Preparing Your Pet For Natural Disasters

As I sit here, sunlight is murky, as if under a solar eclipse. I look at our back yard, thick with leaf litter and tree branches from an epic wind storm two nights ago that fueled a series of massive fires about 60 miles north of here. When I say massive, I mean that a huge chunk of northern California is afire.

Our air is thick with smoke. So thick, that when we had the wind storm hubby awoke from a sound sleep in the wee hours and scoured the house, thinking our home was on fire, then walked the neighborhood, thinking a neighbor’s house might be ablaze. Finding nothing, he went online to read news of the conflagrations north of us.

Our house sits on a tinder-dry regional park in the Oakland hills, and we have three massive eucalyptus trees at the end of our property that will be explosive torches in a fire. (It will cost over $20K to cut ’em down, so my blogging income is insufficient to support their removal at this time.) Wildfires freak me out because our own threat is so high.

The current fires exploded in the wee hours of the morning. Many of those affected were sound asleep and power was out. Cell phone towers were destroyed, so emergency texts never got through. The fires spread so quickly, not everyone could be warned to evacuate. There have been a dozen confirmed fatalities, with many more people reported missing.

Every October we have an emergency preparedness meeting, since it’s Fire-n-Quake month. When you have minutes to evacuate, you have to know what to grab without thinking, and you can’t be fumbling around in the garage trying to find all the cat carriers.

With that in mind, I’m reposting an emergency preparedness post and I hope you’ll take the time to read it. It includes information on what you need to have to ensure your cats’ safety in an emergency. I hope you’ll never need to remember this info.


Twenty-four years ago today, I was working on a Sunday at my office in San Francisco’s financial district. Early in the afternoon, one of the security guards dropped in on me, asking if I lived in the East Bay. (At the time, I did not.) He told me the Oakland Hills were afire. We went to east side of the building and watched the ominous black clouds of smoke inking dark the sky.

At the fire’s peak, it destroyed one house every 11 seconds. By the first hour, the fire had destroyed nearly 790 structures. A total of 2,843 single-family dwellings and 437 apartment and condominium units were destroyed. Several of my friends lost everything, but at least survived to rebuild. 25 people were killed. An untold number of pets were lost.

Saturday was the 26th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake. I was at the World Series when it struck at 5:04pm. I’d had several beers at that point and took it in stride, taking advantage of the crowd’s exodus to order another brew, something I regretted on the bus ride home…the long bladder busting bus ride home. Traffic was at a standstill; traffic lights were out.

I was lucky. Cleaning up our apartment took several days, but the building wasn’t red-tagged like others in the neighborhood. We were without power and phone service for a week. I dug deep into my camping supplies to find my butane-powered curling iron so that I would be presentable enough to leave the house. (Priorities, people!)

Those two October disasters gave me a keen appreciation of the need for disaster preparedness. Our current home is one mile from a major earthquake fault and borders the same regional park system that abuts the Oakland Hills fire perimeter. After four years of drought, the tinder dry hills are waiting for that one spark that will ignite another firestorm. I freak whenever I smell smoke.

So this is the time of year when I ponder our state of emergency preparedness. What would I do if disaster struck and I wasn’t home–or worse, if I was traveling, thousands of miles away? How would I manage evacuating all three cats if hubby wasn’t around to help? If I had a choice between rescuing hubby from beneath a pile of rubble or rescuing the cats, how would I choose? If we had to evacuate, how would we fit two people and three cat carriers into the Boxster?

I was invited to a Google Hangout on Emergency Pet Preparedness last week featuring Dr Kurt Venator, a Purina veterinarian. He was unable to help me with the carriers-in-the-Boxster problem, but he did have some great preparedness tips to share with my readers.

Have the conversation

Dr Venator stressed that the most important thing you can do is have the conversation with your loved ones and come up with a comprehensive plan. Don’t think about doing it; just do it.

magnet-stickerHave the conversation with your neighbors. Is there someone nearby who can evacuate your pets if you’re not home? If your home catches fire and you’re not home, or if you’re injured/debilitated, can a neighbor alert firefighters the presence of pets? (And don’t forget to affix stickers for firefighters on the windows of your home that let them know how many animals are inside. Stickers are free from the ASPCA.)

Identify Disasters and Plan Accordingly

Evaluate your specific location and its disaster potential. Tornadoes? Hurricanes? Flooding? We are at risk for fires and earthquakes. Living atop a hill we are not at risk for flooding, but there is a landslide risk. Our plan and our emergency kit contents will be different from those in tornado- or hurricane-prone areas.

Also consider secondary problems that can arise from a disaster, including extended power outages, road blockages, or no internet access for your cat to blog. How would you manage without smart phone service and the ability to text?


Practice Evacuation

If you had to evacuate and be out of the house in the next 3 minutes, what would you take?

You should have the equivalent of a “go-bag” at the ready which includes all essential personal documents, pet vaccination records, and summary of financial and insurance records (account numbers, contact info, etc.) in an easy-to-grab ziplock bag. We have two of them, identical, located at opposite ends of the house. One is in our earthquake bag.

Your pet’s vaccination records could mean the difference for your pet between being able to seek safe harbor in a rescue facility and being left in the parking lot. In most cases, pets will only be allowed in rescue facilities if they come with their vaccination records. This is to protect the health of pets at the facility.

Often, rescue facilities cannot admit pets. Yes, this is all kinds of wrong, but you should have a backup plan if you cannot find refuge in a pet-friendly haven.

At home, practice a house evacuation drill blindfolded, to simulate evacuation when the power is out.

Having actual walk-throughs of evacuations can help you identify flaws in your evacuation plan–like how to fit all your cat carriers as well as personal items in your vehicle.

When the time comes to evacuate, you may not have time to think, and barely have time to do. You need to know what to do without having to think about it.

Train Your Cats in Carriers

Dr Venator stressed that one of the best things cat owners can do to plan for emergencies is train their cats to get into carriers without fuss. Even better, acclimate your cat to the carrier so that it is perceived as a welcome refuge. Leave the carriers in rooms where your cat likes to lounge with the door open and treats and/or catnip inside.

Most importantly, have a sufficient number of carriers for all of your cats. If you have more cats than carriers (and no room to store additional carriers), get a couple of foldable cardboard carriers. They are affordable and easily stored flat.

Bell, Tag and Chip

Even if your cat is indoors-only, she still needs a microchip and an ID tag. She might survive a disaster but be lost–especially problematic if your home has been destroyed. The ID tag is the fastest way to reunite you. The microchip is the most dependable. A bell can help you hear a trapped, injured or hiding cat. (Tripper says, “One can never have too many bells.”)

Our cats all have Pet Loc8tor transponders on their collars which do an amazing job of locating them. The Pet Loc8tor does not rely on smartphone technology, so will work even where you can’t pick up a mobile signal, and the batteries last for months. In the aftermath of a disaster, it could greatly expedite finding trapped or injured cats.

Food and Water in Emergency Kit

Your emergency kit should contain collapsible food/water bowls and at least a 4-day supply of food. Include any medications, enough for a 2-week period. Rotate stores of food/medication every six months. There are emergency food rations available for pets that boast a 5-year shelf life, but I’m not convinced my cats would actually eat it. If you include water in your kit, be sure there’s enough for Fluffy. (Most kits just include water purification drops/tabs which take up less space than bottled water.)

Our earthquake supply kits are packed into backpacks, handy during evacuation.

Ideally, you should bring along cat litter, too. A lightweight variety like Tidy Cats Lightweight will be a lot easier to pack.

TIP: Every time we switch between daylight and standard time, set your clocks, check your smoke/CO2 alarm batteries, and change out the pet food/meds in your emergency kit.

Pet First Aid Kit

pet-first-aid-kitA well-stocked pet first aid kit is a must-have for any pet owner whether you are involved in a disaster or not. The kit should include:

  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Antiseptic Cleansing Wipes
  • Sting Relief Pads
  • PVC Gloves
  • Instant Ice Pack
  • Cotton Buds
  • Sterile Gauze Pads
  • Tongue Depressor
  • Antibiotic Ointment
  • Depressing Bandage
  • Medical Tape
  • Styptic Powder
  • Emergency Blanket

In the event of an emergency, veterinary help may not be available, so your cat’s life may depend on your ability to treat her injuries.

Gear Up

Dr Venator recommends life jackets for your pets if you live in a flood zone. Buckaroo has one:

I highly recommend having one on hand if you are in danger of flooding — not only will it keep your cat floating if she does end up in the water, the handle makes it infinitely easier to grab her.

Harness training your cat can also be beneficial as part of your emergency plan. If for some reason you have to hike over some distance, carrying a cat carrier is not an option. If you need to stay at an emergency shelter, walking your cat on a leash can provide a respite from carrier/cage time.

A sling-style carrier can also make it easier to carry your cat over distances. They can easily be folded for storage in your emergency kit.

Dr Venator recommends keeping paw protectors/booties in your emergency kit (to protect from broken glass, etc.), but honestly, I’ve never had a cat who tolerated them.


Are You Ready?

The next natural disaster is not going to wait until you have your disaster plan ready before it strikes, and your cat depends on you for her safety. Get working on your checklist!

  • “Have the conversation” with family and neighbors and make a plan.
  • Have an emergency bag filled with 4-day minimum supply of food/water and 2-week supply of meds
  • Keep a go-bag filled with essential documentation, including vacc records.
  • Get a pet first aid kid.
  • Practice evacuation with pets. Time it.
  • Affix emergency pet stickers to your home’s windows.
  • Bell, tag and chip your pets.
  • Have enough carriers on hand for all of your pets.
  • Train your cats to welcome the carrier as a refuge.
  • Harness train your cats.
  • If appropriate, keep a pet life jacket on hand.
  • Rotate out food and meds from your emergency bag every six months.



THE FINE PRINT: This post was sponsored by Purina as part of their ongoing interest in educating pet owners on disaster preparedness. Thank you, Dr Kurt Venator, for your input. 

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Category: Featured, Last Week, Lifestyle, News, zzz Previous 3 cat articles

About the Author ()

Mousebreath Magazine is an award-winning online magazine that celebrates cats and the cat-centric lifestyle. Editor Karen Nichols is a popular conference speaker and writer, whose current project is The Cat Scout Handbook. She is also the denmaster at

Comments (5)

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  1. Mariodacat says:

    Excellent advice and something weed to be reminded of often. We don’t have earth quakes in WI. But we have blizzards. To contend with in the winter. So far our power has stayed n, but one me ever knows for s ire if it will. We need to be prepared also.

  2. Lennie says:

    Lots to think about. We had a flood here last year. We weren’t effected but our neighbors were.

  3. Excellent tips and sober reminder that we all really need to be purrpared at all times!

  4. Excellent post. We are so glad is over, so far 3 of our community cats survived. We are still checking for the rest.


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