June: National Pet Preparedness Month

If you don't want to leave them behind, plan ahead.

If you don’t want to leave them behind, plan ahead.

Have you ever watched the news after a disaster hits and seen how many pets had to be left behind? Have you heard how many pets become lost and are never to be reunited with their families? Disasters come in all forms; tornadoes, forest fires, hurricanes, earth quakes, and snow storms to name a few. Some disasters will make you “batten down the hatches” while others will cause you to evacuate your home. Ohio weather can change in an instant, but luckily, we don’t have to deal with hurricanes or tsunamis so the need for evacuation is less. Unfortunately, we do have to deal with occasional tornadoes, flash flooding, and let’s not forget the SNOW!  Just like you would make plans for your families survival, plans should also be made with your pet’s survival in mind.  You may have a “bug-out-bag” for yourself, but what about the needs of your pet? With a few plans made ahead of time, you might never have to be separated from them during an emergency and if you are separated, I have a few tips to help you get reunited.

Preparing for an emergency ahead of time will allow you to think of different scenarios and what you’ll need to deal with each. I’ve often heard that the best type of planning is when you plan for the unexpected and expect the worst. If you live in an area where tornadoes are common, plan for tornadoes, electrical outages and possible flooding. If forest fires or flooding are common in your area, plan on several different evacuation routes. When preparing for hurricanes, you’ll need to prepare for power outages, possible heat waves and flooding. With earthquakes, plan again on power outages, no running water and possible tsunamis. While you are making these plans of preparation, think ahead on whether your pet will be with you or not. Most of the people I associate with are extreme animal lovers and the thought of leaving a pet behind is out of the question. I feel that if it’s not safe for me or my family, then my 4 legged family members are coming too. Determining where you will go when you evacuate  with animals can be limited. Most shelters won’t accept pets, so be sure to keep this in mind while planning. Look for shelters and family outside your area, that will allow you and your  pets to stay with them until the emergency is over.

Now, our hospital cares mostly for cats, dogs and pocket pets so I will focus on how to prepare for an emergency for them. If you have other animals like goats, pigs, horses and cows, I only have a few tips to share because, honestly, that type of prep work is on a completely different level! I suggest that while you read the questions that need to be asked and the tips that I have gathered, take notes of what is important to you and follow up with your own research. What may work for you may not work for your neighbor, but that’s part of what being prepared is about, finding out what’s best for you. I only own cats and dogs so I can only tell you about the prep work for larger pets from what I’ve learned through my own research. I learned that when you’re thinking about others being a caregiver for your pets/animals, keep in mind that if you are unable to get home and your animals need to be evacuated, who is able to load them onto trailers and are they able to drive such trailers. You will also need to make sure that wherever they are being transported to, has the ability to shelter and feed them adequately. If evacuating the animals is not an option, the owners must decide if it would be in the animals’ best interest to shelter them or to turn them out. Whatever the decision, be sure to allow plenty of access to water and food. And as you’ll read in the next paragraph, ensuring all animals have some form of identification is always important but even more so doing emergencies and disasters.

Place stickers like this in windows for authorities to see

Place stickers like this in windows for authorities to see

Micro chipping, tagging or tattooing your pet is a very important step in securing your pets’ I.D. For whatever reason you get separated, you’ll want them to have it! I prefer the microchip over tattooing but depending upon the species and the owner, one may work better than the other for that individual. If you choose to do the microchip, be sure to always have your contact information current with the company that administered it. There’s nothing worse than finding a chip in a pet and calling the number associated with it, just for it to be disconnected or a wrong number. Same goes for any tags that they might be wearing; make sure the address and/or phone numbers are current. The next thing you’ll want to do is to place emergency or rescue stickers on a couple windows of your home. These stickers can usually be found at pet stores, animal hospitals and even your local fire department. They normally want you to list what animals are inside, an emergency contact number and possibly your vet’s name and number. I also advise going to a website called Smart911, where you are able to list all people and animals in the house. The site allows you to go into such details as attaching pictures of everyone, including pets, the layout of your house and much more! Not all 911 call centers are actively using this new technology but it is gaining popularity and will be a great tool when dealing with evacuations of home.

One of the next steps in preparing for a disaster is to make a “bug out bag” for your pet. In the event of an emergency, the first question many find themselves asking is should I stay or should I go? Many different variables will impact your decision and this is why we need to be prepared for all scenarios. Sometimes due to the weather, the emergency might be whether or not you’re even ABLE to get home. Who is to care for your pets if you can’t get to them? Does this person have a key to your home and know where you keep the food, litter, medicine and whatever it will take for them to care for your pet? Are they comfortable with giving medicines and do they know the tricks it usually takes to give them? Do they know your pet’s favorite hiding place and how to coax them out? I suggest having two separate bags, one to take with you when you evacuate together and a second if you have no choice but to leave your pet behind or for a caregiver to use if you are unable to get home. Included in the pack that stays at home, should be some notes and tips on pets’ behavior, food and/or medicine schedule. Here’s a list of some items you’ll most likely need in your pet’s “bug out bag”:

bug out list

List of items for your pets’ survival bag


Regardless of the cause for the emergency/disaster, thinking and preparing ahead for the unexpected will  help you and your family deal with less stress and worry when the disaster actually hits.

If you have decided to stay at home, here are a few tips to help you prepare for the upcoming emergency/disaster.

  • Designate a safe room and stock it with food, medical supplies water and crates or carriers
  • As soon as local authorities say that trouble is on the way, bring all pets inside (their instincts have already told them if it’s a storm and they may hide before you can get them to safety)
  • In areas that are expected to lose power, fill up bathtubs and sinks with water to increase your access during the outage, especially during warmer months where heat exhaustion can become your next emergency
  • Cats should be placed in carriers but if you decide not to crate them, be sure to block all hiding spots so they can’t escape into dangerous areas
  • Dogs should have collars and leashes on at all times (the stress of an emergency situation can cause pets to act out of character)
  • To help prevent medical issues and more stress, keep pets on their regular feeding and medicine schedule as much as possible
  • Listen to the radio for updates, telling you when it’s safe or that an evacuation is pending or mandatory

If you have no choice but to evacuate without your pet, here are some preventative measures you can take to reduce their risk of danger.

  • Leave them loose inside the home, upstairs for flooding, everything else on the lowest level
  • Make sure they have I.D. tags on, especially if they are not micro chipped
  • Block off utility rooms or other dangerous areas and hiding spots
  • Leave plenty of food available (leaving moist food will help them need less water)
  • Leave access to lots of water (fill the tub, raise the seat on the toilet and prop open bathroom door)
  • Place a large, clear notice outside your home, stating what pets are inside
  • Leave a “bug out bag” behind with your name and number, pet’s vaccine and medical history, and medicines

If you have decided to evacuate and are able to take your pets, follow these suggestions

  • Leave early if you can…animals can sense weather conditions and can exhibit irrational behavior, making the situation more difficult
  • Grab your pet’s “bug out bag” after you have grabbed your own
  • Be adamant about keeping them on leashes or in carriers FOR THEIR SAFETY
  • Be sure to have current vaccine history (If you are a G.A.H. client, that can be found here)
  • Feed at regular feeding times with canned food implemented into the diet to increase water intake

Mother nature may have more in store for you than just bad weather.

Mother nature may have more in store for you than just bad weather.

After the storm/disaster is over or after you have returned home, don’t allow your pets to roam loose. Familiar landmarks and smells may no longer be available, causing your pet to become disoriented and lost. Until a complete survey of your home and surrounding area has been done, it is in the pet’s best interest to keep pets in crates or on leashes.  While surveying the area, keep in mind that depending upon the cause of the emergency, what you’re looking for will differ. Some of the most important things to watch out for are downed power lines, fast running water, contaminated water and unstable structures damaged by the storm or fire. Depending upon where you live, you might also want to keep an eye out for local wildlife seeking refuge in your area. Mother Nature might have more in store for you than just bad weather!

I hope this article has helped you with preparing your pets’ for an emergency. I highly suggest doing as I stated earlier and looking into places you can go that will allow you to take your pets, check in with your neighbors and see who can care for your pets if you can’t make it home and for those larger animals, find out who can load them on a trailer and drive them to safety. For more information on how to prepare your pets for an emergency, go to ready.gov/animals or call 1-800-BE-READY.