Is Your Pet Prepared for Emergencies?

Kitty with cat food and other emergency supplies

If a hurricane, tornado, earthquake or other disaster hits, Luna Cat is ready! The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reminds us to include our animal companions in our plans for staying safe during disasters. (Photo: Nelly Chapman/FEMA)

Millions of Americans were affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the nation closely followed news coverage of the two dangerous storms. Heart-wrenching photos filled the newspapers and internet, showing that, as always, older adults were especially hard hit by the storms. Who could forget the photo that went viral of the residents of an assisted living facility in Dickinson, Texas, sitting dazed in waist-high water?

We were glad to hear that, in this case, the residents were all safety evacuated — but many readers also wanted to know the fate of the kitty in the picture. The Houston Chronicle shared that Bozo and his six feline brethren had been safely rescued. News sites published many other heartwarming photos of animal rescues, and pets evacuating with their owners or riding out the storm in temporary animal shelters.

Animal welfare experts say the plight of pets during emergencies has improved, in part because of widespread outcry after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when the well-being of animals was given low priority. When asked about stranded pets, then-FEMA director Michael Brown responded, "They are not our concern." However, the fate of pets was very much a concern of many evacuees who had been forced to leave animal companions behind. Many other storm victims refused orders to evacuate when they were not permitted to bring their pets; some estimates say almost half the people who chose to stay put did so to care for animals. And some of these people, including a number of seniors, did not survive.

Emergency managers now realize that saving pets can save people. A year after Katrina, the bipartisan Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act instructed FEMA to make provisions for rescuing and caring for pets during natural disasters and other emergencies. And, say experts, although the full reports won't be known for some time, the situation was better during Harvey and Irma.

On the individual level, as you're creating an emergency preparation plan for yourself and older loved ones, prepare for the welfare of animal friends as well:

Make a plan. Learn which local shelters allow pets. Not all do. If your plan would be to evacuate out of your area, make arrangements with relatives or friends if possible. Make a list of hotels and other lodgings that take pets. You might not be able to return home immediately; learn about kennels and boarding facilities in your target evacuation area. Do not leave your pet behind in the house or in the yard. (Some of those who did so during Hurricane Irma may face felony charges, according to Palm Beach County officials.)

Remember that not all disasters are predictable. There's time for advance warning for hurricanes and winter storms, but other disasters, such as tornadoes and earthquakes, strike with little warning. What if you aren't home at that point, and can't get back right away? Make arrangements with neighbors or someone else nearby to look in on your pet until you can get home. This should be a person whom you trust with having a key to your home. You also can get a rescue alert window decal from your local pet store or the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Have your pet microchipped. Be sure you keep your contact information up to date, and include an emergency contact outside of your area. Cats and dogs should wear a collar and visible tag with their microchip number or your name and phone number. If your pet has medical needs, that information also should be on an ID tag.

Create an emergency supply kit. This should include items to keep your pet healthy and happy at home if you are instructed to shelter in place, as well as supplies you'd need during an evacuation. Animal welfare experts recommend these items for your kit:

  • Food for at least three days, in an airtight, waterproof container. Canned food with pop tops is best, and dry food should be rotated every two months.
  • Water for at least three days, and a water dish.
  • Medicines and medical records.
  • Registration information, vaccination records and other important records.
  • First aid kit additions such as antibiotic ointment, flea and tick prevention, and anything else your veterinarian recommends for your pet.
  • Collar or harness and a leash.
  • Crate or pet carrier, one for each pet if possible, which should be large enough to allow pets to stand, turn around and lie down.
  • Appropriate sanitation supplies, such as pet litter, newspapers, paper towels, plastic bags, dish soap and disinfectant, and disposable litter trays (the ASPCA suggests using aluminum roaster pans).
  • A photo of you and your pet together, in case you need to make a sign or prove ownership.
  • Comfort items, such as your dog's favorite toys and bedding.

Protect your pet from hazards. Veterinarians warn that disaster sites, including homes, can be dangerous, even deadly, for pets. Don't let pets outdoors unsupervised. Keep them away from downed power lines, chemical spills and other toxins, broken fencing, and other animals. And the Humane Society says, "If it's winter, don't be fooled by your pets' fur coats; it isn't safe to leave them in an unheated house."

Preplan with professionals. If you use a pet-sitting service, find out if they would be able to help in an emergency. If your family uses home care, and the agency is part of your plan to keep yourself or a loved one safe, be sure to discuss preparations for pets ahead of time.

Find more resources

FEMA poster with dog

Photo: Jana Baldwin/FEMA, the emergency preparedness portal of the U.S. government, offers planning and preparation resources for pet owners, including instructions for owners of horses, goats and other larger animals.

The ASPCA website provides information, a downloadable app, and instructions pertaining to birds, reptiles and small animals such as hamsters and guinea pigs.

The Humane Society offers extensive animal safety information, including links to pet-friendly lodgings.

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.