An earthquake strikes your town. A flood destroys your home. A wildfire starts blazing through your neighborhood. Luckily you've made it through safely, but what about your pets?

According to the 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association, approximately 67% percent of U.S. households own a pet. That’s about 85 million families with a lot of happy barking and meowing going on. The thing is, another survey found that more than 50 percent of pet owners were worried about what would happen to their pet in the event of a disaster and only a third of those people had a pet first aid kit in their home.

Simply put, there’s a huge gap between how much we love our pets and how much we’re adequately preparing them for emergencies. At the end of the day, none of us want to leave our furry, fluffy friends behind. They make our lives better in more ways than we can count, and they rely on us for their safety and well-being. What’s more, according to the CDC, leaving pets out of evacuation plans can put pets, pet owners, and first responders in danger.

Here are three things you can do today to protect yourself, Fluffy, Dodo, and Mr. Twinkle-Paws.

1. Make a plan in advance

By now we all know that disasters can happen anytime without warning. Having a plan will not only save your pet’s life, but also potentially yours. There are things that you can do in advance to make sure that your pet is prepared before uncertainty strikes.

  • Keep your pet up-to-date with vaccines. This is super important, as some shelters or pet-friendly accomodations check for proof of these during emergencies.
  • Make sure all pets wear collars and tags with up-to-date identification information. Your pet’s ID tag should contain a name, telephone number, and any urgent medical needs.
  • Get your pet microchipped. While collars and tags are a good start, the ASPCA recommends microchipping your pet as a more permanent form of identification. This is essential in ensuring that your pet returns to you if you get separated. A microchip —the size of a grain of rice— can make all the difference during a disaster. Once you get your pets microchipped, register the microchip with a current phone number so vets and shelters can contact you when they are found.
  • Get a collar with GPS technology. If you’re not a fan of the microchip, you can also invest in a GPS collar which allows you to track your pet anytime, anywhere. Pretty cool, right?
  • Create a buddy system. Your pets need some loving. If you’re not around during an emergency, it’s important to identify who can take care of your pet. Friends? Relatives? Neighbors? Animal shelters? Your vet? Talk to these people in advance and make sure to record their addresses and phone numbers.
  • Learn pet first aid. Did you know that the American Red Cross offers a 35-minute online course on delivering first aid care for your pet? Show your pet some more love by equipping yourself with the skills to take care of them when they need you the most.
  • Create a place indoors for your pet. Sometimes, the best option during a disaster such as a storm or tornado is to stay home. Ensure that you have a safe and warm place inside your house for your pet to go to at the first sign or warning of a disaster. This is super important, as some pets wander away from home during a crisis due to shock and disorientation.
  • Practice. Just like your readiness plan, practice makes perfect. Have a fun day with your pet!

2. Assemble an emergency supply kit

Just like you, your best friend needs an emergency kit with the basic essentials to survive. We recommend two types of kits. First, create a box, kit, or bag filled with everything you need to hunker down if you have to shelter in place for a long time without access to supplies. Second, create another kit in the form of a Go Bag. This will include all the essentials, but it has to fit in a backpack so you can grab it and go quickly.

In addition to the essentials (food, water, and first aid) for pets, make sure to also gather the following:

  • Photocopies of important documents.
    • Identification (pet’s registration information their breed, sex, and color)
    • Rabies certificate
    • List of updated vaccinations
    • Medical history
    • Prescriptions for medications
    • Most recent heartworm test result (dogs)
    • Most recent FeLV/FIV test result (cats)
    • Proof of ownership (ex:adoption records)
  • A picture of you and your pet together. Include this in your Go bag in case your little critter gets lost. As many pets look alike, this will make it much easier to search for them. This can also serve as a way to confirm your ownership.
  • Collar with ID tag and a harness or leash. Your pets will be scared, so you have to make sure you’ve got them under control. Include a backup leash, collar, and ID. Also make sure you’ve got a traveling bag, carrier, or an easy-to-grab crate.
  • Sanitation needs. Include pet litter, litter boxes, plastic trash bags, and household chlorine bleach so your pets have a way to do their business - and you’ve got a way to clean up messes.
  • Familiar items. Your pets will want to be comfortable just as much as you during a disaster. Having a comfort item such as their favorite toy, bedding, or treat can help calm them down.

3. Plan a pet-friendly place to stay

If you have to evacuate your home during a disaster, the best way to protect your pets is to of course evacuate them too. Remember, if it's not safe for you to stay behind, then it's definitely not safe for them either.

The not-so-good news
During a disaster, many pet owners evacuate their pets with them, only to find that evacuation and sheltering options are limited or nonexistent. In fact, unless it’s a service animal, most American Red Cross shelters cannot accept pets during a disaster due to the health and safety concerns of others.

The good news
You’re a rockstar and you’ll research pet-friendly accomodations in advance! Consider your veterinarian, your local animal shelter, and friends or relatives outside your immediate area. There are also plenty of hotels and motels out there that accept pets and make great evacuation centers if an emergency occurs. To make your life easier, we’ve compiled our favorite resources below:

Our pets are our family members. Just like family, there’s no doubt that we care for them, and we do our best to protect them from harm always. Once you implement the three tactics above, you’ll be far more prepared than most Americans to get your pet disaster-ready. You got this.

No matter what: don't worry, be ready.