carrier for hours at a time if you take shelter away from home.

In Case You're Not Home

An evacuation order may come, or a disaster may strike, when you're at work or out of the house. Make arrangements well in advance for a trusted neighbor to take your pets and meet you at a specified location.

A sticker in your window indicating that there are pets living in your home will let rescue or emergency personnel know that there are animals inside who may need help.

Make Sure Your Pet is Wearing ID

Your pets should be wearing up-to-date identification at all times. A collar with a tag is a must. On the tag, put the phone number of a friend or relative outside of your immediate area; you'll want to make sure the call is answered and you may not be home, or you may not have telephone or even cell phone service. Collars can come off, however, so talk with your veterinarian about additional, permanent identification options, including microchipping and/or tattooing.

Find a Safe Place Ahead of Time

While legislation passed by Congress after Hurricane Katrina will now allow the use of federal funds to help states create pet-friendly emergency shelter facilities, it's still a good idea to plan ahead and find a friend, boarding kennel, veterinary facility, or hotel or motel that could take your pet in the event of an emergency. Call ahead for a reservation at the facility as soon as you think you might have to leave your home. Most boarding facilities require proof of current rabies and distemper vaccines. Keep copies of these and your pet's other medical records in your emergency kit.

If You Don't Evacuate

If your family and pets must wait out a storm or other disaster at home, identify a safe area of your home where you can all stay together. Stock up on newspapers, plastic bags, cleanser, and disinfectants to properly handle pet waste.

After the Disaster: When You Return Home

Don't allow your pets to roam loose at first. Familiar landmarks and smells might be gone, and your pet will probably be disoriented. Pets can get lost easily in such situations. For a few days, keep dogs on leashes and keep cats in carriers inside the house. If your house has been damaged, they could escape and become lost.

If your pet becomes lost, here are some tips for helping to locate your pet:

  • Check the neighborhood (or area where the pet became lost), as pets have been known to be found close to home even several days later. Put up signs with your pet's photo and your phone number.
  • Contact your microchip registration company. Once notified, they may activate a lost pet recovery network and/or place your lost pet on a "hot sheet."
  • Contact your veterinarian. If your pet is wearing a rabies tag, the number can be traced to your veterinarian.
  • Contact animal control, shelters and humane organizations in your area (Oregon). If possible, visit them daily to see if your pet has been brought in.
  • Place a lost pet ad in your local newspaper and/or online.
  • Check the paper daily for "found pet" ads.

Comfort your pet. In the event of an emergency, your pet will probably be just as frightened as you. Give it attention and affection; but don’t force it. Let your pet come to you. If behavior issues appear or worsen, consult with your veterinarian. Just as people can be traumatized by emergency situations, so can pets.

Prepare a Pet Emergency Kit

Pack in waterproof bags in a backpack:

  • Food and water for 3 days to a week
  • Food and water bowls
  • Pet's prescription drugs (rotate frequently)
  • Pet’s medical record
  • Pet’s vaccination records, including rabies and distemper
  • Authorization for medical treatment in your absence
  • Emergency phone numbers, including local humane shelters and emergency animal hospitals
  • Your veterinarian’s phone number
  • Extra leash and collar
  • Current photos of your pets (to prove ownership)
  • Towel or small blanket for sleeping
  • Small plastic bags for waste disposal (dog)
  • Small litter box with litter (cat)
  • Favorite toy or treat
  • First aid items

Published: March 9, 2009;    Updated: January 19, 2012

Filed Under: Emergency Care, Safety, Disaster Preparedness

Author: Oregon Veterinary Medical Association