Humans aren’t the only ones who suffer during disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes (not to mention the numerous other types of disasters which could strike). Our pets also suffer too – often to a worse extent because they don’t have access to aid supplies like we do.
After virtually every major disaster, we see a huge surge in stray dogs and cats. During hurricane Katrina, over 600,000 animals were abandoned or stranded. Despite those heart-warming stories about volunteers going to rescue pets from flooded buildings, most pets die in these conditions.
Don’t let your pet be a victim. Disaster prepping should involve your entire family – including pets. .
Step 1: Stockpile Food and Water for Your Pet
Most disaster organizations, such as the Red Cross and FEMA, recommend having at least 3 days of emergency supplies at home. For reasons I talk about in this post, you should really have at least 30 days of supplies stockpiled. This also applies for your pets in case you need to shelter in place.
Stockpiling Pet Food
The same rules for stockpiling human food also apply to pet food.
- Canned food is the easiest option
- Kibble should be repackaged in sealed mylar bags. This protects the food from spoilage.
- Put the mylar bags of kibble into 5 gallon buckets. This protects the food from damage, such as from getting torn open during structural damage to the home.
Stockpiling Water for Your Pet
- How much water to store: Take the weight of the animal in pounds and divide it by 8. This is the amount of water they need per day in cups.
- Water in plastic bottles must be rotated: Water doesn’t go bad, but the plastic bottles holding the water will eventually start to leak. For this reason, you must rotate your water stockpile (more on rotating water here).
- Or store water in barrels: Unlike cheap plastic bottles, water barrels won’t decompose and start to leak. You can store water in these for years without having to rotate.
Step 2: Prepare a Pet First Aid Kit
Scarily, 44% of Americans don’t have a first aid kit at home! I suggest taking a look at this first aid checklist and getting all the items on it.
Most of the first aid items for pets are the same as for humans. For example, you will need things like antiseptic cream and bandages for treating wounds.
There are some items specific to pets that should also be in the first aid kit though:
- No chew bandage
- Flea and tick control items
- Flea comb and tick tweezers
- Anti-worm medications
Step 3: Make a Plan for Dealing with Pet Waste
Hopefully you already have a plan for dealing with human waste during an emergency, because the plumbing may be down. The best solution for most people is the two bucket emergency toilet system.
For pets, you will need to make sure you have lots (lots!) of these stockpiled:
- Extra trash bags for dog waste
- Cat litter
- Newspaper (dogs can go to the bathroom on it when sheltering in place; it can be torn up into strips if you run out of cat litter)
Step 4: Make an Evacuation Plan
During emergencies, a lot of pet owners are faced with a tough decision:
Risk death by staying at home?
Or leave the pet behind when evacuating?
Luckily, some disaster shelters are actually starting to take in pets – as was the case during Hurricane Matthew. However, don’t count on being able to easily take your pet with you to a disaster shelter. You’ll need to have your own plan in place.
- Contact local emergency management office: Ask if they have any shelters which take in owners and their pets
- Make a list of pet shelters: Vet clinics, boarding facilities, and local animal shelters may take in pets during emergencies. Contact them to ask and make a list that you can call in event of an emergency.
- Make your own evacuation plan: Instead of relying on the government to provide shelter during an emergency, plan your own shelter. Contact friends and relatives outside your area and ask if you can shelter with them. Or plan a “bug out location.”
- Make a list of pet-friendly hotels: You might need to stay at a hotel on the way to your shelter. Have a list of pet-friendly hotels on your route written down.
- Have pet carriers ready to go: Keep your pet’s carrier or harness ready to go. Write down your info on the side of the carrier.
- Consider transportation methods: During emergencies, the roads may be blocked. So, don’t rely on your own vehicle as a transportation method. You might be able to bring your pet in a bus, but you’ll need to have a carrier.
- Get a Pet Alert sticker: In case you need to leave your pet behind while evacuating, have a Pet Alert sticker on your window so rescuers can get to it. Order a Free Pet Safety Pack from the ASPCA here.
Step 5: Make a “Bug Out Bag” for Your Pet
If you are new to the prepping community, the term “bug out bag” might seem too doomsday-ish. But it is really just a bag which contains everything you need to survive through an emergency. This is something everyone should have packed!
If you don’t have a Bug Out Bag packed yet, use this Bug Out Bag checklist.
For pets, you will also need a bug out bag. Keep it next to their carrier in case you have to evacuate. It should include:
- Food packets – vacuumed sealed
- Collapsible water and food bowl
- Water purification tablets
- Emergency light stick
- Collar, leash, and muzzle
- Spare tags
- A toy (optional)
- Evacuation documents (see below)
Step 6: Prepare Evacuation Documents for Your Pet
Don’t even think of evacuating with your pets if you don’t have their documents with you! During Hurricane Katrina, a lot of pet owners had their pets euthanized because they couldn’t prove that the pets were up-to-date on vaccines.
*We humans also need to keep our documents ready for evacuation. Here are what documents you need ready for emergency evacuation.
For pets, put the following documents in a waterproof binder. Keep them with your bug out bag.
- Handout with info about the pet (including photo) in case you get separated
- A photo of the pet
- Microchip number
- Owner contact number
- Backup contact info (in case you cannot be reached)
- Handout with boarding instructions
- Vaccination history
- Pertinent medical history
Step 7: Training Your Pet for Disaster Preparedness
This is probably more prepping than most people will do, but I urge you to consider it! Disasters are also stressful for pets and training them could help save their life – or even save your life.
Here are some ways to train your pet for disaster preparedness (some apply only to dogs):
- Barking Control: Your dog should know when to bark and when not to bark – such as if you want your dog to bark at an intruder or not bark if you have to hide.
- Kennel Training: In case you have to put your pet in a kennel for a long time
- Carrier Training: Your pet may be in its carrier a long time, such as while in a shelter or when evacuating.
- Staying: You don’t want your pet running off and getting lost in the crowd.
- Attack on Command: Do I need to explain why?
- Desensitization: Disasters can mean huge crowds, loud noises, smoke, fire, gunshots, and many other things which could frighten your pet. Get them used to these stimuli so they remain obedient throughout the disaster.