Our animal companions are a lot like us. When something frightening happens, their (and our) natural instincts turn to “fight or flight.” Disasters are no exception. Many animals choose to run away in an attempt to find safe ground, while others become aggressive or even violent.
It's important to know how to properly care for your pets during and after a disaster, just as you would for your family. Using our tip-sheet Animals & Disasters [PDF, 178Kb], develop a plan for what you'll do when disaster strikes. Just like us, our animal companions also need disaster kits and plans in place. Remember, animals will be frightened during a disaster, and will need extra-special care to calm and reassure them. Some basic tips:
Have an animal disaster kit
We talk about disaster kits for our families, our vehicles, and our workplaces, but we often forget about our pets. While a pet-specific disaster kit will look fairly similar to a human kit, there are some special needs that should be included, such as pet food, extra leashes and collars (harnesses are better), disposable litter pans and extra litter for cats, a pet first aid kit (ask your veterinarian what you should include), spare supplies of any medications your pets might take, feed and water dishes, chew toys for dogs, and salt licks for rodents and horses.
If you need to evacuate or decide to leave your home, don't leave your pets behind - if it's not safe for you, it's not safe for them either. Remember though, that they will be scared and may be aggressive or even violent, even with you. Keep this in mind and take appropriate steps to help minimize injury to you and to your pets while getting them to someplace safe:
• Cats will try to claw their way out of anything holding them, including you. A good, sturdy pillowcase will make it easy to transport a scared cat to a carrier for transport.
• Even normally timid dogs may try to bite, so consider keeping a soft muzzle in your kit.
• Transport caged animals in their normal cage unless absolutely necessary, to help give them some level of familiarity and comfort.
• Put a blanket over a bird or lizard cage to help reduce the stress of travelling (this also helps keep the animals warm in cold weather).
• Do trailering drills with your horses, just like a fire drill in school, to help familiarize them with the behavior you'll require of them following a disaster and thus reduce the likelihood of injury to them or you.
Designate a caretaker
If you're not home when disaster strikes, your pets won't have you around to help reassure them. Add on the possibility that you may not be able to get to your home for several days or even weeks, and your animals could likely die from injury or starvation. Therefore, it is important that you designate a trusted temporary caretaker, such as a neighbor, who is home when you're not and can check on your pets in the event of a disaster.
Other things to consider
• If emergency officials recommend that you stay in your home, consider crating your animals for their safety. Aftershocks or nearby smoke may cause your animals to panic and try to run.
• Ensure that your pets always have current tags on them, including the pet's name, a current phone number, and any important medical information (such as allergies to medicines, conditions such as diabetes, etc.). Make sure that the tag from the vet or the County shelter about the most recent rabies shot is on there too, as well as their animal license. For birds, all the same information should be on the leg band.
• Consider microchipping your pets - a permanent way to identify and locate missing pets. The ASPCA recommends microchipping for all pets.
For more information, visit the following websites (links will open in a new window):American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) - Disaster Preparedness
Humane Society, Emergency Services