The last few years have brought earthquakes, fires, hurricanes and other disasters with no signs of slowing down. It’s enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed and wonder what to do if disaster struck their home.
Creating a solid disaster preparedness plan for your pet before an emergency happens will help keep you and your pets safe in a worst-case scenario, and having a plan means that you’ll be fully present and available to help the animals and people in your life.
Assemble a ‘Go Bag’
The primary piece of equipment you’ll want to have in an emergency is a “go bag” for your pet. This will contain your pets’ essentials, including:
- A first-aid kit
- Medication, if they have any
- A spare leash, collar and ID tags
- Food bowls and food
- Poop bags
- Baby wipes or hand sanitizer
- Proof of pet ownership
- Vaccinations and medical records
- Current photos (if you get separated, you’ll use these to post or share)
You can make a pet first-aid kit yourself or augment a purchased kit. Helpful lists for dogs, cats and other companion animals can be found on the ASPCA website.
Ideally, a go bag should be near each exterior door of your dwelling, plus one in the garage and one in your vehicle. Do not, under any circumstances, stash your go bag a hard-to-reach spot. At the very least, have a go bag in your car. In the event of an emergency, gather your pets, grab your go bag and GET OUT.
Arrange a Safe Haven
Once you leave home, you’ll need to arrange a safe place for you and your pets to go. Because you’re likely to be panicked (and possibly without phone service), write down a few pet-friendly options and keep the list in your go bag. The list should include boarding facilities, hotels, friends, relatives, etc.—any place you have recently confirmed that will board pets in an emergency. While you’re making lists, grab a map and highlight or write down multiple evacuation routes from your home to your safe haven(s).
CalFire is a great resource for information about how to prepare, safeguard against, evacuate and return to your home after a wildfire. Their website has videos and information designed to keep you safe and most of their advice applies to other emergency situations, as well.
Have a Backup Caregiver
If you’re separated from your pet at the time of a disaster, or find yourself unable to care for your animal during an emergency, consider who will care for your pets if you’re unable to. Your short-term caregiver (for example, if you can’t get home for a few days; this is often a neighbor) might be different from a long-term caregiver (usually a close friend or relative for a worst-case scenario). Be sure your short-term and long-term people have each other’s contact information and a way to access your animals if you’re not there.
Check for Injuries
When the immediate danger is over, inspect your pets closely for injuries, brush them well and give them a bath. As soon as possible, your pets should go to a professional groomer for a more thorough bath and grooming session to remove any lingering toxins, irritants, smoke or other foul odors in the coat. You’ll also want to take your pet to the vet to be sure they’re healthy and injury free.
If you have been evacuated to an unfamiliar location, you can do an online search for nearby groomers (or even DIY grooming stations), and search for an AAHA-certified veterinary clinic almost anywhere in the United States.