Emergency Pet Preparedness – Prepare Your Pet For Disaster

Written by Cory Eckert

Few of us ever like to think of dangerous situations involving our home or our pets. However, accidents and disasters do happen. Emergency pet preparedness, along with other just-in-case measures, could help to ensure that all family members are safe during what could be a chaotic time.

Having a plan for those unforeseen events could make them less catastrophic and could prevent losing your furry loved one.

Disasters From Your Pet’s Point of View

Any kind of crisis is awful for all involved and your dog or cat is, most likely, going to become stressed and afraid when the normal routine and stability is removed by a disaster. 

Remaining calm and having a plan in place could go a long way to helping your furry family members be a little less scared and panicked.

Let’s discuss some of the situations that your pet might consider a crisis situation so we can address how to prevent and prepare for them.

Natural Disasters and Extreme Weather

It seems that tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and earthquakes are becoming more commonplace. Such events often involve evacuations which can be announced suddenly and can become chaotic very quickly. 

Sudden flooding or fast-moving fires require quick thinking and immediate action. If you live in areas that are prone to such events, any preplanning around escape routes and grab-and-go types of kits will allow you to remain relatively composed.

Sudden Fires

If your house or workplace becomes involved in a sudden fire, the panic that often occurs can be extremely stressful for our furry friends. I included workplaces here because many offices allow pets to come to work with their owners. 

Along with regular drills for humans, any pet-friendly work location should include pets in the practice. Flashing lights and loud alarms are disturbing for anyone, so acclimating your dog or cat to such things ahead of time can help to manage their behavior during an actual emergency.

Getting Lost

Getting lost doesn’t seem like much of an emergency for us, but for our pets, being lost can be much more serious.

A dog can’t stop and ask for directions or give police their address if things go bad, they need your involvement and preplanning to make sure they can get back to you if they get lost.

Something as simple as a collar with tags to display your number can be the difference between your pet coming home and your pet going to the animal shelter.

Owner Death or Disability

Within the past few years, I have had a couple of friends pass away who left behind their beloved dogs. Luckily for everyone, they planned ahead and took time to make arrangements for the care of their pets after their passing. 

These are very difficult situations and the pets can become depressed about losing their human while also having to adjust to new people and places.

Whatever can be done ahead of time to help make a smoother transition can make everyone more comfortable and make the transition less traumatic for the animal.

Medical Emergencies and/or Injuries

Accidents are part of life and we all know they can happen. Anything from cutting a finger to falling out of the shower can cause us injury but we rest easy because we have at least a general idea of how to handle it if something happens to us.

Most of us have at least basic medical first aid kits available in the house, band-aids, peroxide, etc. We also know we can call 911 if things are beyond our ability to treat.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case for our pets. Do you know your vet’s number by heart? Do you have a pet first aid kit and basic knowledge on how to use it? Can you do pet CPR if needed?

These are all basic things we can prepare ahead of time to prevent a small accident from becoming a more stressful situation than need be.

Preventing Pet Disasters

With a bit of preplanning, many disasters for your pet can be avoided while others, like extreme weather situations, we have no control over. 

For both, however, having a plan in place can help lessen the effects for everyone involved.

Natural and Extreme Weather Crises

Under the category of things out of our control: wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural occurrences are high on that list. 

Yes, we can pay attention to weather reports and be aware of the types of events that happen in our area, but the weather is going to happen.

The one thing we can do is have a plan of action in case one of these scenarios plays out for our family.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has developed a very helpful list of recommendations that can help prepare your pets and give them a better chance of surviving such situations.

Fire Prevention

Outside of wildfires or arson, fire prevention at your home or office is key to keeping you and your pets safe. Things like using flameless candles, dog-proofing stove knobs and securing electrical cords, are simple and effective methods for stopping fires before they begin.

Dogs and cats are very curious about open flames. Small pets can jump onto counters and coffee tables knocking over flammable material.

Sparks from unattended fireplaces or fire-pits could easily set a room or lawn aflame. Large dogs can easily bump a stove or oven knob causing a fire hazard.

Thinking about pet-proofing is a lot like thinking about baby-proofing any room. In fact, many of the same devices that are used for baby-proofing can be used to make your home safer for you and your pets.

Knob covers, flat socket plugs, flameless candles and fire-retardant fabrics are just a few examples of methods to keep fire risk at a minimum for your pets.

Missing or Lost Pet

Preventing a missing or lost pet often boils down to a safe environment and basic obedience training.

In most cases, pets become lost when they “get out” or escape the owners home or grasp. Maybe a door was left open or a rabbit ran by and the chase ensued.

In the first scenario, a fenced yard and or a good leash/harness could prevent a lost pet. If you happen to be present when the pet is getting out or running off, proper obedience would prevent them from running far.

Be sure you provide a safe environment for your pets and in the case of dogs, train obedience like it could save their lives, it literally can!

Pet Owner Death or Disability

Death and/or disability is an uncomfortable topic of conversation, however, unless you are completely bionic, you are going to pass away at some point.

While hopefully, death is a long way off for all of us, if you are a pet owner it is part of your loving responsibility to have a plan in place in case you pass before your pet does or are unable to take care of them. 

If you have a family member who is ill and is not likely to recover, being brave about the “what should we do when you pass” conversation is one of the most loving acts you can ever do.

Pet Medical Emergencies and Injuries

Preventing accidents for our pet is no easy feat but we can take away a lot of danger by simply creating a safe environment for them.

Be sure they can not make it to the road and your yard not only keeps them in but other (possibly aggressive animals out).

Be sure there are no unsafe objects lying around for them to digest such as rat poisons and other chemicals.

Prevention in this case is simply a matter of making your environment as safe as you can and always be on the lookout for things that could hurt your pet and remove them before they become a problem.

Preparing For What We Can't Prevent

Hopefully, crisis events are few and far between in all our lives, but since such things do happen, and not all are preventable, it’s important to do some preparation work to help all our pets weather the storm.

Preparing Your Pet For Natural Disasters

Natural disasters happen and they are well beyond our control. We can however prepare for them and prepare for our pets as well.

A grab and go kit for your pet as well as yourselves can help keep everyone safe and comfortable if you need to evacuate your area or home in a hurry.

In a worse case situation, at least have some measure in place to help rescuers identify your pet and their owner so you can be reunited.

An estimated 250,000 dogs and cats were displaced and/or died in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. During the cleanup and rescue efforts, only a small number of those animals were returned to their owners.

This is mostly due to the fact that there was no way to match pets with owners except by letting people know where pets were being held and hoping for the best.

A few simple things could have increased the number of successful reunions substantially.

Collars with ID tags and contact info

Microchip implants with owner details is also recommended when possible.

Preparing Your Pet For Fire

Of course, the best preparation for fire is preventing a fire, however, accidents happen. The number 1 step everyone can take today to be prepared for any fire is installing and maintaining smoke detectors (one with a carbon monoxide detector earns you extra points). 

Your local fire department can make recommendations about how many you should have for the size of the home you live in and where you should place them.

Further, it is highly recommended to replace the batteries with every time change. If you are lucky enough to live where the time doesn’t change (looking at you, AZ), then make a habit of replacing batteries every 6 months.

The number 2 plan for fire events is to have a predetermined escape plan and practice escaping every few months. Regular drills at home are not something people think about because, well, you are at home in your safe place. While no one wants to live in a state of paranoia, routinely revisiting plans for evacuating and getting to safety should not be left to chance.

Pets and children will often find real events very frightening and sometimes freeze, not wanting to leave. Making the drill a game will help get them moving should a fire really happen. In addition, smoke detectors are nerve racking for dogs. 

Your dog will most likely try to escape the noise of a smoke detector naturally without your guidance. A bit of training to escape via the dog door if you have one can turn surviving a fire into a fun game for your dog and give you one less thing to worry about if the worst should happen.

Having a seperate plan for your pets and your family is even more crucial should something happen when you are not home. For example...

If Fido or Fluffer happen to bump a stove knob and cause a fire when you are not around, it’s comforting to know that you trained them to run for the pet door and leave the house if smoke detectors go off.

Prepare Your Pet For Being Lost

Even the most well-trained dog can have a momentary lapse of reason, so if you are walking your dog, or cat, in a busy area or near busy roads, always have them on a leash. 

It is always good to keep in mind that even though your dog may have military-level training, other dogs might not. Also, not all humans are pet-friendly.

If your dog or cat does become lost there are some ways to be prepared so that there is a better chance of finding your precious companion. Keep a collar with an updated information tag on your dog or cat, at all times. 

Even if your town or city does not require microchipping, it is one of the best methods for identifying found pets. Make sure to update your vet and the microchip company if you move or change your phone number. Micro-chips are especially important if you like to hike or go off-trail. 

Tags and chips should not be used “either / or”. They are most effective when used in unison with each other.

Spaying and neutering all cats and dogs is also a good idea. This helps to prevent losing them because they will no longer feel the need to “seek companionship” outside their yard. As an added bonus, your lost pet will not come home with baby on board if they do happen to get lost for a bit.

Prepare Your Pet for Your Own Death or Disability

As I have stated before, death is an uncomfortable topic for most of us, but it is a fact of life and pets can be left behind when their people pass or are disabled. Rather a pet’s owner passes suddenly or is seen coming, having a plan in place now for your pet is advisable.

Prearrangements for pet care is probably the best option, even including wishes in a will. While preplanning is the best-case scenario, such situations don’t always go to plan.

Here are some questions to consider that will help to get a plan in motion. 

  • Where will your pet live if you are unable?
  • Does anyone else know your plan?
  • Are there financial burdens for the people or place taking your pet?
  • Do you have money set aside to help with any financial burdens?
  • Does your pet know the place it’s going to live? Have you familiarized and socialized the animal with the environment ahead of time?
  • Do the new caretakers have accurate up-to-date vet records and other important info for your pet’s care? If not, do they know where to get them?

If you can answer these questions, and your loved ones are informed of them as well as anyone involved, you can rest assured knowing your beloved pet will be taken care of long after you are gone.

Also, incase of an accident, something I highly recommend is keeping a card in your car or wallet, or both, stating that “my pets are home alone” with a phone number of someone to call that can arrange care. 

There are also commercially made versions available. I went to an ID tag machine and had a metal tag made with the statement, “I have pets home alone, please call,” and the phone number to someone who can care for my dogs which I attached to my key ring.

Prepare For Pet Injuries

Just like people, pets can have accidents and get injured. Having a basic idea of what to do and the supplies available to do so can really make a situation less traumatic for your pet.

Most of us have a basic first aid kit available for humans, but we neglect the fact that our pets should have a first aid kit available too. As you might imagine, not all things suitable for humans are suitable for animals.

I would highly recommend building or purchasing a pet first aid kit that’s appropriate for your pet. You may want a few kits, one for home and one for your vehicle if you ever travel with your pet.

Building Your Pet Emergency Kit

Emergencies can occur at any time and in any place and some basic items can help you manage the situation until you can seek proper care for your fur-baby. Knowing some basic animal first-aid could help stabilize your pet while you transport them to a vet.

As for a pet first-aid kit, there are some good commercial products available or you could DIY one for your home and auto. Keeping a well-stocked first-aid kit should also be part of your evacuation gear. It may seem like a lot, but an easy-to-access first aid kit is never a waste of money.

All kits should have a record of your dog or cat’s veterinary care, including vaccinations. Include on the list any contact numbers of emergency animal clinics so that in a moment of crisis you are not trying to scroll through your phone contacts looking for information. 

Hard copies are great in a crisis. Having something to do with your hands helps you to stay focused. Here’s a printable version of what I personally use for our golden retrievers.

Here is list of what I would include in a basic first aid kit for my dogs:

  • Gauze: used to absorb blood for any cuts, abrasions or bite marks
  • Self-adhesive roll bandages: necessary because human bandages don’t stick to fur
  • Cotton balls: used to apply ointments or topical medicine or to dab wounds
  • Non-toxic spray antibiotic: if the pet licks their wound, they won’t be poisoned
  • Milk of Magnesia: counteracts any kind of poison (know your pet’s approximate weight and write down dosage)
  • Digital thermometer with a bendable tip: taking temperature
  • Scissors: to trim fur around wounds, cut gauze or bandages
  • Tweezers: to remove splinters, thorns or glass
  • Magnifying glass: to inspect wounds or paws
  • Liquid medicine syringes: to give oral medications or water-flush wounds
  • Small flashlight: multiple uses
  • Towels: multiple uses such as bandage, dry wounds, elevate head or paws, bed
  • Fabric muzzle: prevent fear biting or licking of wounds
  • Leash/Collar: restraint and security
  • Travel bowls, collapsible: feeding and hydrating
  • List of emergency contacts: vets, hospitals, family

Once you have your basic first aid supplies, place them in an easy to grab bag or tote and leave one in your home and one in your vehicle.

If you live in freezing climates, your vehicle bag may need to consider alternatives to freezable items.

The Takeaway

No one ever regretted being too prepared. A few minutes of pre thought and preparation can turn a possible nightmare into an inconvenience or at least lessen the effects of a crisis on you and your loved ones.

Take the time to prevent what you can and prepare for what you can’t. Not just for you but for your pets as well. Should you ever find yourself or your pet in an emergency, you’ll be glad you did.

About the author

Cory Eckert

Cory is the co-creator of GoldenRetrieverLove.com and a life long dog enthusiast. From training livestock dogs as a child to working with obedience classes as an adult, it's hard to imagine Cory without a dog. Currently enjoying being a dog parent to Remi (a chocolate lab) and Annie (a golden retriever).