There’s not much time to react when disaster strikes, especially when it’s a life or death situation. You want to get out safely and as soon as possible with your family, and that includes your pets.
Saving your pets comes with its own set of circumstances, however. For instance, many evacuation centers, should you be displaced there, don’t allow pets. So what do you do? Here’s the best course of action to protect your human and four-legged loved ones, should you need to evacuate your home quickly.
Create an emergency bag for your pet
You should have an emergency bag for yourself and your family, but you also should have a separate bag for your pet to ensure that everyone’s needs are covered for at least the first few days following a disaster. Your pet’s bag should include:
At least three days worth of food and water, plus portable bowls.
Vet records from the previous two years, including vaccinations, your pet’s microchip number, medications, and any allergies. Be sure to have a supply of your pet’s meds packed as well.
First-aid kit for pets; the Red Cross provides a comprehensive list of what you should have if you want to DIY (if you have a first aid kit already, there are several items that will also work for your pets), but you also can buy one from Amazon.
Muzzle if your animal has a tendency to be aggressive, especially when frightened.
Treats to calm your pets.
Photo of your pet to assist search and rescue should it go missing.
Collar with ID and rabies tags.
Your vet’s phone number, in case of emergency.
Extra litter and a spare litter box if you’re a cat owner.
Take pet CPR and first-aid classes
In the event of a disaster, your dog or cat can break limbs or incur wounds with serious bleeding, and knowing how to respond appropriately in that moment can mean the difference between life and death.
“A good pet CPR class will teach you how to properly administer chest compressions and rescue breathing, create improvised splints for securing broken bones, how to perform basic wound care and stop life-threatening bleeding, and give you a list of items for your pet first aid kit,” says Scott S. Topiol, clinical director at CPR Ready in Los Angeles. “The most complete emergency kit is useless if you’re not able to provide emergency medical care to your cat or dog when seconds count.” (See also: 7 Things You Need to Know About Pet Insurance)
Get your pet microchipped
Your pet should be microchipped when it’s spayed or neutered, but if it hasn’t been, have the chip put in your pet as soon as possible. A microchip is implanted between your pet’s shoulders and is about the size of a grain of rice. The procedure itself is similar to a pet getting a vaccine. The information on the chip will go to a database after it’s registered (an important step that some pet parents overlook) and scanned that will include your pet’s number and profile, along with your contact information. You may never have to use the chip, but when a lost pet is brought into a vet’s office or shelter, the first thing they do is scan for a microchip, so if your pet has one, there’s a much better chance you’ll be reunited should you get split up. (See also: 6 Pet Expenses You Should Never Skip)
Put a GPS tracker on your pet
A reliable pet GPS tracker also makes it possible to keep track of pets during an emergency. The lightweight, waterproof device attaches comfortably to your pet’s collar or harness, and allows you to track your pet’s location anywhere in the U.S. The battery on these typically lasts several days, providing an ample window to find your pet in the event you’re separated during a disaster.
Affix a pet alert sticker to your window
In case of emergency, first-responders will be able to identify your household as one that may need pets rescued with a pet alert sticker placed where it can be clearly seen.
“Write down the number of pets inside your house and attach the static cling to a front window,” says, “The Pet Lady” Dana Humphrey. “This critical information saves rescuers time when locating your pets. Make sure to update the number of pets listed [when your pet family grows].”
Have an exit strategy
Humphrey also suggests leaving your pet’s carrier and emergency go bag by the door so you can access it quickly and easily in the event that you have to leave in a split second.
Never leave your pets behind
Your pet is a member of your family, and should be treated as such when you’re evacuating. Don’t leave your animal in vehicles, tethered, or crated without you or a family member.
“To help avoid having to make such a difficult choice, identify and create a list of places to evacuate with your pets in preparation, such as pet-friendly hotels or boarding facilities, and include contact information and addresses for each,” adds former Bachelor Sean Lowe, who partnered with the Banfield Foundation following Hurricane Harvey to promote pet preparedness during disaster situations.
Include your pets in your will
So your pet is properly cared for when you pass away — in a disaster or otherwise — include those provisions in your will. Keep the information up-to-date with the names of each pet, the person who has agreed to care for the pet, and their contact information. If you want to provide that person money to care for the pet, state that in the will. (See also: 6 Reasons You Need to Include Pets in Your Will)
Look for an AKC Disaster Relief trailer
Following a natural disaster, AKC Disaster Relief trailers will have necessary items your pet may need if you weren’t fully prepared to evacuate. Even if you were prepared but need to stock up on certain necessities, feel free to do so.
Check with your state branch of FEMA to see if there is one near you. If so, include the location of the trailer and contact information in your emergency go bag so you can get help if the time comes.