Pets are part of the family, so if you have to evacuate your home during a natural disaster such as a hurricane, you’ll need to bring them with you. Unfortunately, this isn’t as simple as popping your pet into the backseat of your car. Most emergency shelters won’t take pets unless they’re service animals, and exotic pets can be tricky to move, so they’ll require some extra planning. But the effort will be worth it once you’re all out of harm’s way.
Have an Emergency Pet Kit
We’re not just talking about a first aid kit. You’ll want to have a bag of all your pet’s supplies ready to go in case you need to evacuate. It should include at least a week’s supply of their food, drinking water, bowls, medications, supplements, litter and a litter box, calming aids, and a print-out of their medical records. Adjust the contents of your kit based on your pet’s species and needs.
Don’t have an emergency pet evacuation kit ready to grab? Put one together right now and make sure everyone in the house knows where it is.
Pet-Friendly Evacuation Shelter Options
Finding emergency shelter during a natural disaster is challenging on its own, but doing it with a pet is a whole different animal (pun intended). Most public evacuation centers won’t accept pets unless they’re service animals, but don’t let that discourage you. There are plenty of other options.
- Find a pet-friendly disaster shelter through PetsWelcome.
- Contact your local county emergency management office to find out which shelters accept pets.
- Find a pet-friendly hotel or motel.
- Stay in an Airbnb.
- Reach out to nearby friends and stay with them.
- Board your pet(s) at a boarding facility while you stay in an evacuation center.
Get Ready to Move
Figuring out how to move each of your pets out of the house is the next thing you’ll need to think about. Dogs are pretty used to traveling, but the noises and panic associated with disasters can set them off. Make sure your dog has a collar with a current ID, and keep them on a leash at all times while getting ready to evacuate. Yes, even inside the house. All it takes is a loud bolt of thunder to spook your pup, and they could bust through the screen door.
Make sure you have a carrier for each pet. Even cats who are the best of friends could pick a fight with each other under stress, so it’s best to make sure everyone is separated. Clearly write your pet’s name, your name, your phone number, and address on every pet carrier in case you get separated.
Collapsible bird cages or crates are your best bet when evacuating birds. In a pinch, you could use a cardboard cat carrier. Just make sure whatever you use has your name and contact info on it in case you and your bird are separated. Use a cage cover, blanket, or towel to cover the cage and keep your bird calm during transit.
Reptiles are a little trickier because how you move them will really depend on their species and size. Small lizards can be moved safely in a small travel case. You’ll want to place all snakes and larger lizards in a large cloth sack (like a pillowcase) first, then put that inside a large, hard-shelled container with a lid.
A storage container is a great option as long as it’s large enough for the reptile to stretch out completely. Make sure to add plenty of small ventilation holes to the container and label it with your name, contact info, and the phrase “Live Animal” so everyone knows what's inside.
Evacuating with pet fish might sound impossible, but it can be done. Smaller tanks can be placed right in a Styrofoam cooler for a brief time until you get to your destination and are able to plug in the filter and heater again. If you have a large aquarium that’s too big to move, you can split your aquatic critters up into several smaller tanks to move them.
Small pets like rabbits, ferrets, chinchillas, gerbils, rats, hamsters, and other rodents can usually be evacuated in their cages. If it’s too big or difficult to move, you can instead use a special small pet carrier or even a cat carrier, so long as it doesn’t have holes small enough that your pet will escape through.
Disaster Can Strike at Any Time
Even if you don’t live in a hurricane or tornado zone, disaster can strike at any time. Make sure you have a pet evacuation plan in place so you can get everyone out of the house even at a moment’s notice. It’s also helpful to do trial runs just to make sure everything goes smoothly.