Emergency Preparedness

Disaster preparedness - Photo by AWI

When natural disasters or other emergencies occur, you may need to take quick action to save yourself, your family members, and—perhaps most challenging—your companion animals. With proper preparation, however, seeing to the safety of an animal in such situations need not be difficult or add extra risks to you and your family.

Even though it is hard to predict what will happen during and after a disaster, there are some things that can be done ahead of time. As is the case for you and your family, when seeing to the needs of companion animals during a disaster, it is vitally important to have a well-thought-out plan, with alternatives at the ready to deal with various circumstances.

Keeping Your Pets with You

If forced to evacuate, it is impossible to know how long it will be until you can return home—so please take your animals with you. The Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006 (PETS Act), signed into law on October 6, 2006, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, requires local and state emergency preparedness operational plans to address the needs of individuals with household pets, and authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide rescue for individuals and their household pets.

Not all emergency shelters allow companion animals, so it is important to research which ones take animals and the types of animals they accept. Your county emergency management office and your local animal shelter may be able to help. Similarly, compile a list of pet-friendly hotels and motels outside of your area.

Assemble a portable pet supply kit and have it stocked and on hand. Keep a good supply of water as well as nonperishable foodstuffs and medicines in sealed, waterproof containers that can be carried easily. Ensure that animal vaccinations are current. Keep photographs of your pet in case you get separated. In preparation for the possibility of being separated from your pet, make sure to have recent photos with you in case you need to post flyers. To be especially prepared, create the flyers ahead of time. (You may not have the time or necessary resources to do so in the midst of an emergency.)

Should disaster strike, try to stay calm, as this will help calm your animals. Take a restraint and carrier, as you may not know what situations you will face and may need to confine the animal for his or her own safety. If space permits, take a familiar blanket and toys to keep them warm, comforted and occupied.


Moving horses to safety during an emergency presents a unique set of challenges, given their large size and transportation requirements. In order for them to be evacuated, horses must be comfortable being loaded onto a trailer. For horses who are not used to trailers, practice makes perfect. Training will reduce panic should an emergency arise.

Developing an evacuation plan beforehand is key, including mapping out more than one escape route in the event of road closures or other impediments. You may wish to make arrangements with a professional horse hauling company if you do not have sufficient trailer space. Have a list of destinations where you could take horses to safety; this could include private facilities that board horses, but also places such as fairgrounds, racetracks, or equestrian facilities. Consider making arrangements with horse owners in neighboring regions who could stable your horse. Shelters or animal control agencies, equine rescues, local emergency management authorities, and agricultural extension offices may be able to recommend locations where horses can be kept during emergencies.

Even basic steps such as leaving your trailer hooked up to a vehicle can help save precious time during an emergency. Horse owners should ensure they have sufficient fuel for an unexpected trip. Although transporting horses is difficult, avoid leaving them behind if you need to evacuate, particularly since they may be without access to food, water, care, or adequate shelter for days. Horses require a significant amount of water and feed, so having supplies on hand is essential. In situations where evacuation is not warranted or possible, ensure you have enough drinking water to last at least one week (12 to 20 gallons of water per day per horse). In general, horse owners should endeavor to stockpile at least a week’s worth of feed.

Prepare written instructions ahead of time to leave with caretakers if you will not be staying on site with your horse during the emergency. Keep copies of veterinary papers, Coggins test results, and identifying documents or photographs to carry with you in a waterproof envelope. Attach waterproof tags to each horse’s halter with emergency contact information. Consider microchipping your horse as well, as this could aid in recovery in the event of a disaster. You can even download an Equine Emergency-Evacuation Kit Checklist.

Situations Where You Cannot Keep Your Animals with You

To prepare for the possibility that you will not be able to keep your pets with you, however, also contact in advance reliable friends, relatives or pet-sitters who will agree to care for your pets in accordance with your instructions until you can collect them.

If you have no choice but to leave companion animals behind unattended, understand that circumstances may prevent your return to the premises for an extended period of time—and plan accordingly. Do not leave companion animals loose outdoors. Keep them in a secure area inside your home with access to upper floors in case of flooding. Provide at least ten days’ supply of dry food and as much water as possible. For rescuers or anyone who might need to attend to your animal in your absence, leave your pet’s identification, your name, your location (if known), and how to reach you, as well as any special care instructions. Leave notification outside of the building of the fact that live animals are inside. Also, having your pets microchipped and making sure that their registration is up to date may help rescuers reunite you with your pets.

The Aftermath

After surviving a disaster it may be hard to get back to a normal routine. Animals, like people, can become disoriented and confused, especially if once familiar surroundings have changed. Leash dogs and cats when they go outside and maintain close contact at all times in the days following major upheaval. This is especially important if there are downed power lines or other hazards as a result of the disaster. Animals, like people can suffer from post-traumatic stress, so it is also important to monitor behavior and react accordingly by visiting a veterinarian if temperament changes are causing you concern.