Keeping Your Pet Safe During A Natural Disaster

Pet parents prioritize the health and well-being of their animals. When facing a natural disaster, it’s important that you know how to keep your pet safe. No one wants to face a natural disaster, but dealing with the logistics will be easier if you have a plan in place.

Below is a complete guide to help you prepare for a disaster and its aftermath. You’ll learn how to create a pet emergency kit and how to keep your pets safe during different types of natural disasters. This guide will also include information to help you and your pet after a natural disaster occurs.

What Is A Natural Disaster?

A natural disaster is an event caused by nature that results in significant damage or loss of life. Natural disasters include things like floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and more. When a natural disaster impacts your home, it’s terrifying and devastating. You not only worry about your home and belongings, but the safety of your family. As you create a natural disaster emergency plan, it’s important to remember a safety plan for your family’s pets.

How Do You Prepare For A Natural Disaster?

When possible, you should prepare for emergencies in advance. Below are some tips to help you prepare for a natural disaster or other emergency. While this information focuses on readiness for natural disasters, the same preparation is necessary for other family emergencies that require moving your pet from your home.

ASPCA DISASTER CHECKLIST

The ASPCA has a great disaster checklist that you can download and print. This is a great guide to help you create a plan and communicate it with family members.

Put the printed version of the guide with your emergency supply kit. It will help you remember things you might otherwise forget when you’re hurrying to evacuate or seek shelter.

You can also save this checklist on your phone. However, it’s important to have a hard copy in case you lose power or run out of battery in an emergency. Keep both digital and print copies on hand for reference.

PREPARE VACCINE & MEDICAL RECORDS

You should print and store all your pet’s medical records. Include the veterinarian’s name and office phone number in case you need to contact them during an emergency.

These print records should include rabies registration, vaccination records, microchip information, and a photo of your pet. It’s ideal if you can find a photo of you with your pet for this file.

Keep all paperwork in a water-proof bag (like a gallon Ziploc bag). Although digital records are helpful, you’ll want all relevant information printed in case the power is out. This paperwork should be easy to access by anyone in the family. All family members should know where this paperwork is kept before an emergency occurs.

CHECK ID COLLARS FOR EACH PET

All pet collars should be up-to-date and easily readable. You should ideally check the condition of your pet’s collar every three to six months. At minimum, check this information once a year.

Your contact information should be current. If you’ve recently moved or changed your phone number, it’s easy to forget how important it is to update that information on your pet’s collar. 

Even if your information is unchanged, the collar tags should be easily read. Your pet’s collar should fit well so it won’t slip off easily if you get separated from your pet during a natural disaster.

MAKE SURE YOUR PET IS SPAYED/NEUTERED

Your pet should be spayed and neutered long before a disaster or emergency occurs. Even if your pet doesn’t go outside without you, you should have it spayed or neutered so it doesn’t get pregnant or impregnate other animals.

Even when you’re fully prepared for an emergency, mishaps occur and you could end up separated from your pet. If your pet is housed in a shelter or boarding facility during a natural disaster, it should be spayed and neutered. Some facilities may not house your pet otherwise.

CREATE A LIST OF PET FRIENDLY HOTELS

You should have a list of pet-friendly hotels in case you need to evacuate with your pets. If you lose your home or need to make repairs after a natural disaster, you may need to find long-term lodging for you and your pets.

List the address and phone number for pet-friendly hotels in the area. Chains like Red Roof, Motel 6, and Best Western have pet-friendly policies. However, you should call each hotel in advance to find out their pet policies. A full list of dog-friendly hotel chains can be found here.

LIST PLACES YOUR PET CAN STAY

In addition to hotels, you should list places that can house your pet during an emergency. List the names and phone numbers of nearby shelters, rescues, friends and family members who can take care of your pet.

When listing friends and family, choose people your pet is familiar with. Evacuation is stressful for your pet, but having a familiar face and safe lodging will go a long way in reducing your pet’s stress.

Before an emergency occurs, you should know which friends and family are willing to host you and/or your pet. You should look over this list periodically to ensure all addresses and phone numbers are up-to-date.

PUT TOGETHER A PET EMERGENCY KIT

You should always have a pet emergency kit prepared before a natural disaster or other emergency occurs. Below you’ll find information about what to include in your pet’s emergency kit. You should have a kit prepared for every pet in your household.

Things To Include For All Pets

You should have the medical documents listed in the “Prepare Vaccination & Pet Medical Records” section above. There should be contact information for your vet, all relevant medical history, and a photo of your pet. You should also include emergency contact information.

Your pet emergency kit should also include a comfortable carrier for transporting your pets, food and water, bowls for food and water, a can opener for canned food, blankets, towels, toys, treats, and any medications your pet may need. Prepare enough supplies to last at least 3 to 7 days.

Things To Include For Dogs

When preparing an emergency kit for your dog, you should include the following: leash, extra collar, garbage bags for waste, chew toys, and a first aid kit. You may also want to include additional toys or comfort items to comfort your dog if you need to evacuate.

Things To Include For Cats

Your cat’s emergency kit should include a disposable litter tray, litter, and a cat harness. You may also want to include a first aid kit for cats in case your cat is injured.

Things To Include For Birds

An emergency kit for pet birds will include a secure travel cage or carrier, a blanket, a spray bottle, a catch net, heavy towels, and cage liners. During cold months, your bird will need a blanket over their cage to preserve warmth. In warmer temperatures, a spray bottle with water can be used to help keep your bird cool.

If your travel cage doesn’t have a perch, make sure to pack extra cage liners.

Things To Include For Reptiles

Pet snakes can be transported in a tied-off pillowcase, but all reptiles will need a more permanent enclosure when you reach your destination. You should also include a sturdy bowl for your reptile to soak in.

Things To Include For Rabbits, Guinea Pigs, Hamsters & Rodents

When preparing an emergency kit for your small animals, you should include hay, bedding, an old towel, a portable water bottle, and a small tube or enclosure for your pet to hide in. Your small mammals will need access to water throughout transportation, so make sure they have access to water throughout your travels.

CREATE OR PURCHASE A PET FIRST AID KIT

No one wants to think about their beloved pet getting injured, but they may experience a variety of injuries during a natural disaster. Your pet’s first aid kit should include gauze pads and rolls, sterile gauze pads, adhesive tape, antiseptic wipes or spray, an ice pack, disposable gloves, scissors with blunt ends, sterile saline solution, and tweezers.

You may also want to include hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting. Only induce vomiting in your pet when advised by your pet’s veterinarian or a poison-control professional. A pillowcase may be useful to confine cats, rabbits, and other small animals for treatment. Your pet’s first aid kit should also contain any medication prescribed by your veterinarian.

PREPARING OUTDOOR ANIMALS FOR AN EMERGENCY

Outdoor animals require extra preparation before a natural disaster. If you have livestock, you should have an additional plan in place for natural disasters.

Make sure all loose debris, machinery, and power tools are moved or secured. Flying debris can cause serious injury or death to your outdoor animals.

Make sure your outdoor animals have experience wearing a halter. Practice getting them loaded into a trailer quickly so you’re prepared to load them up for evacuation. Your outdoor animals should also be well-socialized in case strangers or emergency personnel need to move them. Regularly check the condition of your trailer to ensure their safe transportation.

CREATE A PLAN FOR IF YOU'RE AWAY

You should have an additional plan in place in case you’re away from your home when an emergency occurs. Have an emergency contact prepared with everything they need to access your pets. Make arrangements for them to pick up your pets and all necessary emergency supplies.

You should walk them through this process in advance, making sure to point out everything needed for your pet. If you plan to have a pet sitter in your home while you’re away, it’s important to discuss emergency evacuation with them. Discuss their willingness and availability for this role before an emergency occurs.

INCLUDE FAMILY IN "PET EMERGENCY PLAN"

Every member of your household should know what to do with your pets during an emergency. They should know where emergency pet supplies are and what needs to be taken during an evacuation. Any changes to your emergency plan should be communicated with everyone in the family.

It’s good to assign each member of the family a “job” during emergencies. One member can be in charge of getting the pets loaded into carriers and vehicles. Another family member can ensure all pet supplies and medical documents are on hand. If you have young children in the house it may help to have emergency evacuation drills.

What Can You Do For Your Pet During A Disaster?

Being prepared before a natural disaster is a great starting point to help you care for your pet during an emergency. The information below will help you know what you need to do to care for your pet’s needs when disaster strikes.

EVACUATE SAFELY (AND EARLY) WHEN POSSIBLE

If you evacuate, you should always take your pets with you. When a situation is too dangerous for you, it’s too dangerous to leave your pets. If left alone, they could be injured, lost, or killed. Your disaster readiness plan should include plans to take all pets, including livestock. If you regularly care for stray cats, seek advice from Animal Control about whether you should try to transport them as well.

When possible, evacuate early. If emergency officials have to come to your home to evacuate you, they may not allow time for you to gather your pets and their emergency supplies. Waiting until the last minute may also make your pets more fearful. The sounds of a storm may frighten them and make them more resistant to getting loaded into vehicles.


GO TO A PRE-DESIGNATED LOCATION

Find your list of pet-friendly hotels that you created during the preparation stage. Go to your pre-designated location and get the pets settled in place. It’s important to find out in advance if places are pet-friendly so you aren’t stuck looking for accommodations during an emergency. Not all evacuation shelters allow pets, so it’s important to know what pet-friendly options are available.

If you’re traveling a long distance to stay with friends or family during an evacuation, make sure your host’s home is ready for you and your pets. Make sure you have pet-friendly stops planned for each leg of your journey. If you need to stay somewhere overnight, call in advance to find out if they allow pets.


IF SHELTERING IN PLACE, CHOOSE A "SAFE" HAVEN

Not all emergencies require evacuation. Determine a “safe haven” in your home for situations that call for sheltering in place. You should not attempt to shelter in place during a hurricane or fire.

Your safe haven should be an easy-to-clean area like a bathroom, utility room, or basement. When possible, bring blankets and towels to make this a comfortable space for family and pets. Guidelines for different types of natural disasters are outlined below.

Earthquakes

During an earthquake, you should move under sturdy furniture. If your dog or cat is nearby, attempt to get them to shelter under the furniture with you. Cover your head and neck and wait for the earthquake to pass.

There’s no time to prepare when an earthquake hits. However, you should be ready to drop, cover your head, and hold on. All family members should know where to go to shield themselves during an earthquake.

Floods

The advice for sheltering in place is typically to find a windowless space on a lower level. However, flooding requires the opposite. You should seek refuge on a high floor. When possible, shelter near a window for easy escape from flood waters.

You should always have an easy way out in case the waters rise quickly. If you’re sheltering on top of a table or other surface, make sure your pet has access to that space.

Tornados

If you live in an area where tornados occur, you should know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. A tornado watch means there are conditions that could cause a tornado. Tornado warnings occur when a tornado has been spotted in your area.

During a tornado watch, review your emergency plan and gather supplies. Once a warning occurs, you should take shelter on the lowest level of your home. If you don’t have a basement, find an interior room with no windows. Bathrooms make good shelters because the shower and toilet offer additional hiding space.


REMOVE POTENTIAL HAZARDS

Once you have a safe haven selected, you should remove anything that could be potentially hazardous to your pet. Dangerous chemicals, loose wires, or sharp objects could all injure your pet. Make sure any small gaps are closed so your cats cannot squeeze out.

When you enter your safe haven to shelter in place, take another glance around the room to make sure there aren’t any new hazards. Even if you prepared the space in advance, an extra once-over can help prevent accidents.


HAVE PLENTY OF WATER WITHIN REACH

Your house’s safe haven should have enough water for 3 to 7 days. There should be enough water for all family members and pets. This water should be stored in the room where your family will take shelter.

The standard recommendation is to have one gallon of water for each person for three days. You should carry an extra gallon of water for each pet. Even if your pet doesn’t need that much water, this guarantees that your family will have enough water in case of emergency. 


BRING A PET BED, BLANKET & EMERGENCY KIT

If time allows, bring a pet bed and blankets into your safe room. This will provide comfort to your dog. Because natural disasters often produce a lot of noise, they can be a high-anxiety time for your pet. Any comfort you can safely provide will help reduce your pet’s anxiety.

Your pet emergency kit should be ready-to-use. Keep it close by in case your pet needs first aid while evacuating or sheltering in place. 


BRING YOUR PETS INSIDE

If you’re sheltering indoors, your pets should be indoors as well. Offer them comfort and reassurance, as they’ll probably be frightened. Never leave your animal chained outside during a storm, especially if you need to shelter in place.


KEEP YOUR PET ENTERTAINED & CALM

Be prepared to spend a lot of time in your safe haven during a natural disaster. Make sure your pet has plenty of toys to play with. You may also use this time to play games with your dog or work on their training.

Entertainment is especially important for cats and dogs who aren’t used to being confined in a small space. Give them plenty of activities to keep their minds off the storm around them.

Your pets will probably be anxious during a natural disaster. Make sure to offer lots of reassurance and affection. Keep them in sight so you can offer them comfort. When possible, stay calm. Your pets can sense your anxiety, so staying calm will help you keep them calm as well.

Although it may be tempting to sedate or tranquilize an anxious pet, do not ever do this during a natural disaster. Sedation may prevent them from using necessary survival instincts in emergency situations. Your pet should be alert and able to move if needed.

What Should You Do For Your Pet After A Natural Disaster?

After a natural disaster occurs, you still need to ensure the safety of your pet. Some hazards are apparent in the aftermath of a disaster, while others are subtle. Below are some guidelines to help you keep your pet safe when you return home after a natural disaster.

ASSESS POTENTIAL THREATS

Examine your home and property for any potential threats. Downed power lines, debris, spilled chemicals, reptiles, and rodents may pose a threat to your pets. Continue to keep your pet within sight at all times to keep them from exploring dangerous areas. Repairing and rebuilding after a natural disaster may take time. When possible, clear an area where you can safely confine your pets until other hazards are dealt with.

KEEP YOUR PET CLOSE

You shouldn’t allow your pets to walk loose or unsupervised after a natural disaster. There are lots of potential threats, including polluted water or contaminated food. Your pet should not be allowed to drink from any standing water. Other pets may also pose a risk to your pet. Only allow your pet to roam freely in a safe and secure environment.

CONTACT ANIMAL CONTROL WHEN NECESSARY

There are three main reasons to call animal control after an emergency: if your pet is missing, if your pet has died, or if there are loose animals on your property that aren’t your own.

If you’re calling about a missing pet, make sure to have their photo and microchip information ready. Loose animals on your property, even domesticated pets, may pose a threat to your pet. Since they may cause harm to your pet, it’s important to call animal control for intervention after a natural disaster.

FINDING YOUR MISSING PET

Few things are as stressful as when your pet goes missing. Even though you may be tempted to drop everything to find them, you should ensure that your family and other pets are safe before looking for lost pets. Contact animal control for additional guidance when looking for your lost pet.

Contact local shelters and rescues to see if they have your pet. When the disaster has passed, share flyers and photos of your missing pet. Contact your pet’s microchip company if your pet is microchipped. Post information about your lost pet on social media and through community messaging apps.

REORIENT YOUR PET WITH HOME

Your pet may need extra time to readjust to life at home. If your home or neighborhood has been damaged by a natural disaster, they may need some time to explore and reorient themselves. Take your pet for a walk around the neighborhood to help them learn about the new normal. You may also want to have supervised contact with neighbors and their animals. You should do anything you can to help your pet get used to home again.

RE-ESTABLISH ROUTINES

In a similar vein, you should re-establish your pet’s routines. These routines can help your pet move back to their normal lives. Take your dogs for walks at the same time each day. Consistently feed all pets at the same time each day to establish some normalcy. Stick to your pre-disaster routine as much as you safely can. These routines will give both you and your pets a sense of safety.

CARING FOR TRAUMATIZED PETS

It’s common for pets to experience trauma after a natural disaster. Look for signs that your pet is distressed. Although we often associate PTSD with human trauma, pets can also exhibit signs of PTSD. If your dog is panting, panicking, or exhibiting fearful behavior, they may have PTSD. Provide extra love and care for them. Offer extra understanding as they re-adjust to their old routines.

WHEN TO CONTACT VETERINARIAN

After a natural disaster, you may need to contact your veterinarian. If your pet has any injuries, no matter how small, you should get medical treatment. Even small scratches could pose risks to their physical health. If your pet was missing for any part of the emergency, you should take them to get checked up. This can help prevent them from spreading illness to other pets in your home.

If your pet exhibits PTSD symptoms that do not resolve within a few days, you need to take them to the veterinarian. They may need medication or treatment to help them cope with their anxiety.

What Do You Do If Your Pet Dies During A Natural Disaster?

No one wants to think about the possibility that their pet could die during a natural disaster. However, it’s important to keep the following information in mind in case your pet dies during evacuation or while sheltering in place.

CONTACT ANIMAL CONTROL

When your pet passes, contact animal control to find out what you should do with their body. Although it’s okay to bury your beloved pet in some areas, some states do not allow you to bury your pet in residential areas.

Your local animal control professional will give you information about how to store your pet’s body as you figure out your next steps. When touching or moving your pet’s body, make sure you’re wearing gloves. If you have any surgical masks or goggles on hand, you may choose to wear these for additional protection.

LET OTHER PETS SNIFF DECEASED FRIEND

Letting your other pets sniff around their deceased friend allows them the closure they need to move on. Before you remove the body for burial or cremation, make sure the other pets in your household have had the opportunity to say “goodbye” to your pet.

To read more about how your pets experience grief, check out our additional resource on the topic here.

DETERMINE WHAT SERVICES YOU NEED

Find out what services you’ll need to take care of your pet’s body. Where will they be buried? What will you bury them in? Will you have your pet cremated? If you have your pet cremated, will you purchase an urn or cremation jewelry?

Discuss all options with your family to determine the best solution for laying your loved pet to rest. Allowing children to ask questions and raise concerns will help them in the grieving process. All members of the family should have a voice in what happens to your deceased pet.

GIVE FAMILY MEMBERS SPACE TO GRIEVE

It’s important to make space for everyone in the family to grieve. Even with everything else going on after a natural disaster, you should take time to grieve. You may choose to keep your kids home from school or miss work, especially if your pet has been a key member of your family for years.

Some people choose to have a small memorial service at home. Have each member of the family share memories about the pet.

HONOR YOUR PET

Find ways to honor your pet’s memory. Special urns, memorial jewelry, and commissioned artwork all allow you to honor your pet. If you’re in an area that allows you to bury your pet on your property, you may want to create a small grave marker to memorialize your pet.

For more ideas about how to honor your pet’s memory, check out this article with fifteen ideas for what to do with your pet’s ashes.

Pets & Natural Disasters Frequently Asked Questions

How does a traumatized dog act?

A traumatized dog will show signs of anxiety and hyper-vigilance. They may avoid certain people, places, or situations. Some dogs may have sleep disturbances or may become fearful of being alone.   In some cases, dogs will show less interest in their favorite activities. Lost appetite and aggression are also signs that your dog is traumatized.

Do animals remember traumatic events?

Yes, animals remember traumatic events. Cats and dogs are especially impacted by trauma. Trauma may impact their physical and emotional well-being, so it’s important to provide reassurance after a natural disaster.

If your pet still shows signs of trauma after a few days, talk to your veterinarian. They can prescribe medication or treatment to help your pet recover after a traumatic event.

How do I keep my pet safe during a hurricane?

The best way to keep your pet safe during a hurricane is to evacuate. Get to a safe place as soon as possible. If your home is not safe for you, it will not be safe for your pet. Do not ever leave your pet chained outdoors during a hurricane.

What do you do with your pets during a natural disaster?

If you need to evacuate, you should take your pets with you. Find a pet-friendly hotel outside the disaster zone or take your pet to stay with friends or family. If you cannot find housing for you and your pets, contact shelters and rescues to find a place to foster your pet during a natural disaster.

If you’re sheltering in place, take your pet into a safe room with the rest of your family. Make sure they have enough food, water, and bedding while you wait out the storm.

What things are important to have in my pet’s emergency kit?

Your pet’s emergency kit should have food, water, bedding, prescribed medication, medical documents, emergency contacts, toys, and other comfort items. You may also want to include basic first aid supplies like antiseptic spray, gauze, and bandages.

What do I do if my pet was lost during a natural disaster?

If your pet is lost during a natural disaster, contact animal control and local shelters. Make and distribute flyers with pictures of your pet. Use social media and community messaging apps to get the word out about your lost pet.

What should I do if unfamiliar animals show up on my property after a natural disaster?

It’s common for animals to show up in residential areas after a natural disaster. Even if unfamiliar animals seem domesticated, it’s important to contact animal control for their removal. It may not be safe to handle them yourself. Your local animal control may provide information about how to humanely remove them from your property.

How to I find someone to foster my pet during and after a natural disaster?

Local veterinarians, shelters and rescues may have information to help you find someone to foster your pet during or after a natural disaster. You may also consider having friends or family watch your dog, especially if they need long-term care while you rebuild your home.

Keeping Your Pet Safe When Disasters Happen

Natural disasters are terrifying, but you don’t have to go into them unprepared. The information above will help you create an emergency readiness plan for your family and pets. Once disaster hits, you’ll be equipped with everything you need to provide safety and comfort to your pet.

October 10, 2021 by Frances Kay