Prep to Evacuate with Pets: 5 Steps to Take NOW

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By B. Cat Stone

If you received an alert that there was an emergency requiring immediate evacuation and had only minutes to prepare to leave your house with your pets, could you be ready? Most pet parents would say no. In a Godzilla-level emergency, such as a fast-moving wildfire or flood, evacuation might be mandatory with very little notice. Being read to evacuate with pets is incredibly important.

Since the 1980s, disasters have tripled globally. These include floods, wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes. Emergencies can also be man-made, such as chemical spills. Thousands of animals are affected every year by natural disasters, because many pet owners don’t take the time to prepare.

The thought of getting displaced by a cat-astrophe can be a terrifying one, especially if you live with a treasured fur-iend. However, there’s no need to worry if you have a good preparedness plan that includes your pet. It will ensure that in case of an emergency, you and your extended furry family are all ready to leave in just a few wags of a tail.

This article covers key items and information you should have to successfully bug out with your dogs and cats fast, so you can all stay safe during a disaster.

5 steps to prep your pet to bug out

Prepping to exit quickly involves much more than just grabbing your animal and a leash or carrier.  Here are 5 basic steps you can follow to ensure that you and your fur-iends are ready for an evacuation situation.

Pet identification

Your pet should wear identification at all times which includes your address and contact phone number.  Having your animal microchipped is important too. But if your pet is lost then found during a disaster, a chip scanner may not be available. This is true for both cats and dogs. In an emergency, having ID could save your pet’s life and ensure you’ll be reunited.

Note that there are collar GPS devices available that allow you to track your pet through your smart phone.

Pet bug-out kit

 Your pet’s kit should include the following basic items:

  • Pet evacuation information: Two copies. (Explained in a later section.)
  • Appropriate size carrier: 1 per pet, with identification information; include blanket or towel; your pet may have to stay in it for a while, so it needs to be large enough for them to turn around and lie down comfortably (and include a sanitary area); even large pets should have carriers; some are collapsible to save space.
  • Carry bag: Large enough for all supplies
  • Water: Enough for 3 – 7 days (more is better if space allows).
  • Food and treats: Enough for 3 – 7 days (more is better) in waterproof containers. Include expiration dates.
  • Bowls: For food and water – collapsible ones are good and save room
  • Extra collar, leash and harness with ID: Most public areas require dogs to be leashed; include additional pet ID.
  • Muzzle (for both dogs and cats: Any pet might get spooked in an emergency, and they may have to be handled by strangers. This can affect their behavior.
  • Emergency first aid kit: Buy prepackaged or assemble yourself – Include a mini first-aid kit, too: Antibiotic ointment, tape, cotton bandages, self-stick gauze, scissors and latex gloves are standard.
  • Emergency pet first aid instructions: Booklets, books, and smartphone apps are available.
  • Medications: Include prescriptions and other medication your pet takes; Ask your vet about getting extra in case of an emergency.
  • Flea and tick preventative: 1-month supply
  • Calming remedy: Pets may be anxious in an emergency. Check with your vet. Examples: CBD or products such as Rescue Remedy.
  • Favorite toy: Something familiar to your fur-iend is good.
  • Emergency blanket: Emergency mylar blanket.
  • Pet bed/blanket: Something familiar to your pet is good; include a blanket that can be placed over the carrier for calming.
  • Sanitation (general): Poop bags, potty pads, hand sanitizer, non-nitrile disposable gloves, pet wipes, newspaper.
  • Sanitation (cats): Small litter box (for back of carrier) or portable litter box, litter, scooper, poop bags, gloves, hand sanitizer.
  • Pet ID/tracking device: Identification microchip; tag on collar/harness; optional – local smart tracking device on collar (track with smartphone); include emergency contact information on pet and on carrier.
  • Extra cash: For additional costs, such as pet hotel or additional supplies (card readers may be down).
  • Optional: Waterproof dog shoes/boots: If your dog is walking, in case of debris, wet or cold weather. Train your dog to wear these first!

Cat and dog emergency evacuation kits are available online, or you can create one yourself. Be sure to replace items that expire over time, such as medicine and food.

Have pet-friendly destinations

Did you know that many emergency shelters do not allow pets? Some partner with local animal shelters, such as the Humane Society, which can take in your pet temporarily. Be aware of your options ahead of time, as well as the rules and regulations associated with each. Public shelters are managed by your local Department of Emergency Management.

Plan ahead to determine alternate locations that welcome animals. These can include:

  • Hotels – These are a popular choice for the whole family; however, during a disaster they may fill up fast. You need to know in advance whether dogs and cats are welcome and what rules and extra fees might apply. Websites that offer information about pet-friendly hotels include gopetfriendly.com, petswelcome.com and petfriendlyhotels.com.
  • Pet boarding facilitiesAnother possibility for your fur-iends is a pet hotel or resort, or a veterinary hospital in a safe area that boards pets. Know where these are located, what services they offer and their prices.
  • Family and friendsAsk family and friends who do not live in a danger zone if they’d be willing to let your four-legged-friend(s) stay with them temporarily during an emergency. If so, you can drop off your animal and their bug-out kit with them if your safe destination doesn’t allow pets. Having a backup is a good idea in case one family member or friend is unavailable.

Document and keep your destination information up to date. Store it with your pet’s kit and on your phone.

Pet evacuation information

Another set of data that’s critical to bring with you is pet evacuation information. Have two copies of the paperwork in case you have to be separated from your pet temporarily (for example, if your fur-iend must stay in a separate shelter). In that situation, one copy needs to stay with the pet and the other with you.

Store all paperwork in two waterproof envelopes or containers. Make sure the information is kept up to date. Include copies of the following documents and information:

  • Collar tags information
  • Emergency contact information (yours and at least one other)
  • Microchip information
  • Feeding instructions
  • Veterinary clinic information and important veterinary records
  • Rabies certificate
  • Proof of other vaccinations – Type, date, expiration
  • Medical insurance information, if your pet has it
  • Most recent Heartworm test result (dog)
  • Most recent Felv/FIV test result (cat)
  • Medication your pet takes – Prescription and OTC/other, including dosages
  • Adoption records or other proof of ownership
  • Pet description – For example, breed, color, sex, temperament
  • Recent photos of your pet (preferably with you) – To help establish ownership
  • Two waterproof containers for this information – one for you, one to stay with pet

Practice bugging out

Practice makes purrfect. In a real emergency situation, you may have only minutes to gather your animals, bug-out kit and documents. Without being familiar with a routine, animals may be nervous, difficult to handle, or hide. If you and your pets are trained in advance to grab your gear and exit quickly, you can save precious time and effort and lessen everyone’s stress.

For example, based on your planned mode of transportation – driving or walking – take your people and pet kits, then place your pet in its carrier, on its leash or in its backpack. Take a walk or drive with the whole family to simulate your evacuation.

Daisy recommends feeding cats in their carrier on a daily basis to make it their go-to place.

Be your own pack

If you expect the calvary to come trotting over the hill to your rescue at a moment’s notice… better hang on to your leash. Local responders should be on hand as quickly as possible; however, there may not be enough advance warning, so you might not be able to wait for them before you have to leave.

The safest policy is to be ready to high-tail-it on your own if need be. Having your family’s bug-out kits, including your pet’s, as well as evacuation training, will help ensure you can do just that.

Our fur-iends are there for us, and they depend on us. We need to be there for them. Preparing your pets now for an emergency that could come at any time will help keep them safe and might save their (9) lives. Best of all, it will give you peace of mind.

Are you prepared to evacuate with pets?

If you had to evacuate with pets, would you and your furry friends be ready? Have you ever had to evacuate your home? Do you have any tips for others who might need to leave in a hurry with their pets?

Let’s discuss it in the comments sections.

About Cat

B. Cat Stone is a writer, animal rescuer and pet groomer. She lives in the Western U.S. with her furry friends at her dog and cat sanctuary. She’s the author of the book, “The Cat in the Music Box: A Message from Pet Heaven.” Contact her at [email protected].

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  • Great article, but you MUST have your pet crate trained! Even if you never intend to crate your pet, they will have to one day go to the vet, and it is very anxious making for a dog to be put into a crate when they aren’t used to it. If you remember all the Katrina dogs, they were crated and some were VERY anxious because it was a makeshift rescue operation. All of my dogs, regardless of size, are trained from puppyhood to a crate, and it makes them so much happier if traveling. My dogs go into their crate on command, and self crate when they want to be left alone. Even the ones who sleep free in the house have been trained to sleep in the crate for the first year, and have free access to their crate during the day. Gives them a safe place to hide or sleep deeply where they know they are safe.

    There are great embroidered collars that you can have made with your phone number and name, or pet’s name. No tags to jingle and give away your position if you want stealth, and also no tags to get caught on something.

    I also include a ground stake (the kind you twist into the ground) and a clip cable. This allows you to be hands free if you need to set up a camp. Got mine from the Dollar Tree, and I also find them at garage sales. I would also get one of those “Sham-wow” towels, or something similar to wipe off wet pets and their paws. Makes camping/bugging out more comfortable when the dog is dry and happy. I also have a Lifestraw in the dog backpack, just in case. With larger dogs, you can train them to carry their own pack with food and water, to free up your pack for other necessities.

    A bug out bag left in the car for the dog is nice, but remember that the heat from the summer can make the fat in dog/cat food go rancid fairly quickly, so it needs to be changed out often.

    Just my two cents to an otherwise great article.

  • This essay is good as far as it goes

    Equine:
    How to create an evacuation plan for your horse.
    https://tinyurl.com/bdzhrp6d

    Evacuating Large Animals
    https://tinyurl.com/45jx9tay

    Preparing an Equine Emergency Evacuation Plan
    https://tinyurl.com/mwc7fn7w

    Equine Emergency-Evacuation Kit Checklist
    https://tinyurl.com/4dmvfwk2

    Equine disaster preparedness
    https://tinyurl.com/5b5ajsph

    Livestock:

    Livestock_Evacuation_Guidelines_PRC.pdf
    https://tinyurl.com/5n6eb7n8

    Large animals and livestock in disasters
    https://tinyurl.com/mffhh6u8

    Emergency Preparedness for Farm Animals
    https://tinyurl.com/mr2mf6ym

    PREPARING FOR WILDFIRE SEASON: LIVESTOCK EVACUATION
    https://tinyurl.com/4vndb6bu

    Livestock disaster preparedness
    https://tinyurl.com/yuhbh6m5

    These links are just for larger pets. Other readers may want to share links for other pets.

    • Thank you for this. The cats and dog are a piece of cake, compared to getting 10 goats, 20+ chickens and other poultry, and 3 horses moved in a hurry.

  • Those documents might be placed on a jump drive for ease of carrying, especially for those who don’t drive. Other things can be packed into a bug-out bag, which is what I believe the author is getting at. When the mandatory evacuation order comes down there’s not going to be much time, as in <30 minutes easily, so being as prepared as possible will only help. The Army at the door insisting that you leave is unlikely to take No for an answer!

  • Thanks for the article. I’m working on BOBs for us and dogs now. However, I would like to see a realistic paired down list for people who aren’t driving semi trucks or large RVs – LOL. There is no way I can fit 2 dogs, 2 adults, and all of the recommended gear for everyone in our SUV. Need some practical tips around this.

    • We have the same problem. Three large dogs and two now domesticated feral cats. We’re in a remote area but prone to wildfire and earthquakes.

      Our best solution so far is a small trailer that we can fit the travel crates in. We need to fabricate a cover for it incase we need to drive through smoke, etc.

      Any tips would be most welcome!

      • @Adie:I have a small Jeep wrangler. I was a mail carrier and removed both the passenger and back seat for my job. When I retired, I left them out. (I live alone). I have put all of my emergency items in the jeep, and it is FULL! I recently drove over 1,600 miles with my cat. I purchased a rooftop carrier and put some things on top in order to get a small cooler, and my pet cage inside. I have a collapsible wire cage and it worked great. You might try replacing the pet cage with a wire one that breaks down to about 1″ wide for storage in the house. And get a rooftop carrier to store some thing inside. I had a “waterproof” rubber carrier that, when I got back from my trip had about an inch of water inside it. (Fortunately, I had the items inside plastic tubs and nothing was damaged) I have since replaced that with a hardcase rooftop carrier. You can get ones that will store quite a lot. Store things like non perishable items like road/vehicle emergency items like road flares, snow socks/chains, portable ‘toilets’, etc. If you feel safe about the waterproof-ness, sleeping bags, tents, cold weather clothing, and such could also be stored there. I have fit a TON of items in and on top of my jeep and feel secure in the fact I could live out of it for probably close to a week if necessary with my cat. As a family, you should be able to put enough inside and on top to have at least a few days…especially if you have an SUV or similar.
        Good luck.

    • Look for preppernet.net and join. They have an unpaid and paid version. I am in that group. I am a licensed RVT (of over 25 years and disaster trained) and there are a lot of truck drivers in that group…as well. Get in there and go thru the chats. It has a learning curve to search for things…but there is lots of info you can search for and if you don’t see an answer just ask. Most of them will tag me anyways. Lol

      I’ve also done prepper camp talks and did a class with Lisa Bedford author of “Survival Mom”.

  • Wow! This article was terrific!! You –>know<– what disasters lurk in your area. Be prepared for those disasters, plus if things go sideways and you need to leave, maybe permanently. This article covered a lot of needs, let me add a couple more. Muttluks All Weather Dog Boots, Ruffwear Grip Trex or Pawz Waterproof Dog Boots are an excellent choice for foot protection. Make sure that you measure your dogs foot, that the feet are healthy, and that the "shoes" are needed. Rough thorn infested ground would require Muttluks or Ruffwear while a slog through wet, slimy, or soaking rain would be better with a Pawz. (Pawz are also like a rubbery balloon, so put a small hole in the top so your pet's feet can breathe.) Take your time getting a pet used to boots-one paw at a time. Make it fun, never scold or force, and you will be able to get all 4 feet ready for an adventure.
    If space is at a premium, and you don't/can't get a tow trailer, then get crates that are collapsable. Pack everything your pup(s) need in a bag that is strictly theirs. I have an Outward Hound bag for Oscar and I can get a lot in there. Or get a good bag in a color no one else in the family has-that way everyone will know it immediately. I pack kibble in a plastic container. It stacks easily and again it is obvious.
    One more thing, a small tow trailer will allow you to take freeze dried foods along. With an ability to cook, you can make tasty meals when restaurants, etc are closed. Bacon and scrambled eggs go a long way when chaos is reining.

  • I admit to being very lapse in that when I got my kitten, I didn’t “train” her to: a collar (she is indoor only), leash, riding in vehicle. I DID keep the small pet carrier open and around so she could go inside, and NEVER used it as punishment …but she still won’t go in it voluntarily. So, now she is 3 years old and I can’t get her used to a collar, (harness as cat collars break away) let alone a leash. I do plan to get her used to riding in my jeep on short drives like to the store, trying to put her in a muzzle will not be doable, IMO as she is VERY stubborn. And it wouldn’t be enough because of her claws: no remedy for that!
    I know most people have dogs (I really am more of a dog person than a cat…but a large dog was not something I wanted to get into when I got her), and most reads are oriented toward dogs rather than cats…it’s a shame as a lot of us out here have cats and not dogs…..

    • Carol – as was mentioned in the article, I too had cats. We lived in wildfire country and after a harrowing search for the kitties when we had to evacuate once, I began feeding the inside the crate. Every day, every meal. I started just outside the crate and then moved the dish in, never ever closing the door on them. They began to associate the crate with meal time and it became far easier to get them to go in voluntarily. This is my suggestion for your cat 🙂 It may take a few weeks for her to go all the way in but if you start now you’ll be that much further ahead.

    • Hi Carol. As I mentioned above I am a licensed RVT of 25 years with disaster training. (Not that I’m taking anything away from Daisey as all preppers are interconnected) but Join preppernet.net. They have a free version and a paid version. I am there. I have done classes at Bug out camp with them and I have done a class with author Lisa Bedford of “Survival Mom”. Survivor Mom also has 2 facebook groups I can be reached in. Use the search to look for pets or animals and a lot of people will tag me. LOL I agree with Daisey. Start feeding in the back of the cage. put her bed in there. Put some of her favorite toys in there. Collars are okay…but they fall off. Your very best bet is a microchip. I will comment separately on the details of the above article so look for that. You CAN train a cat! It takes time and it works much better if they are food motivated. You can ask your vet to look up on the VIN network (a website just of veterinary professionals) training protocols from Dr. Karen Overall, VMD. She is a board certified veterinary behaviorist from the Univ. of Penn and literally…wrote the textbook on cat and dog behaviour and behaviour modification trainings. She has great information and training protocols that you can do with your cat.

      For muzzling: Cats can be tricky. The first thing I would actually do is work on your cat getting their feet touched. Some cats like to be held and petted. When s/he is nice and relaxed, start petting her legs and feet. Do gentle massages, gently touch her toes. When she is comfortable enough for that, practice touching and retracting her claws. After a while s/he will be accustomed to that. Then start introducing treat rewards. she lets you retract a claw, s/he gets a small reward. When you take her to the vet or groomers, have someone SHOW you how to trim their claws. See if you can practice in front of them. Some animals do not do well with nail cuttings….that is okay. Try a metal nail file like we use for our nails. Literally 2 or 3 passes per nail and only do 1 paw per day. This way, you get in there…do what you need to do and get out. LOL These things take time … and patience. Just like Daisey said…. start now because at least you will be much further ahead of the curve than most people.

      After getting her/his feet use to being touched, another good thing to practice on is wrapping them up in a small blanket or cover. They make pet sized ones. A nice fleece you can find at a fabrics store. Just lay it out so they can get use to it and let them take naps on it. This way, it smells familiar. Use that blanket while they are calm and relaxed and wrap them like a baby. cuddle with them. My cats were a bit spoiled and loved to be held like a baby and petted. LOL

      Why do all of this? because getting them use to being handled will make further interactions less stressful for both you and the animal. If you are having issues with getting them inside a crate … but they like the blanket… wrap them in a blanket and then put them (wrapped in the blanket) inside the crate. The blanket provides both a barrier and a “safe space” for your cat. Touching feet and toes gets them use to being handled so that nail trims become a normal thing and no big deal. Handling feet and legs desensitizes them to having their appendages being handled and although they may be stressed… they are not “freaking out” and won’t cause injury to themselves or someone that is trying to get them to a safe space.

      Working with animals should be an everyday thing and even multiple times a day. It does not need to be hours on end training sessions. 2 minutes here, 30 seconds there, 10 mins snuggling on the couch, etc. it all adds up and these shorter more pleasant interactions are banked to create a much better training outcome than intensive training sessions.

      Good luck and every day is a new opportunity to do something…no matter how small.

  • This is a really good article…. HOWEVER … a few things needed to be pointed out. I’m a licensed RVT of 25 years with a backround in disaster trainings. I am apart of my CART and SART (County Animal Rescue Team / State An.Res. Team). These articles really do not need the cutesy language. It’s fun I get it but straight forward information is much better at being receptive to your audience.
    Now, a few elaborations and corrections. First, the microchip and scanner situation. EVERY vet office and every shelter has a scanner! Unless you live out in a very rural area this should not be a problem. When the county or state set up an emergency sheltering system there are very specific pieces of equipment that are set aside for disasters. crates, bowls, leashes…. and a microchip scanner! The thing that WOULD be an issue is NOT the scanner to read the chip. We can do that! It is gaining access to the internet where the database of owner information is held! So YES! have your animal’s microchip number documented somewhere. Have your vet print out something and put that with your paperwork. Why? Because we can manually match YOUR paperwork to the scanner that brings up the microchip number. If an animal comes in without an owner, we document the chip number. When the internet comes back online we can then gain access to the website and obtain owner contact information to reunite.

    I also wanted to point out that yes everyone can make recommendations and “Oh I use this” but everyone giving advice needs to be careful of HOW that advice is delivered. You can NOT just say things like “CBD”! That is a little careless. CBD comes in 2 forms. 1 of those forms is TOXIC to pets! You can also get into trouble with verbage and how you present information because in certain circumstances it can be viewed as violating practice act laws and “practicing veterinary medicine without a license”. So you can not just go around and say…”use this”.
    So, AFTER you talk to your vet/doctor to make sure that your animal does not have any medical issues or is on any medication that may affect them or the meds that they take… yes animals CAN take the hemp version of CBD under doctor advisement. The THC version of CBD is toxic and many animals have come through my ER’s needed to be detoxed and hospitalized either because their owners were careless with their supply.. or they gave the wrong CBD to an animal.

    Another tip I would HIGHLY recommend is to write out directions…. for everything. Write out WHAT you feed, HOW MUCH you feed and how often. “Lady gets fed Purina One Adult formula. We give her 1 cup in the morning and 1 cup in the evening.” If your pet is on any medications, be specific. “Lady takes medication for her heart. She gets 1/2 tablet of 5mg Lasix in the morning before we feed her. We wrap it in a piece of cheese. We give her 1 table of Lasix in the evening in a Pill Pocket after her evening walk.” Being THIS specific helps anyone to care for your animals the way that THEY are use to being cared for. This ensures that IF you were to become separated (at a shelter or hotel/kennel or you need to be hospitalized) that your animals needs are taken care of.

    Last, I completely agree with Gina. Crate train your cats and dogs. make sure your large animals get use to being trailered. Thank you to Fake Name for posting all of the large animal links!

    Talk to your veterinary team! We are here to HELP…any way we can. I would not necessarily say your a prepper but rather and especially since c.vid, you want to be prepared in case of a disaster or emergency situation. Tell them you are building a first aid kit…what do they recommend? Do they have any print outs or information they can give you? The better you care for your pets, the easier our job becomes. Absolutely be pro-active. Good luck and everyday do something small to achieve your goals.

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