Building a Bug Out Bag for Your Dog

Note: This is an updated version of this older post on disaster prepping for pets.

I’m reexamining my own dog bug out bags (picked up a new dog back pack on clearance, and a good quality one too.) and figured it was time to reexamine the subject here too. I think it’s really important to ask yourself two big questions when building a kit, be it a get home kit, a car kit, or a dog bug out bag.

The first is why. Why would you need emergency supplies? What are you preparing for? There are lots of reasons to prepare.  While it’s fun, as a writer, to imagine a zombie apocalypse, real life has taught me to prepare for more likely things, like a flood, or a house fire. I used to make a list in my head sometimes of all the things I’d want to grab if we had a house fire in the middle of the night. Well now, that’s often how I design my bags.

The second question is how; how do you prepare? There are obvious ways, like building a bag, but also less obvious ways. Like training your dogs to carry a bag. Like training your dog period so that should an emergency happen you aren’t trying to juggle a 70 lb panicked animal as well as kids and whatever else your escape route has waiting for you. I cannot stress enough the importance of basic training with your dog. It matters so much. Training helps teach your dog how to act, just like you teach kids. You teach politeness, how to behave in public areas, how to deal with stressful or scary situations, as well as the basic commands like sit, heel, and stay which, sadly these days may absolutely keep your dog alive in stressful situations. (Sadly, police these days aren’t always just shooting unarmed humans.)

The second part of how is in choosing a good pack. Previously I mentioned being able to use any pack, and that’s true, unless you expect your dog to carry it. A pack for dogs should be comfortable for them because an ill-fitting pack can rub them and hurt them. Training a dog to carry a pack is pretty easy. If you let them carry an empty pack, then progress to a pack with a few water bottles in it on walks they’ll easily learn that the pack means a walk and they’ll look forward to the pack as much as they do to you grabbing a leash.

Packs should fit well, not too tight or too loose. The clearance pack I just bought actually has padding around the clips as well as around the chest strap. It has D-rings and bungee straps for adding more and a handle on top for helping dogs over logs, into cars and such.

I really love Outward Hound packs. Ursa’s other pack is also an Outward Hound pack and it has inner pockets and the “bag” part can be removed from the harness to give a dog a rest.

The bags are available in multiple sizes, are around $20-40 and are water resistant and have reflector material.

It’s important to note that dogs can carry between 15 and 25% of their body weight. My advice is to take your pack in when you take your dog for their yearly vet visit and ask to weigh the pack separately to make sure you aren’t overloading your pet. Also talk to your vet about what is a healthy amount for your dog to carry. As our rottweiler, Dizzy, got older we reduced his pack weigh. Some breeds, especially larger breeds like German Shepherds, Rotts, Dobermans, and even Mastiffs, are genetically prone to hip and elbow problems and it might not be healthy for them to carry in that 15-25%. Where as other breeds like pit bull types, are more thickly muscled and might be able to easily handle even more. Please, please, do not neglect to include your vet’s opinion.

Once you know what you are planning for, and you have your bag and your healthy weight limit it gets a lot easier to put your bag together. The rules that go for human emergency bags also go for dogs, but dogs, of course, are less complicated.

-Spare collar, leash, and ID tags

Actually I have spare ID tags on the collar and on the pack itself. And in a pinch a regular leash can be a slip leash.


Most dogs need 1 to 1.5 cups of water per 10 lbs of body weight a day. I personally have a 35 lb dog, a 65 lb dog and a 72 lb dog. A 2-liter bottle of water weighs just over 4 lbs. But of course we have to balance our pack, so it might be easier to use 1-liter bottles if your dog is on the cusp, weight wise.


Again the amount depends on how much your dog eats a day, and how long you are prepping for (bags are usually meant for 24, 48, or 72 hours). Because dogs can have issues with sudden changes in food I advise Not skimping even a little bit on food. There are pouches of wet food available these days instead of cans, which I think should be included because wet food can entice a stressed dog to eat, and it can add to the hydration. But it shouldn’t be the primary amount. The best thing to do is to bag smaller amounts of your dogs’ food, a few cups or even a portion at a time, then bag those bags in another before adding it to the pack. The double bagging helps prevent it from drawing bugs, rodent, you even your dogs. And being in the small bags allows you to shift the bags around for more even weight distribution. Plus the double bagging helps protect in case the pack gets wet.


If your dog is on medicine have at least an extra week supply. This includes flea and tick and heartworm medicines. Besides that talk to your vet about basic dog first aid meds they might be able to offer. Dogs cannot have acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but carprofen is a similar NSAID that is cheap and easier on their system than aspirin. Your vet will likely be glad to help you get an emergency supply, as well as basic, dog-safe first aid supplies like ear cleaner, and eye ointment.

-First Aid kit

Again, double bag it for water protection (and because spare bags can be useful!), but common supplies include; cotton balls, gauze, sports/vet wrap (a bandage wrapping that only sticks to itself), waterproof tape, antibiotic ointment, benadryl, a styptic pencil, a syringe (without a needle. This can be used to clean wounds or force feed or hydrate a sick dog), petroleum jelly, a thermometer, a pair of hemostats, a small pair of scissors, a wound cleaner like chlorahexidine solution, electrolyte powder (like the gatorade powder packets now available) and peroxide.

-Collapsible bowls

-Potty bags

-Treats or a toy

-Situational clothing

Not all dogs have much of a coat, so they might need one, whether they like it or not, in the winter. Also black or thin-haired dogs might need a t shirt for sun protection in summer. The big thing I recommend is boots or at the very least thick, toddler-sized socks, the kind with the treads on the bottom. If your dog is not already outside walking a lot their pads might be only slightly more prepared for hot pavement or ice and snow than your bare feet.

-A copy of their medical records, including contact information for their vet and an emergency contact who will take care of the dog should you not be able to, and a picture of your pet, preferably WITH you.

-a longer tether or 15 ft training leash

-a bandana or pair of old panty hose or thigh-highs to use as a muzzle

While you can buy muzzles specifically in your pet’s size, if you have multiple pets this is easier and cheaper, and they can fit just about every size of muzzle.

-A blanket or beach towel

For warmth or use as a sling


A few do nots:

-I really do not recommend bringing canned dog food. It is not the best calorie for weight food, cans are heavy, and you’ll likely need to add a can opener too. If you want wet food look into pouched food instead.

-I have read articles talking about having your pets carry your stuff too. This can be fine, but make sure to put their items first when it comes to that weight limit.

– There is a lot of crappy information out there. Please double check with a veterinary professional on the safety of all medicines you put in your pet first aid kit.

-Having pet specific food is actually pretty important. Dogs are prone to diarrhea and vomiting if they change food too quick, and some people foods, like jerky could be too rich for them (especially smaller dogs) and can even result in pancreatitis. If you’ve had to bug out because of an emergency the last thing you need is a dog with the runs at a hotel or friend’s house, or a dog that needs to be hospitalized.

-I really, really do not recommend including any rawhide, bones, or antlers in your emergency bags. A lot of places sell them, and a lot of dogs like them. But bones and antlers can chip teeth, break off in chunks, and even sharp chunks causing blockages and damage to a dog’s digestive track. Rawhide can break in sharp pieces and cause blockages as well. There are alternatives to these, like Busy Bones, dried beef tracheae, and bully sticks. Again, the last thing you need if you have to bug out is a vet emergency.

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