Disaster Planning for Pets

PetMD Editorial
Updated: October 06, 2016
Published: June 02, 2011
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This has been reviewed for medical accuracy by Jennifer Coates, DVM on October 6, 2016

The spring of 2011 has been anything but calm. The United States was barely able to catch its collective breath from devastating floods and wildfires before the deadliest tornado outbreak in North American history was documented in April.

Worse still, deadly tornadoes continue to ravage places like Joplin, Tuscaloosa, and parts of California. With no signs this wild weather will let up, and anticipating the start of the Atlantic hurricane season on June 1, it’s best  to prepare yourself and your pets from becoming disaster victims.

In recent news, many humane organizations responded to the disaster-struck areas by offering invaluable, life-saving rescue and veterinary services. petMD covered several stories on the rescue efforts that were undertaken by animal welfare organizations, which came to the aid of disaster victims and their pets.

In the Midwest, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), The International Fund for Animal Rescue (IFAW), and the Red Star Animal Emergency Services on behalf of the American Humane Association(AHA) provided much-needed assistance, medical aid and rescue services to those affected by severe weather in Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Missouri.

Other private organizations like VCA Animal Hospitals responded to the growing disaster areas by providing free shelter to the "pet companions of [dislocated] people affected by the wild weather in Alabama, Texas, and Georgia." 

While no one could have expected that nearly the entire nation would experience some level of devastating weather, all organizations agree that being prepared is winning more than half the battle. If you have an emergency plan in place for protecting your pets and family, you can avoid further disaster. 


After dispatching their famed Red Star Animal Emergency Services to Joplin, Missouri to provide rescue aid to the affected families with pets, the AHA issued tips on how to keep all the members of your family safe in the event a tornado warning is issued in your area:

Storm Preparation

  • Designate a tornado-safe location that will accommodate your entire family, including pets. A windowless room nearest to the ground floor is recommended.
  • Make sure the designated tornado-safe area in the home remains free of poisonous products, and tools or other objects that may come loose during a tornado and become a dangerous projectile.
  • If you live in an area affected by tornadoes, get in the habit of doing "drills" with your family during mild weather to ensure they will all know what to do in the event of an emergency. (Include your pets in these drills too.)
  • Stock your tornado-safe area with an emergency preparation kit, and keep a crate in the designated area for each pet.
  • Know where your pets hiding spots are, so you can grab them and take them to safety as quickly as possible. Limit their access to any unsafe or spots it may be hard to get your pets out of.

During a Tornado

  • If you can evacuate, don’t leave your pets behind. Take proper pet identification and emergency kits for your pets as well as your family.
  • If your family is weathering the storm inside the home, make it to your "safe room" and crate your pet as soon as possible. If you can, secure your pets in their crates, and place the crates under durable furniture.

After a Tornado

  • Always be extra careful when going outdoors following a tornado. Only exit the home after you and your family are certain the storm has passed.
  • Keep your pets secured at all times. Cats should remain in their carriers, and dogs on a leash.
  • Don’t allow your pets to go near water or other liquids on the ground outside; debris from the tornado may have contaminated the liquid source.
  • Keep everyone (including yourself) away from downed power lines.


Hurricane season begins on June 1 on the Atlantic coast. Sometimes, ample warning allows communities to prepare for the worst. One of the more devastating aspects of a hurricane, however, is the unpredictable path it takes.  Those used to living in the more active hurricane zones probably have a preparation kit ready in the event a hurricane strikes. But to safeguard your pets, you should have a contingency plan in place for them as well.

petMD has provided steps you can follow to plan for a hurricane emergency for you and your pet. A comprehensive list of how to care for your pet in case of an emergency can also be found on the AHA’s website. A similar plan of action can be taken as with planning for other natural disasters such as floods, fires and earthquakes, but take note of the following should you be forced to evacuate:

  • Keep a portable emergency kit for your pet handy in case you have to leave them in a pet-friendly shelter or take them with you to a safer location. Feeding your pets with moist food makes them less thirsty, so keep canned foods in the kit. On the other hand, if your pet is on a special diet or is simply unlikely to take to a new food, make sure to include at least a few days’ worth of their regular food in the kit.
  • Keep all of your pet’s vaccinations up to date. Also, include a recent copy of your pet’s medical records in the emergency preparation kit.
  • Pets may be more prone to panic run or hide in severe weather conditions. Try to keep your pet calm, and secure them in a carrier with a leash you can grab onto in the event of an escape.
  • Have proof of your pet’s ownership (photos, identification papers id tags) handy; the most important aspect of keeping your family and pets safe during a hurricane is a safe evacuation. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends finding the nearest boarding facilities ahead of time.
  • Boarding facilities, kennels and shelters require your pets have all their vaccination up to date, or you might be turned away. Keep in mind that some hurricane shelters do not accept pets for health and safety reasons, so pet-friendly shelters will fill up fast.

In an emergency situation, your pets will need you more than ever. Whether your community is struck by severe weather or another type of disaster, the best safety measure you can take on behalf of your family is to be prepared. Your pets will love you for it.

Here are some other great emergency preparation resources:

Image: Chuck Cook / via The Humane Society's Facebook Page