Emergency! for Pet Owners

On my little farm in the foothills, we worry about stuff.

In summer, we worry about forest fires.

In winter, we fret about freezing temperatures, power outages, and treacherous roads.

In spring, we brace ourselves for flooding. 

In fall (for lack of anything better to do) we are uneasy about earthquakes, tsunamis, and the zombie apocalypse.

Because we are farmers in addition to our day jobs, our primary concern in an emergency is the care of, and possible evacuation of animals--both pets and livestock.

We have a plan, and we are prepared to use it. We've prioritized everything on the farm in order of importance, so if we ever hit Level Three: Leave Now, we don't have to stop and think about what gets loaded into the truck first, and what gets left behind.

But what if you don't have a plan yet?  

Here are starting points so you can be ready to evacuate household pets safely on short notice:

Level One: get ready. Assemble the supplies you will need

Ready.gov (part of Homeland Security) recommends an "emergency kit" for each animal, similar to the emergency bag you might assemble for each member of the family.  

You may be able to combine emergency kits for animals with similar needs.

Because we have several dogs, several cats, as well as various chickens, goats, and a horse, we make a kit for each species, rather than a bag for each animal.

For example, my dog suitcase contains supplies for all three dogs for up to 2 weeks.

Dog Kit:  

  • food and meds in individually labeled baggies
  • leashes
  • bowls
  • medical records
  • a tennis ball or favorite toy

You may also want to include a sweater for tiny, elderly, or fragile dogs plus one of your own, unwashed t-shirts as a comfort object for frightened dogs.

Contents: food, meds, leashes, bowls, medical records, and a tennis ball.
Emergency kit for dogs, secured inside a re-purposed kitty litter container


Cat Kit: 

  • food and meds
  • leash (if your cat will accept a leash)
  • bowls
  • medical records
  • a towel (if your cat will not accept a leash, wrap your cat securely in a blanket or towel to safely transport him/her outside of a crate)
  • sandbox (portable units can be purchased, or make one from a cardboard box)
  • kitty litter

Cats will need a secure, escape-proof box or crate for travel. Avoid having a cat loose in a vehicle.


Shelf Pets and Exotics:  

  • food and meds
  • food bowls or pans
  • secure carrying case (if regular cage is not portable)
  • medical records
  • extra bedding
  • litter box if appropriate (make one from a shoe box)
  • spray bottle for cooling in hot weather
  • battery operated heating pad for warming in cold weather

Chickens and Other Poultry:

  • food and meds
  • food bowls or pans
  • secure carrying case (poultry may be more comfortable traveling with a friend, so be ready with a larger box that can accommodate several birds simultaneously)
  • extra bedding

Goats, Cows, Horses, and Other Livestock:

  • food and meds
  • buckets for feed/water
  • halters, harnesses, and lead ropes
  • blankets or rain sheets if appropriate
  • extra bedding
  • portable corral or fencing if you have it

Do not wait until you can smell the smoke to teach your horse or other large animals to lead and load promptly! In an emergency, time is vital, and refusal may mean getting left behind.

Level 2: Get set. Make a plan

FEMA's Emergency Planning pages include excellent suggestions for pet owners. These include:

  • Pack water first. The quantity will vary depending on the animal(s), but plan to carry at least a 7-day supply for each creature. Remember that flood waters can be contaminated: if you are drinking bottled water during an emergency, your animals will need a safe supply also. 
  • Keep a photo of yourself with your animal(s) in a place that disaster cannot reach. Post the photo on Facebook or Instagram to store it safely out of the weather. Photos can prove ownership if you get separated from your pet(s).
  • Develop a buddy system with neighbors. If you cannot reach your animals at home in an emergency, your neighbors might be able to care for them or assist with evacuation. You may be able to help your neighbors' pets if they cannot get home.
  • Post an "Animals Inside" sticker on a house window. Order your FREE pet safety pack, including the Animals Inside from the ASPCA HERE.
  • Tell somebody your plan so they know where to look for you. Phone service and internet may be interrupted for several days.
  • Make a plan for evacuation options with animals. Pets may not be allowed in public shelters.  Consider family or friends outside your immediate area willing to house you and your critters in times of crisis. Other options include pet-friendly hotels, veterinary hospitals, or fairgrounds outside the emergency zone.
  • Talk to your vet about emergency planning. Get the name of veterinarians in other cities where you might shelter.  
  • Consider microchipping your animals and update the microchip information if you move or change your phone number.
  • Keep vehicle(s) prepped and ready to go. Make sure fuel and oil is topped up, tires are inflated, and the vehicle is parked conveniently for a quick exit.

Level Three: Leave Now!

Monitor local news and be ready to take action. Do not endanger others with delay.  

Download the FEMA app to receive alerts from the National Weather Service, locate open shelters, and upload emergency photos to aid first responders.  

When the alarm sounds, move quickly.

  • Load supplies first (better yet: keep them in the evacuation vehicles)
  • Load animal(s) quickly
  • Load people
  • GO!

Useful Links:

Pets and Animals: Ready.gov general resources for emergency response, including evacuation of pets

Preparing Makes Sense for Pet Owners | FEMA.gov an excellent video showing how and why preparation is important

Preparing Your Pets for Emergencies: Homeland Security printable checklist of necessary items


Eight days after writing this blog post, a brush fire broke out 2 miles from my house.  25 neighbors went from "just another Thursday afternoon" to Level Three: LEAVE NOW.  

Our farm is outside the evacuation area, and the fire was contained quickly.  

However, the emergency evacuation boxes will remain staged by the front door until we get at least four days of deep, soaking rainfall.


I'm also thinking that my next blog post should be titled: Great Ways to Share Your Lottery Winnings With Your Local Library.

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