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Protecting Your Pets In An Emergency

Updated on November 4, 2007

Portrait of unknown man and dog after Hurricane Katrina

This article is not meant to scare you. It is meant to reassure and empower you. So why did I pick a photo from Hurricane Katrina to illustrate this? To get your attention. Now that I've got it, I'll ask you this question - do you know what to do in case of an emergency? The emergency might be a hurricane, fire, gas leak, spraying for bugs or other minor emergency. You'll have enough on your mind without wondering what to do about the pets. Don't assume that animals instinctively know what to do - they don't. In an emergency, the priority should be your family - and that includes the pets. Forget anything else. By preparing in advance, you and your pets will survive to get more possessions later on.

Look at it this way - do you believe in Murphy's Law? "Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong." If you get prepared for transporting your pets in an emergency, then that's something that's gone right. Therefore, a disaster will most likely skip you because you prepared for it, according to the rules of Murphy's Law.

But Seriously

It doesn't take much time and expense to get an emergency plan together. You most likely have everything you need already on hand - you just need to put it all together.

You need:

  • some transportable carrier for your pet.
  • fresh water (if possible)
  • phone number of the vet (taped or written on the carrier, if possible)
  • a meeting place for all of your family
  • blankets (if possible)

Your goal is to get the pet in the carrier and get out of the home to the meeting place. Unless you have already been given evacuation instructions and told where the shelters are, pick a spot outside of your home where all of the family will meet. You can obviously skip this step if you live by yourself.


In the case of a sudden disaster, like a fire, you will not have time to grab anything other than the pet and the carrier. Don't worry about anything else - just concentrate on getting you and the pet(s) out. There will be plenty of time for panic later.

If you have a car or other vehicle, consider storing spare fresh water, old blankets and a first aid kit in the trunk. This is good not only for sudden emergencies, but in case you break down while driving and have to wait a while.

You will need to be able to get the pet in and out of this carrier quickly. Do be sure your pet is familiar with this carrier. This is impossible with fish, though. But for birds, reptiles and mammals, they should know the carrier equals a safe haven.

Dogs and Cats

Dogs and cats need to be put on a leash (at minimum) or in a carrier or crate. If they are not micro chipped, then any information about where they live and who their vet is needs to be on the crate in case you get separated from your pet. Keep in mind they will almost as panicked as you are, so be prepared for any scratches or bites. You will be so full of adrenaline that the scratches and bites will most likely not hurt. If you have a really close relationship with your cat or dog, they will automatically look to you for comfort and be quite cooperative.

Smaller Mammals

Get them into a portable cage of some kind. Rabbits can fit in cat carriers. Be sure they all get along. We had a gas leak in my apartment back when I had five guinea pigs - we needed to get out right away. They all went out in one portable guinea pig cage with two water bottles hooked to it. They were all females and all got along. If I had tried butting five Syrian hamsters together, that would've been murder for at least four of the hamsters, for they do not get along well, especially when under stress.


Same as above. If things are really bad, take them out of the cage and carry them with you on your arm (depending if they will stay on your arm). One friend of mine kept a shoebox always lined with soft paper towels next to her parakeets' cage. The cage was too big to move, but she kept the shoebox next to the cage.


These will be the only animals that have any instincts on how to deal with disasters. You should have some sort of transportable container for them when they need to go see the vet. If the situation is really bad and time is short, tip the vivarium over and give them room to make a break for it. Keep in mind you may never see them again, but at least they had a fighting chance. If you have a small reptile, unplug everything and take the whole vivarium with you if possible.


If you can pick the tank up, empty some of the water and take it with you. If that's impossible, you need a bucket or buckets. Put the tank water and fish in there and then head out as soon as you can. If there's not enough time to save the fish, know you did your best and high tail it out of there.

Other Tips

Most shelters will not allow animals inside. The Salvation Army is one of them. You will need to keep by your pet or you will be separated. Raise hell if you have to, but don't hurt anybody or threaten to hurt anybody. If the disaster isn't a Hurricane Katerina type disaster, then a local vet , barding kennel or animal shelter will be able to home your pet if necessary. Be sure you have all identification of who the pet belongs to with your pet. Visit your pet often so the people who work there will know which pet belongs to which person.

Now that you are prepared, don't you feel better?

For more information on preparing for emergencies, check this out and especially this.


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