Pet Preps

For many, pets are just as much part of the family as any member who walks on two legs. We would no sooner leave a dog or cat to fend for itself after a disaster than we would a child. Even so, as we go about planning for emergencies, we sometimes overlook the needs of our furry friends.

Our critters rely upon us to provide their food, water, and other necessities. Many breeds of dogs in particular wouldn’t be able to survive long on their own simply because they are unable to hunt very well. All of the selective breeding over the years has given them short legs, little to no snout, and other genetic modifications that serve no practical purpose. Odds are high that they would just end up as dinner for something else.

For the purposes of this discussion, we’re concentrating on dogs and cats, given that these are the two most popular choices for pets in the United States (anecdotally speaking, I didn’t do any research on that). The recommendations provided, though, are applicable across the board. Just tweak them a bit to suit your pet’s individual needs.


As should be obvious, water is as important to animals as it is to humans. It is critical to account for the hydration needs of all of your pets as you calculate the water needs of the entire family or household. However, it is difficult if not impossible to recommend a specific amount of water to be stored for each animal, given the vast size differences out there. A German Shepherd is going to require more water on a daily basis than, say, a Cocker Spaniel.

One easy approach is to keep track of how much water your pets go through each day for three or four days and calculate an average. Multiply that by the number of days you feel you may end up on your own after a disaster and you’ll know how much water to store. Consider tacking on a little extra as a cushion, just in case.


There is a school of thought out there that says pet owners can just feed their animals people food during a disaster. “He’ll eat whatever I eat,” so the saying goes. There is a whole lot wrong with that line of thinking. Think back to the last time Fido got into the garbage. Odds are the digestive upset that followed wasn’t pleasant. By feeding him portions of your own rations, you’re not only reducing the number of calories available for yourself and the other human family members but you’re possibly depriving Spot from the nutrients he truly needs.

Just like people, animals can get upset stomachs from a rapid change in diet. Your best bet is to stick with their normal food for as long as possible. As with water, determine how much food you’ll need to store by figuring a per day average and multiplying that by the number of days you want to cover.

If you’re storing dry food, one great option is to use a 5-gallon pail and a Gamma lid. The pail can be sourced from a local restaurant, deli, or bakery. A Gamma lid is a gadget that attaches to the top of the pail and provides an airtight screw-on lid. These are far easier to open than the snap on lids that are usually used to seal these pails. Gamma lids can be found several places online as well as many home improvement stores.

As you buy new bags of food, rotate the emergency supply out so you always have the freshest food possible stored. Dry food can go rancid if you don’t use it, so just like our own food stash, rotation is key.

Canned food should also be used up and replenished regularly. Pay attention to expiration dates and always use the oldest cans first. If your pet typically only eats half of a can and you’d keep the other half in the refrigerator for the next day, keep in mind that if the power is out, keeping the food cool might be difficult. If you can’t buy smaller cans, you may end up having to throw away part of a can each day so you don’t risk spoilage. Adjust your storage to accommodate this by increasing the number of cans kept on hand. And no, planning to eat the leftovers yourself is not a wise choice.

Make sure you have a couple of manual can openers stashed somewhere. While many canned goods are equipped with pull tabs these days, Murphy’s Law says at least one or two of them are sure to just snap off when you don’t have any other way of opening the cans.


In an ideal world, any animals that would normally do their business outside will be able to do so during the crisis. Of course, in an ideal world, there wouldn’t be disasters and all of this would just be for make believe. The reality is there are any number of things that would cause your pups to decide that going out to the backyard is a bad idea.

One option is to pick up a kiddie pool when they go on clearance at the end of the summer season. Should the need arise, the pool can be put on the floor in the basement or perhaps in a bedroom that will otherwise be kept unused for the duration. Line the bottom with newspapers and dispose of the waste in garbage bags. Alternatively, given time and opportunity, you could even line the bottom with sod pulled from the yard.

Any hard surface floor will suffice but the pool or something similar will help keep things contained. It might be difficult to convince the animal that it is okay to let loose since they’ve been told repeatedly not to do such things indoors but they’ll figure it out eventually. Just have them on a leash and keep them in the pool or in the specific area until nature takes over and then praise them for it.

Consider investing in a cheap mop, bucket, and a jug of cheap floor cleanser to keep on hand for cleaning the pool regularly.

For cats, be sure to have plenty of cat litter available. If you run out of litter, you can try substituting shredded newspaper. Toss in some baking soda to help curtail odors. If that’s not a viable option, you could bring in a shovelful or two of dirt or sand.


The next time you visit your veterinarian, ask if they have any emergency window stickers. The stickers have spots where you can fill in how many dogs, cats, and other pets you have in your own. If they don’t have any, you can easily find them online. Post one at each entrance to the home after filling them out. In the event you need to evacuate, if you have time to do so write “EVACUATED” across the stickers on your way out the door. Doing so will prevent rescue crews from wasting time and effort searching for animals that aren’t there.

While you’re at the vet, ask them about providing you with a complete up to date record of each pet’s immunizations. Keep a copy with your pet’s emergency kit, just in case you need to seek shelter elsewhere. While few emergency shelters will accept pets, the ones that do may want to ensure your animals are up to date on all of their shots. Consider keeping a copy on your cell, too.

Periodically, take a photo of you with your pet and keep the photo on your phone. Print out a copy and keep it with the immunization record. Not only will this photo be handy if, heaven forbid, you need to create a Lost Pet poster but if the animal is found the photo will go a long way toward proving ownership.

Evacuation Kit

Every pet owner should assemble a small emergency kit for their critters in case of sudden evacuation. Use a duffel bag or small backpack and keep it stored in a closet or other location where it will be easy to grab on the way out the door.

The kit should include:
• Food for 2-3 days
• 3-4 bottles of water
• Collapsible or folding dishes
• Waste disposal bags
• Leash
• Extra collar
• Muzzle for each dog, often required in emergency shelters
• Small flashlight
• Small blanket
• A toy or something the pet can chew or play with
• Copy of immunization record

If you need to evacuate, make sure each animal has a collar with proper tags. If you and the animal are separated, this will help reunite the two of you. Keep the critter leashed and under your control. Fido might be spooked and will certainly pick up on any stress or anxiety you’re feeling and will thus be a bit excitable.

Small animals might benefit from being placed in a carrier instead of being leashed. But, someone will have to carry that crate, keep that in mind. If you’re evacuating by car, no problem. If you end up on foot, though, that crate might get heavy quickly.

Our furry friends count on us to be there for them. Don’t let them down!

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