Disaster prep for pets

I’ve spent the day watching info come in on the Texas and Oklahoma tornadoes. I know a few people getting hit by the same storms as they move toward me too. It’s always a sad subject, thankfully with an outpouring of help.

At the day job they’re understandably interested in helping out with pet welfare especially. Yeah, we adopt pets, but we also send resources out to areas like these, hit with natural disasters. Every time something like this happens you hear about the pets lost or left behind, which is one of the reasons why when I started building emergency bags (kinda like BOBs, but closer to the original use than the kind meant for mutant-zombie-bikers/the fall of the government that you see some days.) I built one for my pets too.

So here’s my list of essentials for your emergency pet bag. (I’ll cover small animal and exotics later.)

1. The bag itself:

I had a doggy backpack from years ago (back when my first rottie, Phoenix and I were going to be in the SCA. It didn’t work out due to life and mostly a lack of my own car.) It’s pretty big, being meant for a big dog. All my dogs have walked around with it on, not tons, but enough that they won’t freak out if I threw it on them. Also they know it has THEIR stuff in it, so that makes them happy to see it. You can easily use a backpack (like the ones your kids have left over after school) or many other kinds of bags, but I recommend a back pack of some style (hiking, camping, etc) just because they tend to be a lot easier to grab and carry (such as if you’re also trying to manage three large dogs at once.)

2. Extra collar and leash for each dog

Just in case. I actually have a spare collar and a slip leash like these (which are cheap and easy to find. Some places like vet offices even hand them out, since they get their name and number printed on them as an advertisement) for each dog, and a spare for my cat. you can use those slip leashes to make a figure 8 harness for cats, rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, etc. If you can a second set of ID tags would be pretty useful too.

3. Food

Keep in mind the idea is to be able to survive for 72 hours. You don’t need a whole bag of dog food. Know how much your pet eats and you can fill gallon freezer bags with that much food. Make sure to date it, so you can switch it out because food will go bad. Also, labeling the bags wit the kind of food it is will help you find that brand again, because most pets can get serious upset tummies if you switch food on them too abruptly.

You can also throw in dehydrated chicken, jerky or the like if you think something might really go wrong.

4. Training treats

These are cheap, tiny, and come in small containers of their own (or you can make them yourself with jerky, bits of dehydrated chicken or hot dogs, etc). The idea here is to have some sort of high-value food treat just in case because let’s face it, animals think with their stomachs a lot, and if having a bit of hot dog lures your cat back to you or keeps your ferret occupied while your stuff her in a pocket and get out of dodge, then it’s worth it.

5. Medicines

If your pet takes regular medicines try to have 2-3 days worth of extra. This can be hard, I know, because meds can be expensive enough without trying to store a little extra. But again, the idea is to have enough to last long enough that you can get to a vet or store and get more.

6. Water

I aim for a 2-liter bottle per pet.

7. Collapsible bowls

These are really easy to find. Ebay, Walmart, Meijer, major pet stores and any store with a camping section should have silicon bowls that will hold food or water. If your pet is a big time chewer (or, you know, a rodent) its not expensive to throw a stainless steel bowl in your pack, though it does take up a bit more room.

8. A copy of your pet’s medical records

It always amazes me when people come into work and don’t have any medical information about their pet. Maybe I’ve just owned Rotts (big, intimidating, possibly more likely to get me legal attention) for so long that it’s second nature to me. I keep really thorough records for my pets. I bought these little booklets, one for each pet, and taped a photo of them on the cover. Inside there are sections for your vet’s contact info, info about the pet like breed, height, weight, and coloring, as well as shots records, weight records, feeding records, dental records, and emergency contacts. I also stuck post its in the back to jot down when I give them all heart worm or flea meds.

I have the actual paperwork from the vet as well, but for emergencies these books (which come in many different versions) are awesome. I also recommend to people that they take a picture of their dog’s rabies certificate/city license with their smart phone or tablet just in case. And yes, KEEP all those medical records any time your pet gets shots or a surgery. If you don’t have any of those record you can just go to your vet and ask for a copy and start from there.

9. A list of Pet Food Banks

Here’s one for Louisville, KY. Not all communities have them. Sometimes shelters can help too.

10. A List of pet-friendly hotels or shelters

It sucks that a lot of emergency shelters don’t allow pets. Until you’re stuck in one with the lady who had three chihuahuas and a mini poodle who “never go outside” and therefore “never needed vaccines or worming or flea stuff”. And also never needed to be socialized with other dogs, people or pets and therefore are hysterically fear aggressive. You’d be really depressed to know how many people like that (or “but it’s a lab/golden/rescue dog, he doesn’t need training, he’s not a bad dog” people) there are out there. You can’t always trust people to control their pets, keep them up to date on shots and meds to prevent things like lepto or feluke outbreaks. Also you can’t trust people not to want to use your nervous, scared dog to distract their nervous, scared kids from the disaster at hand.

Some there’s a pretty good reason for this policy. In a lot of cases, but not all.

So just in case you need some place you can get your pet to keep them safe. Some shelters will accept temporary shelter pets in emergency cases. A lot of times you can work with friends, neighbors, or coworkers to set up a “hey, you live on the other side of town, if you ever have an emergency or your neighborhood is leveled or something equally as sucky, your pets are welcome here”. And, of course, there are many hotels these days that welcome pets.

11. A pet first aid kit

It’s a lot like one for us in some ways. But always best to have at least a small packet of supplies, just in case.

Extras for small animals/exotics/birds:

Critter Keepers are your friends. They come in a lot of sizes, shapes and colors. They are relatively inexpensive. They aren’t great as long term homes, but they are great for throwing a hamster or  securing a parakeet in so you can get out. Plus smaller containers are easier to keep warm for you reptile buffs.

-A blanket, towel or t-shirt. For covering your emergency cage, wrapping up your pet or as emergency bedding.

Disposable heat packs. Those Hot Hands can be useful, but there are longer lasting ones that bird owners and reptile owners might want to stock up on.

-Small water bottle with sprayer. Like the kind you find in the travel size section. Mainly for amphibians and reptiles who need moisture, or prefer drinking from moving water. And in case the emergency strikes when someone is shedding.

Finally, it should go without saying, but it won’t, that the best thing you can do is prepare, including keeping your pet up to date on vaccines and preventives, as well as keeping spare pet carriers where you can easily get to them, and making sure dogs know all the basic commands (Sit, stay, come, leave it) and are as well socialized as you can get them. The idea of a one-person dog or cat (or horse) is romantic and an ego boost to us little humans, but it’s terribly impractical and likely to be VERY dangerous to your pet. And it could even be a death sentence if something happens to you.

Here are a few links that can give you more information, and of course, I hope everyone stays safe!

CDC’s Animals in Public Evacuation Centers

FEMA’s Emergency Care of Animals

Reptile Emergency Kits

Emergency Planning for Reptile and Amphibian Keepers

Keeping your pet safe in an emergency