The Essentials and the Non-Essentials That Can Make a Home Emergency or Evacuation Easier to Ride Out
by Elizabeth Xu
Taking care of your pet is something that brings you joy, but with it also comes a lot of responsibility. Part of that responsibility means keeping everyone safe when disasters like hurricanes, tornados, or floods occur. Luckily, you can prepare everything your pet would need before such an event occurs.
“As with everything, being organized ahead of time will allow your mind to concentrate on getting to safety instead of worrying about gathering what you need,” says Oklahoma veterinarian Dr. Danel Grimmett, DVM.
Keep in mind that if you feel the need to leave you house, your pet should get out too. Sometimes people decide to leave their pet with some extra food and think that will be OK, but ultimately the pet may end up injured or worse, says Beth Gammie, director of field services at RedRover, a non-profit organization focused on helping animals in need.
“If there’s any reason why it’s not safe or you shouldn’t be in your house, then you need to evacuate your pet, too,” said Gammie.
Storm Emergency Kit for Pets: Why You Need One
It’s hard to say when disaster will strike, and there are numerous reasons you may need to leave your home quickly. These usually fall into the categories of a natural disaster, such as a tornado, flood, fire, or hurricane, or a man-made disaster, such as a hazardous chemical spill. For people who live close to train tracks, there is also the risk of a train derailment disaster, said Gammie.
If you need to leave home you’ll want to have all of your necessary supplies ready to go. Keep as many of your emergency supplies as you can permanently packed in a backpack or other easy to grab container. Also include a list of the things you need to collect from around the house and update your kit at least once a year, replacing expired medications and the like as needed. Of course, the first thing you’ll need to do when an emergency strikes is actually find your pet, especially if they have a tendency to hide during bad storms.
“One of the biggest things people don’t think about is where their pet would go if scared,” says Dr. Deborah Mandell, VMD, member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council and staff member at Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. “If all of a sudden you needed to find them in an instant, do you know where they hide?”
She notes that for some pets that hiding place is under a bed, but it could be different for others so it’s important to know where your individual pet might be if it is scared.
You also need to be prepared with some reliable ideas for places to go should you need to leave your house quickly. Gammie recommends knowing where to go in two situations: In a smaller, local disaster and in a larger, more regional situation. For example, if your plan will be taking you across state lines, know that keeping your pet’s medical and vaccination records handy is especially important, said Gammie.
However, the work doesn’t stop once you get to the new place. In a new environment, it’s best to keep your pet close to you on a leash or in a carrier, Mandell suggests. “If it’s an environment the pet’s not used to, you don’t know if they’re going to get into things.”
With that in mind, take a look at what you will need to prepare for your pet in case of an emergency.
Storm Emergency Kit for Pets: The Basics
Gathering supplies for a possible emergency can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Our experts say these items are a must-have for your pet emergency kit:
- A several-day supply of food and water for each pet in your home
- Food and water bowls
- A manual can opener to open food, if necessary
- Leashes and collars or harnesses for each pet
- A carrier/crate cage for each pet. (Even if your pet is on a leash, you may need to use a carrier for safety) For birds and small animals like hamsters, rabbits, or reptiles, you will want to have a travel cage that is comfortable for the animal to live in for a period of time.
- Pet first aid kit with essentials like bandages, hydrogen peroxide, and antibiotic ointment
- Extra ID tags
- Up-to-date medical and vaccination records
- Necessary medications—at least a 2-week supply
- Names and phone numbers for: your veterinarian, emergency pet hospitals near home and where you are planning to stay, family and friends who can provide shelter for you and your pet if necessary, local pet boarding facilities, or pet-friendly hotels
- Blankets and bedding
- Familiar toys
- Litter box and extra litter for cats
- An extra "one size fits most" leash and collar
- Garbage bags and paper towels for any necessary clean-ups
Storm Emergency Kit for Pets: Items You May Not Have Thought Of
In addition to the basics above, there are several important issues to consider before an emergency hits, our experts say. They include:
There are a number of apps you can download to your phone that could help in an emergency. For example, the Pet First Aid app from the American Red Cross is free and it includes ideas on what to do in emergencies and helps you to find pet-friendly hotels and emergency veterinarians.
A microchip can help to get your pet returned to you if you get separated. Due to her location in Oklahoma, Grimmett has first-hand experience with natural disasters. “After witnessing the aftermath of the Moore tornado and treating evacuees from Katrina, I became acutely aware of the need for an emergency plan. One of my strongest recommendations is for every pet to be microchipped.”
Microchipping doesn’t eliminate the benefits of tags, however. Make sure your current contact information is prominently displayed on your pet’s collar too.
Arranging your transportation
This item doesn’t exactly fit in any kit, but it’s as equally important as the ones that do. It’s important to make sure that your vehicle can fit all of your pets at once, Gammie says. To do this, she says you can simply get the appropriate number of carriers and see how well they fit in your vehicle. If they don’t, she recommends having a back-up plan, such as renting or borrowing a larger vehicle—or making a plan with someone who can evacuate a few of your pets for you.
Updated digital records and photos
You likely have your pet’s medical records handy, but Gammie says the location of these items is particularly important in case you forget them at home or if your home gets flooded. “What I suggest people do is take a picture of [the documents] with your cell phone and upload them to the cloud or to Dropbox; that way you’ll be able to access their medical records from anywhere.”
She suggests doing the same with individual photos of your pets, including photos of you with your pet in case you get separated and need to prove that your pet is actually yours.
Pet-friendly hotel and shelter information
Make sure you know the location of these places in multiple directions from your home, Mandell says. Not all emergency shelters will accept pets, and you may have to travel in a different direction than the one you planned out.
Any safe room in your home (such as a basement in the case of a tornado) should be pet- and baby-proofed, Mandell says. That includes removing any paints, chemicals, pesticides, and things like old rat poison, she says. Secure any tools or other objects that could cause injury to you or your pets.
No one likes to think about disasters, but they happen. There is no stopping the weather, but being prepared can be the key to helping everything go as smoothly as possible in such cases.
“When something hits, you’re going to be so preoccupied with dealing with the disaster that you don’t want to, at that point, start to create your plan,” Gammie says. “You want it to be ready to go.”
This article was verified and edited for accuracy by Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM