Disaster planning for your pet

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Disasters come in many forms – from hurricanes, floods, and wildfires to medical emergencies and hazardous chemical spills, and can occur anywhere, anytime. 

The best way to protect your family from a disaster is to have a plan. If you are a pet owner, that plan should include your pets.

If you must evacuate, find a safe shelter for your pets. If it's not safe for you, it's not safe for them. Pets left behind can become injured, lost or ill.  Be prepared for the day when you and your pets may have to leave your home.

Assemble a portable pet disaster supplies kit.

Your pet disaster supplies kit should include:

  • Current photos of your pets in case they get lost.
  • Food, water, and medicines for five days. If you include canned pet food in your disaster kit, don’t forget to include a can opener.
  • Medical and veterinary records, as well as information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems and the name and number of your veterinarian.  
  • Carrier, pet beds and toys. Carriers should be large enough for the pet to stand comfortably, turn around and lie down. 
  • Litter box and litter.
  • Leashes and muzzles.

This kit should be kept in an easily accessible location and should be in containers that are sturdy and easily carried.  If you are in an area prone to seaonsal disasters that might require immediate evacuation, you should consider creating a kit to keep in your vehicle.

Plan Ahead to Find a Safe Place to Take Your Pets

Many disaster shelters do not accept pets because of health and safety regulations. As a result, you should plan ahead to make certain that your pet can stay with you if you evacuate.  Do not wait until the disaster occurs before you start researching your options.  Work with your local emergency management and humane organizations to develop sheltering alternatives for people with pets.

  • Contact hotels and motels outside your immediate area to check policies on accepting pets. Be sure to ask if “no pet” policies would be waived in the event of an emergency.
  • Ask friends, relatives or others outside your area whether they could shelter your animals in an emergency.  If you have multiple pets be prepared to house them separately.
  • Prepare a list of animal shelters, boarding facilities and veterinarians who could shelter animals in an emergency.

If You Don’t Evacuate

  • Identify a safe area of your home where you can all stay together, including your pets.
  • Keep dogs on leashes and cats in carriers. Be sure they are wearing identification tags.
  • Have medications and a supply of pet food and water inside watertight containers.

What To Do As a Disaster Approaches

  • Don’t wait to get ready.  For many disasters, you may have hours or days advance notice.
  • Call to confirm emergency shelter arrangements for you and your pets.
  • Check to be sure your pet disaster supplies are ready to take at a moment's notice.
  • Bring all pets into the house so you won't have to search for them if you have to leave in a hurry.
  • Make sure all dogs and cats are wearing collars and up-to-date identification tags.

In Case You're Not Home

In the event that a disaster occurs while you are not at home, make advance arrangements for a neighbor or family member to take your pets and meet you at a predetermined location. Make sure that the person is comfortable around your pets, knows where they are likely to be, knows where your disaster supplies are kept and has a key to your home.  If you use a pet-sitting service, it may be able to help, but discuss this possibility well in advance.

After a Disaster

Don’t allow your pets to roam loose; walk pets on a leash until they become re-oriented to their home - often familiar scents and landmarks may be altered and pets could easily be confused and become lost. Also, downed power lines, reptiles brought in with high water and debris can all pose a threat for animals after a disaster.

If pets cannot be found after a disaster, contact the local animal control office to find out where lost animals can be reclaimed. Bring along a picture of your pet if possible.

Get your pets back into their normal routines as soon as possible. After a disaster, animals can become aggressive or defensive - monitor their behavior. If these problems persist or if your pet seems to be having any health problems, talk to your veterinarian.

Additional Resources:

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Content on this page was developed from materials provided by The Humane Society of the United States and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management