General Public - Pets

How do I Prepare to Care for My Pets During Disasters?

Our pets enrich our lives in more ways than we can count and make important contributions to mental health. In turn, they depend on us for their safety and well-being. Here's how you can be prepared to protect your pets when disaster strikes.

Be Prepared with a Disaster Plan

The best way to protect your family from the effects of a disaster is to have a disaster plan. If you are a pet owner, that plan must include your pets. Being prepared can save their lives. Different disasters require different responses. This Red Cross website has helpful information about caring for the welfare of your pets in the event of a disaster. Certain disasters may require you to evacuate your home. If you must evacuate, the most important thing you can do to protect your pets is to evacuate them, too. Leaving them behind, even if you try to create a safe place, is likely to result in their being injured, lost, or worse. So prepare now.

Have a Safe Place to Take Your Pets

Red Cross disaster shelters cannot accept pets, except for service animals that assist people with disabilities, because of states' health and safety regulations and other considerations. Although there are some emergency animal rescue services, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to find shelter for your animals in the midst of a disaster, so plan ahead. Do not wait until disaster strikes to do your research.

  • Contact hotels and motels outside your immediate area to check policies on accepting pets and restrictions on number, size and species. You can find a list of pet-friendly hotels in Georgia here, although this information may change over time. Ask if "no pet" policies could be waived in an emergency. Keep a list of "pet friendly" places, including phone numbers, with your other disaster information and supplies. If you have notice of an impending disaster, call ahead for reservations.
  • Ask friends, relatives or others outside the affected area, including maybe your emergency contact person whether they could shelter your animals. If you have more than one pet, they may be more comfortable if kept together, but be prepared to house them separately.
  • Prepare a list of boarding facilities and veterinarians who could shelter animals in an emergency; include 24-hour phone numbers. This national pet evacuation and shelters list can help you with your pets in a crisis, as well as this list specific to the state of Georgia. 
  • Ask local animal shelters if they provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets in a disaster. They may be overburdened caring for the animals they already have as well as those displaced by a disaster, so this should be your last resort.

Assemble a Portable Pet Disaster Supplies Kit

Whether you are away from home for a day or a week, you will need essential supplies for your pets. Keep these items in an accessible place and store them in sturdy containers that can be carried easily (duffel bags, covered trash containers). Your pet disaster supplies kit should include:

  • Medications and medical records (stored in a waterproof container) and an animal first aid kit.
  • Sturdy leashes, harnesses, and/or carriers to transport pets safely and ensure that your animals can't escape.
  • Current photos of your pets in case they get lost.
  • Food, potable water, bowls, cat litter and pan, and can opener.
  • Information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to foster or board your pets.
  • Pet beds and toys, if easily transportable.

Know What To Do as a Disaster Approaches

  • Call ahead to confirm emergency shelter arrangements for you and your pets.
  • Check to be sure your pet disaster supplies are ready to take at a moment's notice.
  • Bring all pets into the house so that you won't have to search for them if you have to leave in a hurry.
  • Make sure all dogs and cats are wearing collars and securely fastened, up-to-date identification. Attach the phone number and address of your temporary shelter, if you know it, or of a friend or relative outside the disaster area. You can buy temporary tags or put adhesive tape on the back of your pet's ID tag, adding information with an indelible pen.

Planning and preparation will enable you to evacuate with your pets quickly and safely. But bear in mind that animals react differently under stress. Outside your home and in the car, keep dogs securely leashed. Transport cats in carriers. Don't leave animals unattended anywhere, as they can run off. The most trustworthy pets may panic, hide, try to escape or even bite or scratch. When you return home, give your pets time to settle back into their routines. Consult your veterinarian if any behavioral problems persist.

Know the Special Needs of Your Pets

Exotic pets, such as birds and reptiles, often have special care needs that influence their response to disaster. Be educated about your pets’ needs as part of your disaster preparation.

In Summary

If you must evacuate, do not leave your animals behind. Take them to a prearranged safe location if they cannot stay with your during the evacuation period. Remember, pets are not allowed in Red Cross shelters. If there is a possibility that disaster may strike while you are out of the house, there are precautions you can take to increase your pets' chances of survival, but they are not a substitute for evacuating with your pets. For more information, contact the Humane Society of the United States.

The National Agricultural Library provides this resource page for pet safety and information during a disaster.

Additional Resources

Georgia’s Disaster & Emergency Website. If computer access is possible during a disaster, this should be the first place to go.

The Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) coordinates & maintains disaster response facilities & procedures in the state. It offers up-to-the-minute disaster information.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers this website for emergency preparedness.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers disaster-related information for individuals here.

Ready.gov provides this section of their website to help individual Americans prepare, plan, and stay informed.

Prepare.org offers a very helpful & comprehensive overview of what to do to prepare for disasters and what to expect after a disaster.

The American Red Cross offers this site to help you prepare and get trained for a disaster.

The American Red Cross offers this site to help you get assistance after a disaster.

The American Psychological Association (APA) offers tips for managing traumatic stress in recovering from disasters and other traumatic events.

This Department of Veterans Affairs website details the phases of traumatic stress during and after a disaster as described by the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.