Prepare Pets for Emergencies: Bug-Out Kits
If the police or fire department knocked on the front door of your home at this exact moment and gave you 5-10 minutes to evacuate, what would you do? If you heard a tornado warning on the radio or if a tropical storm is suddenly elevated up to hurricane status (leaving you very little time to prepare), what's your plan?
A disaster or other emergency situation can occur unexpectedly within hours, minutes, or even seconds. Not only should you have a emergency-preparedness plan for all the people in your family, but you should have one for your pets too! A human's safety is always the first priority, but what if taking a little time NOW means you'll be able to save your pets in a future emergency?
Being prepared before a disaster occurs may give you the few extra minutes you need to save your beloved animal family members. Put together a Pet Emergency Kit today!
It's important to note that this article isn't discussing pet first aid kits. While a pet owner should always have one, they're an entirely different ball game. At the moment, I'm talking about pet bug-out kits. They're a necessity if there's an emergency requiring you to evacuate your home, because all you'll have to do is grab your pets and the emergency kit and get out. Your evacuation will be quick, your animals won't need to be left behind in dangerous conditions, and you'll have everything you need to properly care for them while you wait for the disaster to pass.
Things to Consider
- Type of Disaster - Different types of emergencies call for different responses. For example, you need to hunker down in a safe spot during tornadoes and earthquakes but need to evacuate quickly in the face of a threatening wildfire. Think about the different disasters that could potentially happen to you and plan for them accordingly.
- Number and Types of Pets - Dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, invertebrates, and aquatics all have different needs and you'll need to pack your pet's bug-out kit accordingly. Another, more heart-wrenching thing to consider involves some pets being easier to evacuate than others. There may be an emergency during which you can only help a couple of your pets instead of all them. It's can be a tough thing to do, but have a plan that encompasses possibilities like this.
- Accessibility - An emergency kit should be kept somewhere handy and should be easy to access. Storing it in the back of a packed and messy shed won't help you because you may end up wasting valuable time trying to get to it.
- Storage - How much space do you have to store the emergency kit? How much space do you need in order to store all the necessary supplies? How will you be evacuating? Kits can be stored in backpacks, plastic totes/boxes, or other types of containers. Choose a container that will work for you and your family.
- Plan for all your pets. This includes all dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, small mammals, horses, etc. You may or may not be able to evacuate or secure all of them, but at least have a plan.
- Store the kit where it cannot be damaged by water or pests (like mice).
- If any of the supplies have the possibility of leaking, store them in seal-able plastic baggies. This can include things such as bottles of hand sanitizer.
- If any of the supplies are easily damaged by water, also store them in seal-able baggies or containers. This can include things such as medical records, paper towels, photos used to prove ownership, etc.
- Food will expire eventually. Routinely throw out or cycle through the food kept in the emergency kit to keep it fresh and healthy for your animals.
- Have travel cages ready beforehand. Keep a dog's or cat's pet carrier assembled, complete with snuggly blanket already inside. For hamsters, reptiles, and other animals, have a travel cage ready to go, including the substrate.
- Consider putting a Rescue Alert Sticker in one of your windows so emergency personnel will know there are animals inside your home (for situations when you're not home). You can order one online entirely for free or you can make one.
- Can't afford extra supplies for a kit? You'll find tons of useful stuff at your local discount or dollar store. Or recycle old things you were going to throw out anyway (old ratty towels make good dog blankets in an emergency). Having anything is better than having nothing. You can also budget $5 a month towards getting supplies and put your kit together over a several months or more.
Important paperwork should be included in the kit. This includes copies of vet/medical records and other important documentation (veterinarian phone numbers, vaccination info), photos of your pets (to be used to prove ownership), and a list of hotels/boarding kennels/locations where you're allowed to keep your pets with you.
Food: 3-7 days of food your pet is used to eating. Consider including a few cans of wet food for dogs and cats because canned food has high water content (which may be important if water becomes short).
Water: a few bottles of water
Toys & Treats
Dishes: food and water dishes
Restraint Supplies: extra collars, harnesses, leashes, pet carriers/crates, a pillowcase (used to hold a pet secure while you check or treat it for health issues, particularly useful for cats). It's important to note that even a pet that normally doesn't need to be crated may need to be placed in a secure spot to keep it from getting hurt. Animals can become fearful in emergency situations, so being able to secure them is a good idea.
Animal Waste: disposable dog poo bags, a disposable cat litterbox (an aluminum roasting pan works) and some litter
Basic first aid supplies
Miscellaneous: garbage bags, blanket or towel, paper towels, sanitary wipes, hand sanitizer, flashlight
Additional Supplies for Reptiles/Amphibians/Invertebrates: travel cage, extra substrate, a misting bottle for tropical species, water dish, food and food dish (if applicable), water dechlorinator, and heating pad
Additional Supplies for Small Mammals: travel cage, extra drinking bottles, food, food dish, chew toys, toilet paper tube or something else for a little house, extra bedding
Additional Supplies for Birds: travel cage, spray bottle for hot weather, bedding, net, food, food and water dish, a towel or other sort of cage cover
My Own Pet Emergency Kit
I myself have quite the menagerie of pets and I love them all dearly. I can't even imagine leaving any one of them behind during an evacuation, which is why I've done my best to prepare beforehand.
In my climate, disasters can include tornadoes, wildfires, flash flooding, blizzards, and perhaps a few others I haven't even thought of. In addition to these, as a kid I lived in hurricane territory and I can distinctly remember all the steps my parents went through to prepare for those vicious storms.
With those in mind, this is how I prepared my pets' kit:
Not only do I have two dogs and a cat, but I also have several turtles, tortoises, tarantulas, hermit crabs, a salamander, a betta fish, and a snail. I planned for all of them, and it wasn't even too difficult!
For my reptiles, amphibians, and hermit crabs I chose appropriately-sized storage containers and tupperware dishes as travel cages. Remember, the size and type of travel cage you choose needs to balance the most basic needs of the animal with the ease that you can carry and evacuate them out.
For example, my tortoises are accustomed to large indoor tortoise tables and huge outdoor pens. But for the sake of being able to save their lives quickly and easily, I opted for stackable plastic drawers which, although a bit small, are still several times the width and length of my pets. The drawers are sturdy, hold substrate well, and maintain a good humidity while still providing ventilation. And because they stack, I can fit them into my car quite easily. Additionally, each tortoise has its own container in order to avoid the stress of mixing them together. Each travel cage is stored out-of-sight in the same room the animals' indoor enclosures are in, ensuring they are quickly accessible.
The tarantulas were the easiest to plan for. They're already kept in lightweight, easy-to-move, and secure cages. To evacuate them, I only need to stack their enclosures carefully into a box (which I keep nearby at all times just in case).
Supplies specifically for the reptiles include things like an extension cord (because outlets in hotels are notoriously out-of-reach), heat lamps, thermostats, moss for maintaining humidity, a misting bottle, food and water dishes, and a little bit of freeze-dried food.
My dogs and cat get blankets, treats, one toy each, leashes, a litterbox, dog poo bags, etc.
Extra, somewhat miscellaneous items I included are zip ties, trash bags, spare dishes and tupperware containers, a bottle of water, extra anti-bacterial ointment I had lying around, a saline wound wash, and a few paper plates. You never know what might be useful, and they all fit in the kit, so why not? :)
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