If a natural disaster is heading your way, you’ll need a plan for both you and your furry friends.

By Austin Cannon
September 02, 2020
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One important thing to bring with you while evacuating: your dog.
| Credit: redonion1515 / Getty

Whether it’s wildfires, hurricanes, tornados, or even the rare derecho, we unfortunately live in a world full of natural disasters. And sometimes, they arrive at your doorstep. 

Hopefully that never happens, but if it does, you need to know not only what to do with yourself—but with your dogs and cats, too. They’re a part of the family after all. 

The key is to be proactive. Don’t begin the process once you see floodwaters or get the hurricane warning. 

“Being prepared is absolutely the most important thing because [disasters] can all of a sudden pop up,” says Deborah Mandell, the pet safety adviser for the American Red Cross. 

Anywhere in the country is susceptible to emergencies, so here’s how to prepare your dog or cat for an emergency.

Never Leave Your Pet 

First things first. Evacuating because of an oncoming storm or wildfire and leaving your pet behind in the house is simply not an option. You might not be able to access your home for days or weeks after the event. 

“If you need to evacuate, you have to take your pets. If it’s not safe for you, it’s not safe for them,” Mandell says.

Pet lovers will oftentimes prefer to stay behind to ride out storms with their dogs or cats, she adds. In those cases, you should be prepared with a shelter-in-place plan for your pet, too. Know where you and your pet(s) will be safest. 

Assembling a Pet Emergency Kit

Start gathering key elements of your pet’s “go bag” before there’s any hint of a disaster, setting aside items so you can gather them quickly in case of an emergency. The Red Cross recommends building a kit that includes leashes and harnesses; carriers; food, water, and bowls; and any medication your pet needs. 

You’ll also need your pet’s medical and vaccination records in case you need to visit an unfamiliar veterinarian or boarding facility when you’ve evacuated. Confirm that the contact information linked to your pet’s microchip is updated, and that your pet has their ID tags. It’s also a good idea to carry photos of them in case you get separated. 

If you can, bring some comfort items, too: your dog’s favorite toy or blanket, your cat’s favorite bed. Those will make them feel more at ease. 

When a disaster is on the way, place your pet’s emergency kit near the door, Mandell says. Or if you plan to shelter in place, have the kit close to the basement, storm shelter, or wherever you’ve decided that you will all be safest. 

Practice Makes Perfect

Like fire drills, you can practice evacuating (or seeking shelter) with your pet so you can see how they react. Some pets can try to hide when they see their owner hurry around nervously or when they hear a smoke or fire alarm. That can be a big problem if you need to leave fast. 

“You need to know where their hiding places are and how to get them [out] the quickest way,” Mandell says. 

The Red Cross also advises practicing so your pets can get used to calmly entering their carriers. Mandell also recommends talking with your vet about ways to ease your pet’s anxiety if that becomes an issue. 

In case of an evacuation, you’ll also want to map out where you might be headed. Pick a couple different directions from your home and locate pet-friendly lodging or friends and family you can stay with, the Red Cross says. You also might have to have your pets stay with someone else if you can’t find the right lodging. 

Look online to find resources specific to your area. For instance, Red Rover, an animal rescue organization, listed available shelters and pet-friendly lodging for families affected by California wildfires and Hurricane Laura.

“People need to try to have a plan in place,” Mandell says. 

Coming Home after the Disaster

You’ll likely come home to damage if your house didn’t dodge the storm, fire, or earthquake. That will understandably upset you and your pet and lead to a heaping of stress.

Mandell says it’ll probably take a few days for your dog or cat to get used to the new looks and smells of the house. Fences and gates might also be damaged, so keep a close eye on your dog or make sure they’re on a leash when outside. 

If the damage affects your pet’s behavior—making them aggressive or defense—talk with your veterinarian, the Red Cross says.