A Windstorm is a Reminder of Disaster Preparation for Pets

The best time to start disaster preparation for your pet is now.

A muddy Springer Spaniel in the trunk of a car
Photo: Josh Powell (Shutterstock.com).

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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Recently, like many people in this part of the world, we heard there was a big storm on the way. The third of three windstorms was said to be the most powerful. Since we live in an area with many beautiful trees and the power lines are above ground, it does not take much to knock out the power.

In the end, we were lucky. The storm was not as strong as predicted, and it changed track and went further north. But it’s a reminder that we all need to be prepared for emergencies. And pets are an important part of our emergency preparedness.

Planning starts with thinking about the kinds of emergencies you might face. Maybe you live in an area that is prone to floods or forest fires, or has the potential for big earthquakes. It’s helpful to think about smaller events too, that might impact you without affecting others: house fires, job losses, illnesses. These could all have an impact on your ability to care for your pet.

You could come to arrangements with friends and family about how you will care for each other’s pets if something happens. It helps to talk about these things in advance.

For me, with an incoming storm I wanted to be sure I had enough pet food and cat litter, and to charge up my cellphone. A bad storm last year knocked the power out for more than a day, and I can tell you that by day 2 the novelty was really wearing off. It was long enough that once the power came back, local stores had to stay closed to throw out ruined food. Also some roads were blocked with fallen trees, making travel more difficult for a short while.

Prepare pets in case of emergency, as a cat sits on a windowsill safe from the storm

In this part of the world, the big risk we are meant to be prepared for is an earthquake. The official advice is to have enough supplies that you can manage on your own for at least 72 hours, preferably longer.

That means food and water supplies for your pets as well as yourself, flashlights and spare batteries, and a radio so that you know what’s happening in the world. (A wind-up and/or solar-powered one that you can use to charge a cellphone seems like a good idea).

Don’t forget to include some of your dog or cat’s favourite treats.

A harness and leash would be handy so you don't run out of the house without them. A towel or blanket could be useful as a temporary bed for your dog or cat. Bowls for food and water, washing up liquid and some garbage bags would all be useful too.

Having some cash in small notes is sensible in case of power being out at ATMs. This is a habit you can get into, or you can keep a small amount at home.

What about copies of important documents, not just your own but also your pets’ vaccination records? Keep them in a plastic wallet or container that will keep them dry, and add them to your ‘grab bag’ that you will grab and take with you in an emergency.

Identification for your pet is sometimes overlooked (tattoo, microchip, collar tag). As well as making sure your pet has id, ensure the people who keep the microchip/tattoo records have an up-to-date address and phone number for you.

Helping your pet to be well-socialized and to be calm and well-behaved in ordinary life pays off in an emergency too. After the M9 earthquake in Fukushima, those who had trained and socialized their pets were more likely to be able to take them with them when they evacuated (Yamazaki 2015).

Training your cat or dog to go in a carrier is useful in ordinary life, since it means you can take them to the vet. In an emergency, it’s easy to see that it might make the difference to being able to take them with you.

Heath and Linnabary (2015) also say that having a good starting point for animals is part of emergency planning. While they are thinking about the broader societal level, we can apply this to our individual situations too. If your dog or cat is fearful or has other struggles in ordinary life, finding ways to solve those issues is worthwhile (if you need help from a certified trainer or behaviourist, this could be the moment to make that call).

This post is not a guide to how to prepare for emergencies; rather it’s intended to encourage you to think about the kinds of events you might have to prepare for, and get started. It’s not a solo activity; discuss it with your family and friends. And you might be kind enough to also consider neighbours who are seniors or who might need a little help for other reasons.

You can also put a regular date in your diary to review your plans and update your supplies (even bottled water has a sell-by date). Pick a date that you will remember, either because it’s meaningful to you or because it’s the date your city carries out earthquake drills (thus you will be reminded by the media). For me, that's tomorrow: ShakeOut BC is on 20th October.

You can find more information about emergency planning for pets in this ASPCA guide.

I also have some tips in my books, so if you like this post, check out my book Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. Modern Dog calls it “The must-have guide to improving your dog’s life.” 

If you're a cat person, you might like to check out my book Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. Dr. Sarah Ellis says, "Purr is definitely a book your cat would want you to read!"

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the award-winning author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy and Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. She is the creator of the popular blog, Companion Animal Psychology, writes The Pawsitive Post premium newsletter, and also has a column at Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats. 

Useful links:

Heath SE, & Linnabary RD (2015). Challenges of Managing Animals in Disasters in the U.S. Animals : an open access journal from MDPI, 5 (2), 173-92 PMID: 26479228
Yamazaki, S. (2015). A Survey of Companion-Animal Owners Affected by the East Japan Great Earthquake in Iwate and Fukushima Prefectures, Japan Anthrozoƶs, 28 (2), 291-304 DOI: 10.1080/08927936.2015.11435403

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