Emergency Planning for Your Pet

Written by Small Door's medical experts

While it’s not something any of us like to dwell on, it’s important to know exactly what you’ll do in the event of an emergency or natural disaster. A vital part of any household’s emergency plan involves its pets! Read on to learn how to ensure your pet is safe if the worst happens, including all the steps you should take in advance, and what exactly to pack in your pet’s go-bag.

How to Create an Emergency Plan for Your Pet

It’s important to be prepared for any type of emergency or natural disaster that could take place where you live. An emergency plan should include things like what to do if you need to shelter in place, if you need to evacuate, and if any special considerations need to be taken into account for any members of the household. You should also prepare ‘go-bags’ with enough essential supplies for everyone, to ensure you have everything you need to hand in an emergency.

It’s essential to include your pet(s) in any emergency plans you create, so you’re not worrying about what to do when disaster strikes. Make sure you think about the following:

Know where you can go if you need to evacuate. Many emergency shelters cannot take pets, so make sure you have a plan for where you can go with your pet, or a plan to safely transport them somewhere they can stay. For example, you can:

  • Research nearby boarding facilities.

  • Reach out to family and friends who may be able to take you or your pet in.

  • Make a list of pet-friendly hotels.

  • Note down contact details for organizations such as the ACC. In an emergency, they may be able to provide guidance to where you can stay with your pet or even provide physical assistance to you and your pet.

Plan how to physically evacuate your pet. For cats, birds and other small pets, ensure you have a sturdy pet carrier and get them used to the carrier well in advance of needing it – put them in the carrier periodically and give them plenty of treats and praise whilst inside. If you have an elderly or arthritic dog who struggles to get around, ensure you have a plan to carry them, either in a carrier, a dog-specific backpack, or even a small wagon. It’s better if carriers are enclosed and covered, as an emergency situation may distress even a usually calm pet.

Designate an emergency pet guardian. Have someone familiar to your pet who is willing and able to take them if you become ill or otherwise incapacitated. Make sure this contact has keys and any door codes required to enter your home.

Put emergency stickers on your window/door. Place stickers to alert emergency responders that there are pets in your home. List the pets and include their name. You can get a free pet safety window sticker from the ASPCA.

Note down/gather essential paperwork for your pet. Make sure you have a few printed copies of photos of your pet, in case they go missing. Also make sure you have their vaccination records handy (you may need these to enter an emergency shelter) and have their microchip number noted somewhere safe – store these on your phone to ensure you can easily find them when you need.

Pack an emergency kit or “go-bag” for your pet. This should be placed in an obvious location that is easily grab-able by yourself or your emergency contact. See below for a full list of what to include.

What to Include in Your Pet’s Emergency ‘Go-Bag’

Your pet’s emergency go-bag should contain all the essentials that you or your emergency pet guardian would need to look after them during an emergency. We recommend you include:


  • A list of pets in the house, basic traits and personality (i.e. Are they nervous? Where are they likely to hide?)

  • Vaccination records, and a brief description of any medical conditions and medication requirements

  • Pet microchip number and photos for identification purposes

  • Contact details for your emergency pet guardian and where the pet can be taken if needed

Food. At least 3 days’ supply of either dry food or sachets of wet pet food (not canned, to avoid needing a can opener), collapsible bowls and water. All food should be stored in airtight containers.

Leash/harness and muzzle; or carriers for cats, birds or other small pets. You should consider including a cover or blanket to go over the carrier to minimize stress.

Medication. You should carry at least a two-week supply of any medication your pet needs. Ensure this is well labeled.

Basic first aid kit. Similar to what you’d include for humans, we’d suggest wound cleaner, bandages, a small pair of scissors, antibiotic ointment, an instant ice pack, mylar blanket, tweezers etc.

Ensure your pet is wearing a collar with their name tag, Rabies tag and your contact information at all times, in case you get separated from them.

What to Do in an Emergency

If an emergency situation is imminent, firstly, ensure your pet is wearing a collar with their name tag, Rabies tag and your contact information at all times, in case you get separated from them.

If an evacuation order is announced, heed it as soon as you can, and take your pet with you, as there is a strong chance they will not survive if left without you. While you’re sheltering away from home, there are a few things you can do to help your pet feel less anxious. Try to stick to your pet’s usual schedule as much as possible, by taking them out for walks and feeding them at their usual times. A sense of routine can help to keep pets calm in an unfamiliar location. If you have enough space, you might consider including some of their favorite items in your emergency go-bag, such as a favorite plush toy or blanket that smells like home.

If you are sheltering at home, take your pet into your emergency shelter or whichever part of your home is safest for you to shelter – general guidelines suggest the basement or an indoor room without windows on the bottom floor, such as a bathroom, closet or hallway. If possible, try to shelter underneath something sturdy, such as a heavy table or workbench. If you have enough space there, you could consider bringing your pet’s bed/crate with you, as this ‘safe space’ can help them to feel calm. For cats, bring their litter tray, and for dogs, consider having some ‘pee pads’ on hand, since it may not be safe for your dog to go outside to do their business for some time.

How to Prepare Your Pet for an Emergency

There are a number of things you can do in advance to help prepare your pet to deal with an emergency.

Get them up-to-date on vaccinations. This is particularly important if your pet may need to go into boarding or stay in a shelter with you, as they will likely be denied if they are not fully vaccinated. Review our articles vaccine schedules for dogs and cats to check what your pet needs.

Check microchip details. If your pet is not already microchipped, get that done. You should also check that your contact details are up-to-date with the microchip company, particularly if you have moved house or changed phone number since you got your pet microchipped. If you are unsure whether your pet’s chip is registered, you can search the microchip number using AAHA’s Universal Pet Microchip Lookup.)

Check their go-bag. Double check their go-bag is prepared and any food and medication has not expired.

Revisit basic obedience training. If you have a dog, we recommend spending 5-10 minutes a day working on their training, particularly recall skills. Knowing that your dog will always come when called gives huge peace of mind, and could even be lifesaving. Check out our articles on positive reinforcement techniques, and general training tips for specific advice.

Speak to your veterinarian about anxious pets. If your pet struggles with anxiety and you’re worried about how they’ll respond in an emergency, speak to your veterinarian for advice. There are a number of potential calming aids and medications that could help in an emergency situation, including pheromone products such asAdaptil collars and Feliway sprays, calming vests like the Thundershirt, or anti-anxiety medication.

Socialize them well with your emergency pet guardian. Make sure they regularly interact with any emergency contacts who might need to look after them in your absence, to minimize potential anxiety and stress.

Emergency Planning Saves Lives

If you don’t already have an emergency plan in place for yourself or your pet, take 15 minutes today to sit down with your household and create one. Knowing exactly what you need to do in an emergency saves vital time, and could save your or your pet’s life. Reach out to your veterinarian if you need specific advice about how to plan for your pet – they’ll be more than happy to help.

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