Are Your Pets Prepared?: How to Prepare Your Pets for Emergencies

by Amanda Newsom

September is Emergency Preparedness Month, and our pets aren’t immune from that preparation! It’s easy to think of emergency preparedness as anticipating huge disasters like a hurricane, but there are a wide range of emergencies that can affect us even here in Athens. Some of the most common are severe thunderstorms, tornados, winter “ice” storms, flooding, fire, and power or utility outages, though others like terrorism and hazardous material spills are also possible. 

Last winter I vividly remember bunking up in front of the fireplace with our pets to stay warm when we were without power and unable to get out of the driveway because of the thick ice—a clear reminder that we should all always be prepared with the basics. But if something more severe happens and you need to evacuate your house quickly, you need to have a grab bag ready to go for yourself as well as for your pets. Remember, never leave your pets behind when you evacuate! 

When asked why it’s important to include pets in our emergency planning, Athens-Clarke County Emergency Management Director Beth Burgess says, “Simple: they are a part of the family. If you have to evacuate and leave your pet behind, they could get lost, injured or worse.” She also mentions that people assume that if a major disaster occurs, the government will step in and help everyone. But governmental resources are very limited, and having more people prepared takes the strain off of these limited resources for those most in need. 

Pete Golden, Emergency Operations Coordinator for the University of Georgia Office of Security & Emergency Preparedness, says, “If you ask, virtually everyone will tell you that being prepared is important and something that they should do. However, many people put it off until it is too late, or they put together supplies and things expire or they get used up and never replaced.” Some of the items you should include in your pet’s emergency kit include:

  • Water and food 
  • Collapsible bowls
  • Picture of you with your pets (proof of ownership)
  • Current vaccination records
  • ID tags, collar and leash
  • Pet carrier
  • Any medications, including flea/heartworm treatment 
  • Litter and litter box
  • Pet first aid kit
  • Blankets and towels
  • Favorite toy
  • List of nearby emergency facilities that house pets

You can find detailed checklists for pet emergency prep kits online that are specific to the types of pets you have, as well. Keeping your pets up to date on their rabies vaccines is an important part for preparing for emergencies, as shelters that house pets will require this (and some may require additional vaccines typical of boarding centers). And while it’s always a good idea to have your pets microchipped, in the case of an emergency, this will be an extra help to quickly identify your pet if lost or if your ownership is questioned.

Your preparedness kits are also important to keep together in case you’re away from home when a disaster happens. Let friends, family or neighbors know where you keep your kit, and consider having someone you trust that lives nearby keep a spare key to your house or apartment so they can get your pets out if necessary. We recommend putting a decal on your front door or window that lists the number and kind of pets that are inside in case of fire or other emergency situation. You can get these decals at most pet stores or by ordering online.

Many people may not know that not all emergency shelters take in pets, so it’s a good idea to make a list of shelters that will allow you to bring your pets or house them nearby in case of evacuation. Golden says, “In the past, the University of Georgia and Athens-Clarke County have partnered to make sure that pets will be taken care of by setting up a pet-friendly shelter at the UGA Livestock Arena. The shelter would be staffed using personnel from the veterinary school and UGA CERT [Community Emergency Response Team]. However, at this time the university has asked to be taken off the state animal shelter list until such time that the new dean at the UGA vet school can determine if that is something that they are still willing to support.” We do encourage you to reach out to the new veterinary school dean to recommend that they continue this previous partnership, as it provides a vital asset to our community if something on a local or regional scale were to happen. 

Once you have your pet preparedness kit together, don’t forget to check it every six months to rotate food and water or other perishable items in the kit. This is a good task to add to your fall and spring cleaning lists!

You can find emergency preparedness resources for Georgia at ready.ga.gov, and there is also an accompanying app that you can create a profile in that includes you and your pet’s information. National animal-related organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States also have excellent pet preparedness resources online.