Disaster Preparedness for Your Pet

Whether it be a blizzard keeping you in the house, a tornado forcing you to seek shelter, a fire displacing your family, or a hurricane demanding that you to evacuate, disasters require preparation. We all have plans for what we need to do to help our families, but do those plans include pets?

If not, they should. It turns out that it’s not too difficult to add your pet to your family’s disaster preparedness plan. It’s as easy as 1-2-3:

  1. Pre-Disaster Preparation
  2. A Readiness Kit
  3. Evacuation Plan

Pre-Disaster Preparation

The day you get your pet can be the day you start preparing for any disaster because the first decision you make is how to ID your pet . ID options include a tag with an address and phone number and/or getting a microchip implanted, or other options. The most important thing is to make sure that your pet’s ID is current.

Another necessary step is making sure your pet is up-to-date on his/her shot records and flee/tick prevention. Most shelters will not allow pets into their facilities, if they are not up-to-date, on their shots. If a flood destroys your home, and you need to board your pet, the last thing you need to worry about is being turned away from a reputable shelter because your dog isn’t up to date on his Bordetella (kennel cough) shot.

A final, important preparedness step is to get a sticker for your home that alerts fire, police, and search & rescue personnel that you have a pet. The ASPCA will send them to you, for free. Once evacuated from the dangerous situation, if it’s safe, and if time allows, you should write, “EVACUATED” across the sticker, so rescue personnel know that the animals are safely recovered.

Readiness Kit

Max, a staff writer's dog, poses next to his disaster preparedness kit.
Max, a staff writer’s dog, poses next to his disaster preparedness kit.

Having a readiness kit is crucial to ensuring that your pet is equipped to survive outside of its normal environment, at least for a short period of time. While each pet will have individual needs to make him/her comfortable, there are a few items that should be on everyone’s list:

  • Photo of Your Pet: It’s important to have a current photo of your pet, should you get separated.
  • Food/ Treats: have food that suits your pet’s dietary needs, and have enough for about ten days. Remember to update this as their nutritional needs change.
  • Water: Again, as with food, have enough for about ten days
  • Bowls: Something people tend to forget is bowls for food and water. It’s wonderful to stock food and water, but without a container for your animal to eat from, these items become, essentially, useless.
  • Collar/Leash: In an emergency situation, and in unfamiliar surroundings, even the most well-trained dog, or calm kitty gets nervous. Make sure you can control your animal with a strong leash and with a collar.
  • Comfort Items: If your pet is partial to a specific blanket, a toy, or even a kennel, keep it with, or near, your emergency supplies. The scent of these items may help calm a nervous animal.
  • Medical Supplies- Shot records, medications and grooming supplies should be packed with the emergency kit, not scattered around the house.

Evacuation Plan

If you do not live in an area where you have family near, or your area does not have any pet friendly emergency shelters, then you need a plan for where your pet will go, in an emergency. Having your Readiness Kit stocked ensures that no matter where your pet has to go, they will be comfortable, but finding a place ahead of time, ensures they will be safe.

A good plan includes a network of friends, family, neighbors and boarding facilities, both local and in surrounding communities (in case your local facilities are affected by whatever emergency has you fleeing your home). Having a ready list of places to turn to prevents last minute scrambling, and a potential disaster for your pet.

Most importantly, never leave your pet alone to fend for itself in a disaster situation. Contrary to what some might believe, that the animal’s survival instincts will help it along, these animals often end up requiring rescue, and are often injured, sick and scared. Plan ahead and keep your animal safe and cared for, with you, or with a caretaker.

In general, it is important to prepare you and your family in case of a disaster; your pet is part of your family too. Prepare for their care, the same way you prepare for your own.

Some great resources for preparing your pet include:

ID Options for Your Best Friend

The moment my husband and I saw Max’s adorable face staring at us from his cage at the Humane Society, we knew he was the one. Falling in love with him was easy; figuring out how to keep him safe and ensuring his return to us, should he ever run away or be stolen, was more challenging. There are several options to protect your pet, should these unthinkable situations occur.

  • Collar ID
Adorable pup, but with no collar and ID tag, he's easily lost or misidentified.  Photo credit: freedigitalphotos.net, Gualberto107
Adorable pup, but with no collar and ID tag, he’s easily lost or misidentified.
Photo credit: freedigitalphotos.net, Gualberto107

Upon getting Max from the human society, we instantly got him collar ID tags. It is engraved with his name, our name, our address, and our phone number. These are the easiest ways to ID a dog because a dog’s collar is the first place anyone looks, when they find a stray.

There are many drawbacks to ID tags on a collar.They are easily lost, or torn off by a frisky, adventurous dog. They also wear out easily, making them unreadable; Max’s chewing has marred his ID tags with teeth marks, for example. While there are new, high-tech ID tags with USB drives attached to them, they are not all that common; you can’t always rely on the general public to know what to do with such a new piece of technology.

  • Microchips

Microchips are a tamper-proof way to ensure that your pet can be reunited with you. However, a microchip should not replace your pet’s rabies or generic ID tag.

Microchips are implanted into your pet with a needle and are generally placed between the shoulder blades. It is like getting a regular vaccine, so your pet does not need anesthesia; however, many pet owners choose to have them implanted during spay and neuter procedures, as the needle is larger than many vaccines. Talk to your vet about insertion, as some veterinarians recommend microchipping in conjunction with rabies vaccinations.

Microchips are inserted much like a vaccine.  Image credit: Freedigitalphotos.net
Microchips are inserted much like a vaccine.
Image credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

The microchip has a unique number assigned to it. The length of this number depends on where the microchip is implanted. For example, if the pet is given an ISO (International Organization for Standardization)microchip, he will have a longer code, one that is readable both backwards and forwards. Currently, North America does not follow the ISO standards; so, unless otherwise specified, most microchips implanted in North America are non-ISO standard microchips. However, if you are traveling to another continent, or with a military member with overseas orders, it is a good idea to microchip with an ISO standard microchip.

When a runaway pet is found and brought to a vet or a shelter, standard procedure involves the doctor scanning the shoulder area with a handheld device, looking for a chip. The scan is not harmful to your pet; the scanner looks much like a barcode reader you might see at the supermarket.

A microchip is only effective though, if it is registered with a database, much like a license. There are many well-known microchip database companies:

HomeAgain’s annual fee of $17.95 registers your pet in their database of over 6.5 million pets. This includes all brands of microchips, and covers airfare of up to $500 to return your lost pet if they are found over 500 miles away from home. They also have a downloadable app that you can download to send notification to other members in the area regarding missing pets, kind of like an Amber Alert for your pet. They also have a 24/7 emergency advice line, and they offer pet insurance.

The company offers both pet insurance and a place to register microchip ID numbers. To register your pet there is a fee; they offer either a yearly fee, or a lifetime fee, and fees differ depending on whether you are registering a cat or a dog. They have a 24-hour emergency advice line, as well as an alert system that notifies local shelters if you report your pet missing. Like HomeAgain, they register any brand of microchip; but they also offer their own specific type of microchip.

Avid has a specific microchip that they offer called the Avid Friend Chip. To use an Avid Friend chip, you you can use the search option on their site to find a vet that carries their chip. They also have a registration fee, either annual or lifetime enrollment. It does not specify if you can register a non-Avid brand microchip, on their site. However, they require you to do a paper form to verify your pet’s ID number and to pay the registration fee.

  • Tattoos

Tattoos work similarly to microchips, as they are a unique number, assigned to your animal. However, they are not internal like a chip; they are externally applied, usually to puppies. They are often done by the breeder, usually inside of the ear, on the stomach or on the inner thigh.

The drawback to tattoos is that, like on humans, tattoos fade. Additionally, because they are not as common, they are unexpected, and not always noticed as a source of identification, especially if they are in a location that may be covered with new fur growth.

  • GPS

Pet Tracker is a GPS unit that attaches to your pet’s collar and sends a signal to a pre-determined area that you have assigned for your pet. It tracks, on a map, where your pet is, in this area, and if your pet leaves it. It even tracks your pet’s activities throughout the day. It is waterproof, but runs off of a battery that you have to charge every 30 days. Pet Tracker (tagg) is the primary company offering this service.

With all the options we have available to provide identification for our pet it is very important to do your research to find out which one fits you, your pet, and your lifestyle. We all love our pets like they are part of the family, so why not use some of the great technology we have to be prepared for the worst?