Disaster Preparedness for Your Pets

My recent post about National Disaster Preparedness Month (happening now) solicited many fabulous disaster preparedness suggestions from you, my wonderful readers. One such reader is Abby Harrison, a certified professional dog trainer located in Houston. She provided me with one of the most comprehensive lists of disaster preparedness tips for pets I’ve ever seen.

Abby created her list based on her own disaster preparation mistakes and oversights she made along the way. By making her plan available here, Abby hopes to help us avoid having to reinvent the disaster preparedness wheel.

Abby describes her plan as a three-layer cake:

First layer: What will be needed if the animal is lost (tags on collar, microchip, current photos).

Second layer: What will be needed if the pet gets sick (first aid, medications, emergency clinic).

Third layer: What will be needed in the midst of a big disaster (fire, hurricane, earthquake, etc.).

Thank you Abby, for giving me permission to share your disaster preparedness tips. The title of your list clearly reflects the natural disasters you and your pets  encounter living in close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico.

30 Tips on How to Prepare Your Pet for a Weather/Hurricane Disaster

  1. Microchip your pet and then file the paperwork. This is probably one of the single best ways to make sure your pet can be returned to you. But it does not do any good if the paperwork is not on file. Things to consider: be sure that your registry service is a national company within the United States and that it is up to date after each move. There is a different chip for international travel. This isn’t like Lojack where the pet can be pinpointed but the good news is that almost all shelters and rescue organizations have the scan guns to detect the chip. Tags on a collar are also good but they can be removed.
  2. Take pictures but not just any pictures. You want a headshot and profiles shots of both sides. Why: Because the left may be different than the right. Now weigh your pet. It’s actually best if you do this every month. Try linking it to something you are already doing once a month like giving heartworm medication or flea goop. Now, develop the film every so often, back it off the camera and off the computer. The film may be bad or the camera may be stolen or the computer may crash. You want this back up if the pet is missing or you evacuate. Sure you may have pictures you don’t need today. But what if you needed them tomorrow?
  3. Keep these current back up pictures someplace special. One suggestion: Keep the copy in the glove box of your car and/or a special file. Sometimes a fun shot of you with your pet can help verify ownership or show some amount of size of the pet relative to a chair. Big, little, and medium mean nothing without something to compare it against.
  4. Weigh your pet frequently. When you have it, it becomes easy to incorporate it as part of the description. Approximate weights as hopefully remembered can be wildly inaccurate.
  5. Teach your pet to be calm within a crate by offering special treats and food when inside it. Even cats can be taught to be inside a crate. Even if you don’t plan to need to put the pet in a crate, having the pet already crate trained if needed means you will not have to teach this while you are stressed and under pressure.
  6. Make an extra tag for your pet’s collar. The blue bone shape at the make a tag machine can fit 4 lines which directs someone to take the pet to your local veterinarian’s office, their address, phone number and comment that the pet can wait for you there. Why not direct someone to take your pet to the one place where they already know you, your pet and your pet’s medical needs? I don’t put my pet’s name on the tag, just phone numbers. I don’t want to make it easy for someone to keep my pet.
  7. Take your last vet bill (where they list the due dates for the next shots) and place it in the glove box of the car. After every visit, replace the older bill with the newer one. You will probably evacuate in the car. Any new vet or kennel (short or longer term) will need this information or will require you to pay for it again as you cannot prove that the pet is current on shots. One less thing to remember to grab.
  8. Transporting your pet: Do you have enough carriers for all the pets? Is the pet contained in a crate or seat belted in? If it’s loose, please restrain it for the same reasons we secure babies. A study was done with crash test dummy dogs loose in the back seat at 30 mph. The 13-pound dog clipped the human dummy in the head before hitting the windshield in 187 milliseconds. Impact weight of the dog was 396 pounds. The 70-pound dog hit the back of the front seat before going over it. It hit the windshield in 387 milliseconds and had an impact of 2100 pounds. Both dogs would not have survived. A millisecond is one 1000th of a second. Besides, a loose dog might try to protect you from the EMTs if you were in an accident.
  9. Have on hand an animal first aid kit. It’s similar to a human first aid kit but has some additional items like a couple of slip leashes (like at the vet’s), some spray bandage liquid and disposable latex gloves (a pair fits in a film canister). A first aid book for animals is good. Animal first aid classes are offered through the Red Cross and by individuals certified to teach this. And there are books too. Being prepared can help your pet in any emergency.
  10. Locate your nearest emergency clinic near where you live and then where you will be if you evacuate. Your pet may be dehydrated or need other medical assistance if traveling. Having that information already means you not lose critical time when your pet is sick.
  11. Always have at least 3 weeks of pet food and 4 weeks of medicines (heartworm, flea and any others your pet takes) on hand before a storm approaches. You don’t know how long you will be without being able to refill those supplies. Although we are often suggested to have 3 days to a week of supplies for ourselves, why not have more on hand so if the situation takes longer than anticipated so your pet does not suffer?
  12. When you purchase your water, did you also count on how much your pet will need? Without air conditioning, you and your pet will need more than usual. And what is usual for your pet? Find out now by measuring how much you put out and how much is left when you replace it with new water.
  13. Planning to evacuate: Write out a plan with leaving in 5 minutes, 20 minutes and 45 minutes. List not only what you would take but also where it is located. We aren’t always given much notification so if we have already planned our list, we are not under additional stress of making any decisions at that time. And, with the stress, you really can forget where something is (Zompolis, Operation Pet Rescue). The Zompolis book really kick-started me to think about the idea of disaster planning for animals. It is about the 1991 Oakland fire.  The author was part of a group that was still reuniting animals back with their owners almost two years after the fire (basically pre-chip and cell phone living made contact difficult). Good stories about happy returns.
  14. Planning to evacuate: Gather the animals first. Block off each room as you search the house for the pet. Otherwise animals, like cats, have a way of quietly wandering into previously checked rooms when your back is turned. It does help if you know already where the common hiding places are.
  15. Planning to evacuate: Test packing the car. Be sure to plan for enough ventilation for pets in plastic crates by placing them in first and then pack up to but not covering the vents. Be sure to orientate the crate door opening towards the car door (not towards the center of the car). Those crates will heat up quickly so perhaps purchase a battery-operated fan to attach to crate door. The good ones have a slot for an ice cube that sends cool mist to the animal. And don’t forget the batteries. Do you have a way of giving the animal water while it is in the crate? Try freezing water in a plastic or freezer proof dish. It will thaw slowly.
  16. Planning to evacuate: Know where you are going – family, friends or hotel. Be sure that wherever it is, that they are aware of just how many pets you plan to arrive with. With the stresses and strains for this travel, you don’t want to show up and be asked to move on because of the pets.
  17. Planning to evacuate: Plan where you are going to stay. Where ever it is, tape a new local phone number on the pet’s collar or tags in case it escapes. Your home answering machine may not have power to take that message that the pet has been found. Cell phones are good but they can have their dead zones. Make it easy (read not long distance) for them to contact you.
  18. Planning to evacuate: Pack a few toys that your pet loves.
  19. Planning to evacuate: Bring the pet bed. Think of it as being similar to wanting your own pillow you are used to. There will already be much disruption to the pet’s life and this can allow some familiar comfort in strange surroundings.
  20. Planning to evacuate: Bring treats that are long lasting with you in the car. What is normally a one-hour trip may take hours and having something to distract during an evacuation isn’t a bad idea.
  21. Planning to evacuate: Prepare now if your pet gets carsick. Get the meds if your vet has prescribed them. One owner lines the crate with a potty pad to make clean up easy. Bring something to cut the smell (like an enzyme cleaner), paper towels to wipe down the crate and zip style bags to contain the smelly trash. It is said that a couple of ginger snap cookies can be helpful for dogs. See if this works for your dog so you still have time to get medicine if it doesn’t.
  22. Planning to stay: Place your pets in their crates during the storm so that they are contained in a safe place. Yes – especially cats. Place this crate in a safe place, preferably in a room without windows or where heavy objects could fall on it. You don’t have to worry about broken glass cutting the pet or a bookcase crushing the crate.
  23. Planning to stay: Place harnesses on all cats. Attach a leash to the harness. If the cat is very small, try one of the companion animal ones at a pet store (safety pin it in case the Velcro pulls apart). Cat collars can slip off or break away and this is the one time you do not want this to potentially happen.
  24. Planning to stay or evacuate: For puppies, kittens or other small animals only who do not wear collars yet: please write a good contact phone number for you and a contact number for a family or friend who does not live in the area affected by the impending disaster on your pet’s belly with a permanent black marker. Generally this is a 2-person operation – 1 who writes and the other to gently keep the pet in a position so this can be done. Use treats, move slowly and be careful. Don’t ever use force on any animal to do this. If the animal is uncooperative – STOP. Don’t do this, as it’s just not worth the risk of being hurt.
  25. Planning for after the disaster: Put down vinyl flannel-backed fabric (cheap table cloths or from a fabric store) or heavy plastic shower curtains so that you have a clean space for your pets and their crates. This should be sturdy enough to usually withstand even dog nails. As you will not know what the floor surfaces may have been exposed to, you will need a clean area for the pets to stay while you clean up.
  26. Planning for after the disaster: Walk your perimeters of the property to see what has changed. The fence may no longer be secure or new animals may have moved in unexpectedly. And, recheck it several times a day because tree limbs don’t fall only during a storm.
  27. Planning for after the disaster: Bleach – not scented, not color safe or special additives – just plain old cheap household bleach. As a disinfectant: 9 parts water to 1 part bleach. As a water purifier: 16 drops of bleach per gallon of water. You will need: bleach, a cup for measuring, a dropper, paper towels and trash bags.
  28. Planning for after the disaster: Poop happens. So, do you have enough litter, shavings, potty pads and plastic trash bags? This may be hardest for the dogs. If your dog is familiar with potty pads, just buy more. For the potty outside dogs, you may not be able to take the dog safely outside for an extended period so you might want to make or buy a sod box. Fill a plastic container with dirt and cover it with grass. For the advanced owner: train your dog to potty on command.
  29. Dealing without electricity – how well would you do? Do you have enough batteries (flashlights, fans, pet fans and phone chargers)? Do you have a manual can opener? All the canned food in the world won’t do you any good if you can’t open it.
  30. Understand that this is stressful for you. Understand that the animals may pick up on your stress. Trying to keep to the existing routines before this all happened can be helpful for everyone.

By the way, Suzanne Brown from Louisville, Kentucky was the lucky winner of the book drawing live link to first disaster preparedness blog post from two weeks ago. Thanks to everyone who participated by sending your disaster preparedness tips to me.

Have you and your pets ever been involved in a disaster? If so, did you find that you were adequately prepared?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.






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7 Comments on “Disaster Preparedness for Your Pets

  1. Thank you for this information. Having checked my system, I find that with very few exceptions I am well-prepared, The few exceptions have been dealt with.

    However, FYI, Dear Kay, we have in California the SCVMA (you remember?) which has an Emergency Group which goes into action as soon as necessary. As a Life Member of SCVMA I also volunteered my services and knowledge re the behaviour of traumatized companion animals, which will be a serious problem.

    I was REFUSED and my offer to volunteer was unceremoniously turned down for a simple reason: I do not have “DVM” after my name.

    This makes me sad and angry – many animals will be alone until found by their owners and they will need the kind of care an animal psychologist and specialist like myself (and there are others) are qualified to provide.

    How many DVMs will have the time (even if they have that special skill) to deal with that?

  2. Re: #7
    Due dates for rabies vaccinations have more to do with local laws than reality. For instance my county finally got around to dumping the yearly requirement this year, 7 years after the state changed the law to requiring rabies vaccinations based on the vaccine label. Ergo, a 3 year vaccine lasts 3 years and a county cannot require they vaccinate yearly with a 3 year vaccine. The laws may be different wherever you’re going so this is critical.

    So, I’d get a photocopy of that vet record with the actual vaccine label stuck on it (usual practice).

    I’d also get copies of all vet records, especially lab tests. If your critters have ongoing medical issues, it’s handy to have the latest results.


  3. Would like to add a note to your “Planning to Evacuate” steps. A number of years ago (post-Katrina) I took part in a state emergency management large-scale exercise with a scenario of accepting people with pets being evacuated by bus to shelters set up at a major university. I was impressed, but learned that in an evacuation/shelter situation, for safety and health reasons, pets will be housed at a secure location near to, but not the same as the shelter for humans. If you can’t handle being separated from your animals even for a short while, then include a safe place to go in your plans and go there sooner rather than later.

  4. Very good info! I had most of that stuff; I did had my back up photos on a personal website, and on some photo hosting sites. I also brought an armful of feed bowls & water buckets, besides the feed bag, & a binder with sleeves with all of the paperwork for each dog. Seven years ago, my spouse & I evacuated our 3 flock guard dogs, APBT, our newborn & toddler in 2 cars, during wildfires in San Diego; other items we needed/used included a couple of muzzles (I had 2 males who lived in different pastures together in my SUV), & some plastic coated wire cables with snaps – the backyard where we went had fence, but not secure for giant breed dogs – some dogs spent some time tethered on the back porch where it was cooler (no AC in the house) & they could move around.

  5. Great information. I would add posting photos to a cloud service. Even if you lose your device you can access from a library or other device to print or send to search personnel.

  6. Thank you Dr. Kay and Abby Harrison! This is the best I have seen too. I will print it out and go over it step by step and follow through. At a glance, I saw several items I can do right away, like shot records and photos in the car. Owning a boarding/training kennel, I have had several clients move away and lose shot records. They have called me to fax them when they could not reach their veterinarians, weekends, etc.
    Abby, this is fabulous! I love the check each room and close it off item too.
    Thank you again, both of you.

  7. Fantastic information and lots of tips I am going to use. I especially like the tag with your veterinarian information. With seven (small dogs) I need to add another crate or two to my back up plan. Thanks for posting this. I saved it to PDF for future reference.