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Putting Together an Emergency "Go Bag" for Your Pets

Updated on August 4, 2017
Jody Newton profile image

Jody has written about emergency management and disaster topics for first responders for over 7 years and researched the topics for 19.

Hurricane Katrina changed everything

When Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005, it changed how the United States does emergency management in many ways. One of those ways was how we view our pets. Images of dogs stranded by high water, hundreds of animals in make-shift shelters, and people crying about having to leave their pets behind broke many hearts around the country.

To the discomfort of disaster organizations, these images shifted the mindset of many Americans who now fully intend to evacuate their pets along with the rest of their family in an emergency. Government and non-profit organizations have been forced to deal with this change, and now many (but not all) shelters will either accept pets along with people, or have a separate area near the shelter specifically for animal companions.

Resident and dog evacuated from North Dakota floods
Resident and dog evacuated from North Dakota floods | Source

When you have to get out in a hurry

Most Americans don't plan or prepare for a quick evacuation from their home since the odds of it happening are minimal. However, every year people have to leave their homes with very little notice - sometimes as little as 5 minutes - or else they could literally be risking death. Just last year wind-driven wildfires tore through Eastern Tennessee, an area not known for this kind of emergency, and people had to leave with only minutes' notice with only the clothes on their backs.

Emergency managers recommend having a "Go Bag" or "Bug Out Bag" for each member of the family, which would contain important items such as food and water; medications; important papers; cash; change of clothes; and a list of things to grab from around the house quickly, like pictures of family or the toddler's current favorite toy. These are often packed in a backpack, and each family member carry their own.

Making a "Go Bag" for your pets

You should also make a Go Bag for your pets. It takes very little time and materials to do this, and being prepared like this saves precious minutes when it really counts.

Here are some suggestions of what to include:

Pets displaced by Hurricane Ike
Pets displaced by Hurricane Ike | Source

For cats and dogs, pack the following

Food, water, and treats: pack a 3-day supply.

Bowls: the kind that are hard to tip over are best. There are also collapsible bowls available from many outdoors stores that would save space in the bag.

Bedding: a blanket or some other bedding your pet is familiar with will go a long way to keeping him as calm as possible. A blanket can also serve to hold an angry cat!

Toys: a few familiar toys will help keep your pet from stressing out, and it will be good for other family members to play with him as well, to keep everyone's mind off what is going on and bring a little joy in a hard situation.

Extra collar and leash: because we all lose important things sometimes, especially when it is hectic! Be sure to have proper tags and identification on the extra collar.

Vaccination records: if you wind up at a shelter, it is likely they will not let your pet in without proof he is up-to-date on all vaccinations. Keep a copy of important vet records in your pets' go bags and update them as needed.

(For dogs) Poop bags: a box of zip top bags work well, and you can use them for other purposes. Be sure to get whatever size fits your dog, if you know what I mean.

Animal medical kit: much of the same types of items you would find in a human medical kit; tweezers, gauze, bandages, scissors, alcohol, antiseptic cream, etc. Include some panty hose, which can come in handy as a flexible wrap over a wound to keep a pet from licking it.

Identification: make sure your identification and contact information is on both collars, on the bag, and in the bag, just to be safe. You might include a picture of you and your pet(s) together for easier visual identification.

(For cats) kitty litter and a pan: if you can, try to fit a small pan in the cat carrier. If it gets too odoriferous, you'll have to scoop it out or replace the litter as frequently as needed.

Pet carrier/crate: depending on the size of the pet and the size of the emergency, pet carriers or crates may be invaluable. It will help keep your pet contained and controlled, especially in a vehicle.

Medications: be sure to grab any medications your pet takes regularly on the way out the door!

Member of a Veterinary Medical Assistance Team
Member of a Veterinary Medical Assistance Team | Source

For small furry, feathered, or scaled pets

Managing these pets may be as easy as grabbing the cage or fish tank they are living in and putting it in the trunk of the car, but you should still bring:

  • Extra bedding
  • Extra food and water
  • Medications
  • Contact information, picture of you, and any other pertinent details attached to the cage or tank
  • A blanket to put over the cage or tank

There are other things you should think through before a disaster. For example, small furry pets and reptiles are especially susceptible to extreme heat and cold. Is there a way to address this issue? Hot water bottles to help keep them warm, frozen water bottles to help keep them cool, or extra blankets to insulate a cage? Planning for these contingencies will save time and, potentially, heartache.

Ferrets being moved during Hurricane Katrina response efforts
Ferrets being moved during Hurricane Katrina response efforts | Source

Where to go for more information

Ready.gov is the United States Government's official site to help citizens prepare for disasters. The section "Pets and Animals" talks at length about animals and disasters, includes a section on large pets like horses, and includes links to other sites for more information, such as the American Humane Society.

The American Veterinary Medicine Association runs the Veterinary Medical Assistant Team (VMAT) program. They have numerous resources available on disaster animal care and while it is geared toward veterinarians, much of the information is for pet owners, too.

Additionally, an internet search for things like "what to pack in a pet bug out bag" will bring results back from blogs and website of first-hand suggestions by people who have experience with this. One example is this great article by Family Disaster Dogs where they advocate not only what to put in your dog's Go Bag but suggest you get them used to carrying it themselves! Not a bad idea. They also go into more detail on packing pet first aid kits.

The Survival Mom has great suggestions for efficient evacuation with pets, and includes many tips on larger animals like horses and goats.

This is not a fully-inclusive list and I'm sure I've missed some things, but the above information should be food for thought on this important topic. Take some time, pick up some inexpensive backpacks, and start getting your pet's Go Bags together!

If you ever need to evacuate, will you take your pets with you?

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    • Jody Newton profile image
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      Jody Newton 2 months ago from Gettysburg, PA

      FlourishAnyway - the thought of leaving my pets behind (when I had them) makes me feel sick. I have to be honest with myself, though: I know what the choice would be if it ever came to the point that it was me or them. This topic is a major sticking point in evacuation planning for emergency managers and first responders. Should they use valuable resources and time rescuing pets when human lives are on the line? There is no comfortable answer, but the expectation is now there.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 months ago from USA

      This is so important. My cats are my children (although I have a human child too) and I'd never leave without them.