Disaster Preparation and Evacuation

Having just been through a threat, albeit a mild one for me personally from Isaac in South Florida, I thought it would be good to post something about disasters. Being prepared for a disaster whether natural or manmade can increase the possibility of getting yourself and your cats to safety. Safe efficient evacuation depends on your advanced planning. You may have anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours to evacuate your home. Disasters may include floods, fires, train derailments, chemical spills, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, blizzards, or any other emergency situation.

Preparation and Evacuation

If you are ordered to evacuate your home, take your cat with you. If your home isn’t safe for you, it will not be safe for your cat.

At the first sign of an emergency, bring all outdoor cats in. You may not have time later to look for them should you have to evacuate.

Evacuate early. Waiting for a mandatory evacuation order, may not give you enough time to properly prepare for the evacuation. You may also be told by emergency personnel to leave your pets behind.

Even if you are only planning on evacuating for a few hours, you have no idea what damage may occur to your home. Your cat may be lost or killed if the disaster strikes. You also may not be able to return for your cat when you had expected, whether the disaster strikes or not.

All pets must have on identification. Without it, if you and your cat become separated, it may be impossible to reunite you. The id tag should include the pet’s name, your address and phone number, as well as an emergency number in case you can’t return to your home. The other number may be that of someone else in a safe area close to your town or neighborhood or outside of the disaster area, possibly in another state. Two tags may be better than one. The second can include the veterinarian’s phone number and your cat’s medical alert information as well as the shelter information to which you are evacuating. A second more permanent form of identification such as a tattoo or microchip, is suggested as well. Many larger pet store chains have machines where you can input the information and it will engrave the tags for you onsite.

Many evacuation shelters do not allow pets, except for service animals. Plan ahead to make sure you can either go to a shelter that allows animals or to another place whether hotels, friends or family that will shelter either you and your pets or just your pets. If you have more than one pet, be prepared to shelter them separately if necessary.

When contacting hotels and motels, ask about their pet policies and whether or not they waive a “no pet” policy during the event of an emergency. Ask if they have any restrictions on species, size, and number of animals. If faced with a possible evacuation, call ahead and make a reservation.

Keep an updated list of veterinarians, kennels, and groomers that also board pets during emergencies. Make sure you call ahead for a reservation as well.

Check with your local animal shelters to see if they also board pets during an emergency. It is unlikely that they will be able to accommodate any other animals since during disasters they are usually stretched to their limits.

Take a sturdy cat carrier (not cardboard). Many pet stores now carry collapsible cat carriers which are convenient to store if you have several. Have one carrier per cat. In frightening situations, two loving cats can become aggressive if forced to squeeze into a single carrier. Make sure your cat can stand up and turn around in the carrier, anything smaller is unwise, since you will not know ahead of time how long your cat will be required to stay in it. Your cat may have to stay in the carrier for hours. The carrier should be large enough to hold a small litter pan as well. The carriers should also have an id tag containing information about you and your cat. You can also add the shelter information where you are staying in case you are separated.

Teaching a Cat to Go into a Carrier

Teaching a cat to go into a carrier can reduce time and stress when you need to evacuate.

  1. Use a whistle instead of your voice since the whistle will travel farther and will make a consistent sound.
  2. Blow softly and give your cat his favorite treat. Continue until your cat responds favorably every time he hears the whistle.
  3. Start increasing the distance between your cat and yourself until your cat comes running when he hears the whistle.
  4. If you have an outdoor cat, now move the training outside. Increase the distance over time until he comes running at the sound of the whistle.
  5. To train him to enter his carrier, move indoors and place a treat just outside the carrier door. Whistle for him to come.
  6. Gradually move the treat into and further back in the carrier.
  7. Combine the two acts together, first whistling for him to come and then to enter the carrier.
  • Cats do best with short training sessions, about five to ten minutes. According to your cat, this may take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to learn to do.
  • If your cat exhibits a bit of lax in a certain step, move back a step or two and then continue on.

Besides your already tagged cat, keep on hand a halter and leash if your cat will wear them. If your cat can wear a halter, put it on your cat before you evacuate.

Bring food and water dishes, as well as a two-week supply of food. If you use canned food, don’t forget to pack a can opener. Pack plenty of water, not only for yourself but for your cats. Pack your cat’s treats as well.

Pack a litter pan, litter, scoop, and garbage bags.

Pack your cat’s favorite toys and some kind of blanket, afghan, or towels for warmth and comfort to reduce stress.

If you have room, you may also want to pack some grooming items.

Bring your cat’s medications (get a two-week supply) including instructions.

Most of these things can be packed in a waterproof plastic container available in many department stores.

First Aid Kit

Pack a first aid kit for your pet. It will include many of the same things in your first aid kit and may include some or all of the following items.

  • Store the items in your first aid kit in a sturdy waterproof container.
  • Check items every few months to make sure they have not expired.
  • Check batteries in the flashlight.
  1. recent photos of your cat
  2. copies of prescriptions of medications
  3. extra collar and ID tags
  4. feline first-aid manual
  5. your cat’s medical records
  6. descriptions of your cats
  7. phone numbers for local emergency animal hospitals
  8. veterinarian’s phone number
  9. bandages
  10. cold pack
  11. bandage tape
  12. gauze
  13. triple antibiotic ointment
  14. vaseline [petroleum jelly] – can be used as hairball remedy (never administer with food as the vaseline will prevent the absorption of Vitamins A, D, K, and E)
  15. nail clippers
  16. tweezers
  17. scissors for bandaging and trimming fur from wound
  18. digital thermometer (not mercury)
  19. burn cream
  20. splints and bubble wrap
  21. hydrogen peroxide
  22. plastic wrap (Saran wrap) to seal wounds
  23. duct tape to immobilize pet on firm surface
  24. needle nosed pliers
  25. heavy gloves
  26. flashlight and batteries
  27. muzzle – a frightened or injured cat could strike out
  28. needleless syringe for flushing eyes or wounds or administering medications
  29. antiseptic liquid soap (Betadine skin cleanser)
  30. small jar of corn starch (if the quick has been cut, press the nail down on the corn starch to stop the bleeding)
  31. Some human medications can be used but the veterinarian should be contacted first to make sure that the pet has no allergies to it or isn’t taking any other medications that may cause interactions:
    • A&D ointment can be used for scrapes and wounds – thin coating 3-4 times a  day for 7-10 days
    • Caladryl for pain and itching – paint on sore area
    • Hypo Tears eye lubricant – apply 4-12 times a day
    • Neosporin for preventing wound infection – apply 3-4 times daily as needed
    • Pedialyte or Gatorade for dehydration – mix 50/50 with water, offer as much as is wanted
    • Witch Hazel, an astringent/topical antiseptic – dab on affected area
    • Certain human medications such as Tylenol® (acetaminophen), ibuprofen, and aspirin should NEVER be given to a cat, they can cause death. Tylenol® causes a condition in which the cat’s blood cannot carry oxygen, while ibuprofen can cause severe gastrointestinal bleeding, liver and kidney damage and seizures and tremors.

Pack several current photos (laminate them if possible) of your cats. This will help to reunite you with a lost pet, as well as prove that he is yours.

Some facilities will not admit pets that are not vaccinated, so check to see what is required.

Your cat should be spayed or neutered. If your pet becomes lost, he/she won’t contribute to pet overpopulation by impregnating other cats or becoming pregnant while loose.

Have your pet’s medical records including tattoo and microchip number on hand, another copy with a family member or friend in another state is a good idea.

Make sure you have a place to take your pets to if you cannot return home after a disaster. It may not be the same place you will stay but be prepared in case you cannot return to your home for days, weeks, or if you need to find a new home.

Place an information card in your wallet that lists your pets and contact information of the person who should be called in case you are injured or hospitalized and cannot return home yourself. (Not just for evacuations – you should always carry this info).

Place a decal on your home windows, several if possible, telling how many pets you have and where they might be hiding so emergency personnel can evacuate them. You can get these decals from pet store chains. Other pet shops will probably have them as well. You may also wish to contact your local Humane Society as well.

If You’re Not at Home

You may be at work or away from your house when an evacuation order or emergency threatens. Have a trusted neighbor, friend, or family member who is familiar with your cats, knows where your disaster kit is, and has a key to your house and have them meet you at a specified location with your cats and supplies.

If you use a pet sitting service, they may also be able to help.

If You Don’t Evacuate

Select a safe room such as a closet or interior room without windows or the bathroom, utility room, or enclosed garage. Keep yourself and your cats away from all windows. It is best to keep your cats in their carriers during the storm or disaster, however there may be some circumstances when this is not prudent.

Noise can frighten your cats so keep them close to you and once again, they should be confined within their carriers.

Never tranquilize your cats, should they get out, they will need their survival instincts to escape danger.

After the Disaster

Keep your cats inside for at least a few days after the disaster. They can become easily lost and confused because of altered scents and landmarks. Downed electric power lines, other loose animals, or displaced wild animals could endanger your cat’s life.

Keep possibly contaminated food and water away from your cat.

Your cat’s behavior may change during such a frightening experience. A normally quiet and friendly cat can become aggressive or defensive. Be gentle with your cat and if the behavior doesn’t change after the normal routine has been reestablished, contact your veterinarian or behaviorist.

Being prepared is the best way for your family and pets to make it through an emergency situation.

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