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In a wildfire, hurricane, or other disaster, people with pets should heed the Humane Society’s advice: If it isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for your animals either.

Whether your charge is a lap dog, bird, outdoor cat, or farm animal, planning ahead for a potential evacuation can help you protect your animals and also first responders, who may risk their safety to save your pets.

Take the following measures now to help keep family pets safe should an evacuation become necessary:

1. Stay informed. A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit Ready.gov to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning NOAA Weather Radio to your local emergency station or using the FEMA app to get National Weather Service alerts.

2. Ensure your pet is easily identifiable. Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. Microchipping your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.

Additionally, use ‘animals inside’ door/window stickers to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write “Evacuated” on the sticker so first responders don’t waste time searching for them.)

3. Make a pet evacuation plan. “No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals,” says veterinarian Heather Case in a video produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

It’s important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.

Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.

For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers tips on what to expect there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.

Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you’re comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.

A cartoon shows an adult and a dog getting ready to leave the house and go out into the rainy dark. The adult is laden with bags. In the living room, a cat gestures to the couch, which is lying on top of an open suitcase. Caption: "You said to pack only the essentials, and this couch is essential for my afternoon naps."
Cartoon by Tom Toro.

If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.

For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that here.)

For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.

4. Prepare a pet evacuation kit. Like the emergency preparedness kit you’d prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:

  • Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;
  • Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;
  • Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);
  • Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;
  • A pet first aid kit;
  • A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet’s most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;
  • A favorite toy and/or blanket;
  • If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding stress-relieving items like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.

In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:

  • Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;
  • A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;
  • Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;
  • Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else’s care;
  • A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.

5. Be ready to evacuate at any time. It’s always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don’t have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.

As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, “If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, pet disaster preparedness will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet’s anxiety too.”

Evacuating horses and other farm animals

The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.

Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.

Also see: How to make an evacuation plan

For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven’t yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has more information.

Bottom line: If you need to evacuate, so do your pets

As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.

Daisy Simmons is a freelance writer and editor with more than 15 years of experience in research-driven storytelling. In addition to contributing to Yale Climate Connections since early 2016, she also...