Protecting Pets in a Disaster

When we think of "disasters" we usually envision large-scale emergencies, such as earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, etc. However, much more common are personal disasters, which could be just as devastating to individual families as a huge cataclysmic event. House fires, extended power outages, car accidents, or sudden hospitalization are examples of events that may call for alternative care of our pets.


It is best to prepare an emergency response plan prior to any crisis to avoid suffering to our four-legged friends. The American Red Cross provides excellent materials that will also help you and your family to develop an emergency plan. You should decide ahead of time who will be responsible for pet care if any emergency strikes. Choose the best room in the house to leave your pet if necessary. Make arrangements with neighbors. Be sure they have keys to your home along with specific information as to what pets are there, where they are located, and instructions for any medication needed. It also helps if your pets are familiar with your neighbors ahead of time, so they will not be dealing with strangers, and adding to the stress. Train your pet to a crate. In a crisis, he may need to be transported, and the ordeal will be less stressful if the crate is a comfortable and familiar place. Always keep pet's vaccinations current.

It is a good idea to prepare a disaster kit for your pet which should include: collars, tags, and leashes, a muzzle or gauze bandage, two-week supply of dry food, water, bowls, paper towels, and plastic bags for waste clean-up, and copies of pet's medical and vaccination records. Your pet's crate should be labeled with the pet's name, your name, and where you may be reached, or an out-of-area phone contact, if phone lines are down, and any specific medical instructions for the animal. Prepare a telephone tree, with numbers of family, friends, veterinarian, local animal control, or shelter, local hotels which accept pets, etc.


  • Your name and whereabouts including phone number (cell phones especially),
  • Pet's name, age, vaccination status,
  • Name and phone number of family veterinarian,
  • Pet insurance papers (if applicable),
  • Any health issues or information about recent diagnoses, i.e., diabetic, epileptic, spayed/neutered, special diet, medications, heart disease, cancer, etc.,
  • Behavior characteristics, i.e., fearful, aggressive w/children, other animals.

In addition, please leave some type of signed authorization sheet, outlining your wishes (include financial parameters and humane and compassion guidelines) for your pet's care. Examples are:

  1. I authorize veterinary health care providers to care for my pet in the following manner -- either authorize up to a certain reasonable figure: $300 - $500, or "whatever care is necessary."
  2. I authorize that if determined to be suffering without reasonable chance for survival, that my pet may be euthanized following examination and determination made by a veterinarian. (or list the name and phone number of a person who may be authorized to make this decision under the advisement of a veterinarian in your absence)
  3. Please provide only the basics for life-threatening conditions only.

Please sign and date these instruction sheets. Often pet owners can leave their wishes in written form with their veterinarian to be included as part of the permanent patient record. Family veterinarians can be a valuable reference to emergency doctors trying to make decisions for pets and people they do not know. Many times they will consult with the family veterinarian in serious treatment matters or if euthanasia is being considered.

If there are financial considerations, please note them. Veterinarians want to comply with owners' wishes whenever possible. Veterinarians' goals are to save and care for family pets, not deplete your bank account! Unfortunately, unless you have pet insurance, expert care has a price. If you have a pet insurance policy be sure to leave it with the pet. Without knowing your personal choices for care of your sick or injured pet, emergency personnel are stuck between providing basic care and extended care for a pet, whose condition may only worsen as time passes, possibly lowering survival rates. Often the good neighbors who are left to care for your pets cannot or will not be financially responsible for extensive veterinary care. Most emergency veterinary practices do not offer billing services.

During the Disaster

Animals can sense danger, and may panic and try to hide when fearful. To avoid injury and escape, crate the pet immediately, if a crisis is imminent. In certain emergencies it may be necessary to temporarily evacuate the area. This may include evacuation of animals. For pets, veterinary hospitals, boarding kennels or fairgrounds may be utilized as holding facilities, where it is not possible for animals to accompany their owners to emergency shelters.