Random earthquakes, seasonal wildfires, potential for tsunamis, and more. California seems to have it all when it comes to natural disasters. Of course, the additional concern for man-made disasters continually lurks, as wildfires can be started by errant cigarette butts, illegal campsite fires, downed power lines, or other incendiaries.


Realistically, disaster could strike at any time, so it's important that we pet owners prepare for such potential so that our canine, feline, and other animals companions can remain safe in in the face of danger.


September is National Preparedness Month. To benefit the health and well-being of pets, the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) has teamed with California Animal Response Emergency System (CARES) to create helpful brochures and on-line information regarding personal and family and business preparedness planning


According to CARES, “California is home to nearly 19 million domestic animals. Polls conducted in 2012 estimate that California is home to 6.7 million dogs and 7.1 million cats. The California Department of Food and Agriculture reported in 2012 that there are over 5.5 million cattle in California, 570,000 sheep, 141,000 goats, 670,000 horses, just over 100,000 hogs, and millions of chickens in the Golden State. Approximately one out of every three households in California owns a dog or a cat.”


Considering that 33 percent of California households harbor a dog or a cat, it’s vital that we pet owners have a specific plan to account for our animal companions should disaster strike. The striking image of Rodeo the Border Collie stranded on the roof of his home during a devastating flood in Yuba, CA certainly drives home such a need.


In addition to referencing CARES recommendations, I suggest pet owners follow my Top 5 Pet Disaster Preparedness Tips.


Properly Identify Your Pet


If a pet gets lost, his safe return home is more likely to occur if his identification is up to date. A cervical (neck) collar or thoracic (chest) harness can be tagged or embroidered with at least his name and your phone number, e-mail, and address.


Since collars and tags are prone to falling off or being removed, a microchip implanted into your pet’s subcutaneous (fat) space will create an additional layer of likelihood that he will be safely returned, provided your personal information is kept current with the microchip manufacturer. Ideally, use both a collar and a microchip.


Securely Transport Your Pet


Disasters typically force people and pets to urgently flee their homes. To ensure pets’ safety during travel, it’s important that owners provide a means by which transport occurs safely and securely.


Eiyher rigid or soft airline-approved carriers for cats and small dogs are typically good options. The name, species, color, breed, and weight of your pet and your contact information should be clearly featured on the carrier. Medium and large-breed dogs not using carriers should always wear a cervical collar or thoracic harness and leash. Keeo a dog life vest in your emergency transport kit in case of a water emergency.


Know Your Pet’s Location


Emergencies may cause you and your pet to inadvertently become separated. Cats and small dogs are prone to escaping harmful situations and stressors by hiding under a bed, in a closet, or in some other safe spot. Larger dogs have a more obvious presence and may be more easily accounted for simply due to their size, but even bigger dogs may flee from the scene unbeknownst to their owner.


In your house, around the yard, or when going to public spaces, be aware of your pet’s habits, including preferred hiding, napping, and nesting locations, so you know the first places to check should you become separated.


Alert Emergency Personnel of a Pet’s Presence in Your Home


Should disaster strike, a pet’s presence can be accounted for by emergency personnel through an easily-visualized notification system. In 2009, the American Kennel Club (AKC) and ADT Security Services partnered to create window clings on which owners can share information about their pets. 


Keep Pet Food, Medications, and Emergency Supplies Readily Accessible


Pet food, medications, and supplies should be kept in readily accessible and transportable containers.


As many cats and dogs need treatment to manage acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term) conditions, maintaining consistency in providing treatment can significantly improve their health and quality of life. To keep my own dog and patients on set medication and nutraceutical (supplements) schedules, I recommend owners use Monday through Sunday pill containers (ideally with a.m./p.m. options) to compartmentalize pills, powders, and tablets.


For some pets, changes in types of food or consistency in feeding can cause digestive upset. Containers supplying multiple portions of food can ensure that appropriate food intake occurs on schedule despite an abrupt departure from your home.

Pet owners can purchase an emergency preparedness kit or even fashion their own version on a DIY (Do it Yourself) basis.


Reduce Stress for Your Pet

A calmer emotional state can be achieved by administering a dose of a stress-relieving product one to two hours before a distressing event (such as fireworks, thunderstorms, tornado, or other severe weather event). I often administer this type of product to my acupuncture patients to promote better acceptance of needle insertion.



Immediately Seek Veterinary Care


Emergency situations can expose your pet to smoke, fire, water, or other noxious substances. The need to seek urgent care from an emergency veterinary facility is a realistic possibility. Have a list of local veterinary hospitals in your emergency travel kit.


Tissue trauma from heat, moisture or chemicals is not always readily apparent. Internal and external body systems can quickly be damaged and cause life-threatening malfunction of vital organs (e.g., the brain, heart, and lungs). X-rays, blood tests, and other diagnostics are often required to facilitate your dog’s proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment.




Prepare to take evasive action in the face of the next environmental crisis by creating a pet emergency preparedness strategy. Your dog or cat (or other pet) will be grateful for your responsible caretaking.


Hopefully, taking these few preparatory steps can significantly increase the chance that emergencies and natural disasters won't cause harm or illness to you or your pets.


My well wishes go out to all of the human and animal families of Oklahoma experiencing hardship after the Moore tornado.


Dr. Patrick Mahaney



Image: cynoclub / Shutterstock



Related Reading:


Top 10 Pet Emergency Kit Items



Last reviewed September 14, 2015