Pets & Disasters:  Get Prepared

  Red Cross file photo


Our pets enrich our lives in more ways than we can count.  In turn, they depend on us for their safety and well-being.  Here's how you can be prepared to protect your pets when disaster strikes.

Be Prepared with a Disaster Plan

The best way to protect your family from the effects of a disaster is to have a disaster plan.  If you are a pet owner, that plan must include your pets.  Being prepared can save their lives.

Different disasters require different responses.  But whether the disaster is a hurricane or a hazardous spill, you may have to evacuate your home.

In the event of a disaster, if you must evacuate, the most important thing you can do to protect your pets is to evacuate them, too.  Leaving pets behind, even if you try to create a safe place for them, is likely to result in their being injured, lost, or worse.  So prepare now for the day when you and your pets may have to leave your home.

1.  Have a safe place to take your pets

    Red Cross disaster shelters cannot accept pets because of states' health and safety regulations and
     other considerations. Service animals who assist people with disabilities are the only animals
     allowed in Red Cross Shelters. It may be difficult, if not impossible, to find shelter for your
     animals in the midst of a disaster, so plan ahead.  Do not wait until disaster strikes to do your research.

2.  Assemble a portable pet disaster supplies kit

    Whether you are away from home for a day or a week, you'll need essential supplies.  Keep items
     in an accessible place and store them in sturdy containers that can be carried easily (duffle bags,
     covered trash containers, etc.).  Your pet disaster supplies kit should include:

3. Know what to do as a disaster approaches

    Often, warnings are issued hours, even days, in advance.  At the first hint of disaster, act to
     protect your pet.

You may not be home when the evacuation order comes.  Find out if a trusted neighbor would be willing to take your pets and meet you at a prearranged location.  This person should be comfortable with your pets, know where your animals are likely to be, know where your pet disaster supplies kit is kept, and have a key to your home.  If you use a pet sitting service, they may be available to help, but discuss the possibility well in advance.

Planning and preparation will enable you to evacuate with your pets quickly and safely.  But bear in mind that animals react differently under stress.  Outside your home and in the car, keep dogs securely leashed. Transport cats in carriers,  Don't leave animals unattended anywhere they can run off.  The most trustworthy pets may panic, hide, try to escape, or even bite or scratch.  And, when you return home, give your pets time to settle back into their routines.  Consult your veterinarian if any behavior problems persist.


Birds should be transported in a secure travel cage or carrier.  In cold weather, wrap a blanket over the carrier and warm up the car before placing birds inside.  During warm weather, carry a plant mister to mist the birds' feathers periodically.  Do not put water inside the carrier during transport.  Provide a few slices of fresh fruits and vegetables with high water content.  Have a photo for identification and leg bands.  If the carrier does not have a perch, line it with paper towels and change them frequently.  Try to keep the carrier in a quiet area.  Do not let the birds out of the cage or carrier.


Reptiles - Snakes can be transported in a pillowcase but they must be transferred to more secure housing when they reach the evacuation site.  If your snakes require frequent feedings, carry food with you.  Take a water bowl large enough for soaking as well as a heating pad.  When transporting house lizards, follow the same directions as for birds.

Pocket Pets - Small mammals (hamsters, gerbils, etc.) should be transported in secure carriers suitable for maintaining the animals while sheltered.  Take bedding materials, food bowls, and water bottles.


If you must evacuate do not leave your animals behind.  Evacuate them to a prearranged safe location if they cannot stay with you during the evacuation period.  (Remember, pets are not allowed in Red Cross shelters.)  If there is a possibility that disaster may strike while you are out of the house, there are precautions you can take to increase your pets' chances of survival, but they are not a substitute for evacuating with your pets.  For more information, contact The Humane Society of the United States, Disaster Services, 2100 L Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20037

Prepared for the American Red Cross by The Humane Society of the United States.

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