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Including Your Pets in Evacuation and Disaster Planning


The best way to protect your family in a disaster is by having a good disaster plan, and that plan should include your pet. Since most public shelters exclude pets, it is essential that, as a pet owner, you plan ahead, so that if you must evacuate, you won’t be forced to leave your animals behind.

After many disasters, thousands of pets are left to fend for themselves and most were lost, injured or killed. To keep this from happing to your pet, consider the following. 

Find a Safe Place Ahead of Time 

  • Contact hotels and motels outside your immediate area to check policies on accepting pets.
  • Make a list of boarding facilities and veterinarians outside your area that might be able to shelter pets in an emergency. Include emergency phone numbers.
  • Ask your local humane society or emergency management agency for information regarding community disaster response plans which might include pets.
  • In the event you are not home when disaster strikes, make advance arrangements to have friend or neighbor pick up your pets and meet you at a specified location.

Make a Disaster Kit for Your Pets

Just as you should have a disaster kit for your family, containing important papers and other key items, you should prepare a similar kit for your pets. It should contain the following: 

  • Medication and medical records (including proof of rabies vaccination) in a waterproof container.
  • Leashes, harnesses and carriers for transporting pets.
  • A muzzle, if your pet requires one.
  • Food and water for three days; a manual can opener.
  • Cat litter and litter box.
  • Current photo and description of your pet in case you become separated.
  • Name and phone number of your veterinarian.
  • Insurance company contact information and policy number, if you have pet insurance. 

If You Evacuate, Take Your Pets 

  • Be prepared to leave early; don’t wait for an official evacuation as you might be ordered to leave your pets behind.
  • Keep pets on leashes or in carriers at all times.
  • Your pet should wear up-to-date identification at all times. Include the phone number of a friend or relative outside your area in case your pet is lost and you cannot be reached. 

After the Storm 

  • Once you return to your home, don’t allow your pets to roam loose. Familiar landmarks and smells might be gone, and your pet may be disoriented. Pets can easily get lost in these situations.
  • Be patient. Try to get your pets back into their normal routines as soon as possible, and be on the lookout for stress-related behavioral problems—if these persist, talk to your veterinarian.

About Other Pets

Some animals require special consideration, according to the ASPCA.

  • Reptiles
    Snakes can be transported in a pillowcase but they must be transferred to more secure housing when they reach the evacuation site. If your snakes require frequent feedings, carry food with you. Take a water bowl large enough for soaking as well as a heating pad. When transporting house lizards, follow the same directions as for birds.
  • Birds
    Birds should be transported in a secure travel cage or carrier. In cold weather, wrap a blanket over the carrier and warm up the car before placing birds inside. During warm weather, carry a plant mister to mist the birds’ feathers periodically. Do not put water inside the carrier during transport. Provide a few slices of fresh fruits and vegetables with high water content. Have a photo for identification and leg bands. If the carrier does not have a perch, line it with paper towels and change them frequently. Try to keep the carrier in a quiet area. Do not let the birds out of the cage or carrier.
  • Pocket Pets
    Small mammals (hamsters, gerbils, etc.) should be transported in secure carriers suitable for maintaining the animals while sheltered. Take bedding materials, food bowls, and water bottles.

If you must evacuate, do not leave your animals behind. Evacuate them to a prearranged safe location if they cannot stay with you during the evacuation period (remember, pets are not allowed in Red Cross shelters). If there is a possibility that disaster may strike while you are out of the house, there are precautions you can take to increase your pets’ chances of survival, but they are not a substitute for evacuating with your pets.

For more information about pets and disaster planning:

American Kennel Club
American Veterinary Medical Association
The American Red Cross
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Humane Society of the United States

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