By some accounts, the expression “hope for the best and prepare for the worst” was coined more than 400 years ago. Despite that it remains relevant to this day. While nobody wants or expects bad things to happen, the reality is that disruptive, potentially life-threatening emergencies can arise at any time. As a pet owner, you owe it to those you care about to take steps beforehand that will enable you to cope if and when disaster strikes.
In fact, no matter what, experience suggests that planning ahead can make a big difference in terms of how things turn out when conditions turn sour. The first step, of course, is to figure out what can or may go wrong. Although it is impossible to know all the various permutations for sure, some of the most common emergency situations include the following:
It goes without saying that some are less likely to be seen in certain locales than in others. If you live in a generally warm southern location, prospects for a blizzard are somewhat remote. Alternatively, if you live far from the ocean or other coastline, the odds that you will be hit by a hurricane are fairly low. But this doesn’t necessarily mean such a turn of events is impossible, especially given how weather patterns have been changing over time.
Every scenario is different, but “natural disaster”-type emergencies often require that those living in an affected zone either evacuate their residences or, when travel is impossible, “shelter in place.” Aside from having an action plan and supplies on hand that will support your family and others you care about at such times, you will need to make other preparations specifically related to your pet.
Practically speaking, the requirements will vary somewhat based on where you are when conditions turns sour and whether you need to evacuate the area or are forced to stay put. Either way, there are logistical challenges associated with each outcome that require certain actions to be taken or supplies to be secured beforehand, mostly because it may be difficult or impossible to do so after the fact.
Below are brief checklists for each of the two scenarios. You’ll likely also want to consider other issues specific to your circumstances, including the ages of those who might be with you, the particulars of your location, and the resources you have available, but what follows can serve as a good starting point. Once your list is complete, you should review it on a regular basis and if something goes wrong, be ready to call your plan into action on a moment’s notice.
Experience suggests that when people are forced to move home with little advance notice, things can easily be forgotten or otherwise go astray, especially when conditions are highly uncertain or chaotic. With this in mind, the following recommendations are particularly apt in the event you and your pet have to make a sudden exit:
Microchipping. As we noted in “Keeping Your Pet Safe with Microchipping,” there are manyu advantages to getting this taken care of, including the fact that you’ll likely have an easier time reconnecting with your pet should you get separated during an emergency. Implanting the chip is just the first step, however. You should also remember to register and link the chip’s unique identifier with your name, address and phone number. If your loved one gets lost, then he (or she) can easily be traced back to you.
Pet ID tags. Ensuring your pet is tagged electronically is not the only way to heighten the odds you will be reunited with him if he somehow goes astray. You should have identification tags that include your name, telephone number and/or email address on your pet’s collar at all times. If you have a cat or some other animal that generally doesn’t wear one, consider keeping on hand a harness with an ID tag that you can put on your little one in case of emergency.
Pet transportation. If it’s in your budget, you should ensure your car or other vehicle can hold your pets, their crates, and other key items related to their needs in the event you face an emergency evacuation. If you do not have your own means of transport, you might want to consider making arrangements with a friend or family member nearby to secure this sort of assistance should circumstances warrant.
Crates or carriers. If the situation is urgent enough, you may have little time to think about how safe your car or other vehicle is for an uncrated pet when you are leaving your living quarters. As in less challenging times, however, keeping your dogs, cats and other little ones in crates or otherwise restrained while you are on the road can help keep them safe and make it easier to transport them comfortably and securely in times of emergency.
Medical records. It’s one thing to keep your pet’s shots and medical history up-to-date. It’s another to have to prove it when circumstances make a turn for the worst. Among other things, you’ll want to ensure you have a paper copy of their current rabies vaccination certificate on hand. If your pet has a chronic condition, you’ll want keep current copies of his medical records with you at all times. You may also want to consider storing them and your veterinarian’s contact information in both digital and paper form to ensure you have backup, if necessary.
Medications. If your pet has been taking a prescription medication for some extended period, you’ll want to ensure that keep at least two week’s supply on hand at all times. Aside from not being able to reach your veterinarian in case of an emergency, ti’s worth remembering that the supply chains for various drug can easily get disrupted when major disaster strikes.
Pet first aid kit. As we discussed in “Preparing for an Emergency: A Basic First Aid Kit,” it’s a good idea to have a pet first aid kit on hand that can help you cope with the unexpected. Having this sort of support when you are forced to leave your home during a disaster can prove t a lifesaver. All else being equal, it may enable your pet to survive in case the worst happens while you are away from home, familiar surroundings, and trained healthcare professionals. Although you may not face any immediate danger, it is better to be prepared if you do.
Food and water. Having enough essentials on hand in the event of an emergency is also critically import. Given this, it makes sense to have a three-day supply of food on hand at all times. If it‘s hurricane season, you’ll also want to be sure you store cans or dry food in small plastic bins or zip-top bags to keep them fresh and easy to transport; you’ll also want to have an opener on hand. You also won’t want to forget to have plenty of fresh water available – perhaps three to six liters per pet, if possible.
Flashlights. More often than not, when any sort of major disaster strikes, your electric service doesn’t remain functional for long. Consequently, you’ll want to leave flashlights – with working batteries that you should test periodically – in at least three areas of your home. Although the exact locations will vary depending on your circumstances, it’s likely you’ll want to keep one in your bedroom, one in the kitchen, and one in your dining or other living area.
Litter box and kitty litter emergency kit. If you have a cat, you may want to consider having a small disposable aluminum baking pan available and ready to be called into action. Choose one of the deep-dish varieties with sides at least two inches high, and place clean, fresh kitty litter, packed into two or three sandwich-size zip-top bags, as well as a scoop, nearby in case of emergency.
Bag or other carrier. Gathering up all of these items in the heat of the moment can be challenging, even for the most clear-thinking and dexterous among us. A better idea is to store such items as pet food, water, first aid kits, kitty litter box kits, etc. in a large duffel bag intended for this purpose. It should be large enough to keep all the necessary items together but small enough to be carried easily.
Shelter in place
Having to head off in a hurry is not necessarily the only challenge that you’ll have to deal with during an emergency. While you may wish you were in safer surroundings or simply somewhere else, you may have little choice but to stay put and weather difficult circumstances as best as you can. Confronted by a tornado, blizzard or earthquake, you’ll likely have to shelter in place. If so, you’ll also want to have the following on hand:
Additional food and water. Aside from having sufficient stores available for all the humans in your group, you should probably have at least five days worth of food stored for each dog, cat or other little loved one. While pets, like humans, can survive in difficult conditions and challenging environments, they typically needs at least one to two liters of water, depending on their size and the environment, to stay alive.
Blankets. As noted earlier, electricity – or other forms of energy, including propane and oil – may be in short supply during an emergency. If the temperature outside is too cold, it may be difficult to get warm enough to stay comfortable or even to survive. Having extra blankets and an alternative source of heat or power available (e.g., a generator or wood-burning stove), can help ensure everyone remains comfortable enough to get through the disruption.
Towels. In a worst-case scenario, sheltering in place can mean that your pet does not have access to his usual areas for relieving himself. Sometimes, he will have little choice but to do his business inside your home. If so, you’ll likely want to try to encourage him to do it in one spot and have towels available for clean-up, which will help to reduce the smell and limit the mess.
Of course, nobody wants to find themselves in a situation where their lives and those of their loved ones are disrupted and potentially at great risk. But as many have found through the years, such events are not always avoidable. Under the circumstances, it is better to be prepared for an emergency with your pet that never comes to pass than to be be caught wrong-footed and suffer serious consequences if it does.