Any Pet in a Storm…. Tips for Pet Safety in a Disaster

Headlines after a major storm usually chronicle the toll to people and property.  But pets are also frequent victims. They  may be outside when the storm hits, or flee in a panic, or be unhoused when their humans are. Cats, especially, can simply get lost if the scenery gets rearranged too much. And in the aftermath of a storm, humans sometimes discover that when they were laying in spam and toilet paper, they forgot about their pets’ needs.

With Hurricane Ignacio approaching the island and a second storm following close after, now would be a good time to think about not only your own storm needs, but your pet’s. Below are some tips, gathered from various reputable animal advocacy groups, for keeping your pets safe during a major storm and its aftermath.

Microchip your animals.  It’s probably too late to do this before Ignacio hits.  But there’s another major storm coming in Ignacio’s wake, and the hurricane season is far from over.  A microchip tracking device, available through your veterinarian, may make the difference between seeing your pet again or not.

Make sure that microchip and collar information, especially cell phone numbers, is up to date.

Bring your pets inside well before the storm hits. “Always bring pets indoors at the first sign or warning of a storm or disaster,” recommends the ASPCA.  Pets can become disoriented and wander away from home during a crisis; many animals can be panicked by storm conditions such a close lightning. If you wait until it starts raining or the wind starts to howl, your pet may already have “gone to ground” somewhere and not be findable.

Have a travel crate ready for each pet. And make sure it’s somewhere where you can get at it in a hurry.  In the long term, it might be a good idea to get your pet accustomed to going in the crate by feeding it there. Put the crate somewhere where it’s readily accessible and not likely to get covered with debris or blown away.

In an emergency evacuation situation, a small cat or dog can be scooped up in a pillowcase, but don’t leave it there any longer than you have to.

A note on collars: If you’re living in a thickly forested area and your animal normally wears a collar, breakaway models are available that will allow it to free itself it becomes tangled in the underbrush. But even if your animal doesn’t normally wear a collar, it’s a good idea to have a collar and leash for each animal available  in case you have to evacuate to a temporary shelter.

Buddy Up. suggests trading “pet information, evacuation plans and house keys with trusted neighbors or nearby friends. If you’re caught outside evacuation lines when an evacuation order is issued, your neighbors or friends can evacuate your pets for you.”

Put a “PET INSIDE” sign in your house windows.  If something goes wrong, friends, neighbors and/or emergency workers will know to look.

Stock up on Pet Food. As Tropical Storm Iselle proved here, the power can be out and roads may be blocked for a surprisingly long time after a storm.  The Humane Society suggests a five day supply of food; suggests a week’s supply in a sealed container. But a major storm could disrupt infrastructure much longer than that, especially on an island where port facilities could be damaged, infrastructure isn’t as robust, and both alternate road options and evacuation alternatives are limited. Many large discount stores carry five gallon waterproof resealable dry pet food containers, complete with screw-down lids, for only a few dollars.

Don’t forget water. You should have at least a week’s supply of fresh water in sealed containers, not just for your pets, but for yourself.  Again, an island is even more vulnerable than a mainland community to disrupted supplies, since our power grid is less robust. It does no good to have a catchment tank full of water if you can’t get it out of the tank and/or you can’t boil it–assuming a tree doesn’t fall on the tank.

Stock up on medication.  If your pet needs medicine, it may not be available after the storm.  The same goes for you own medication, of course.

Keep copies of important documents, including pet vaccination and medical records, and phone nos. for your vet, your relatives and your doctors, in a portable, waterproof container. The Humane Society also recommends keeping “Written information about your pets’ feeding schedules, medical conditions and behavior issues.

Check to see if your veterinarian has an emergency backup number.  Vets often have arrangements with other vets to take care of their patients if the vet is incapacitated or off island. In a major storm, one vet’s office may be knocked out while another’s  is still operational.

Take Photos of your Pets in case you need to do “lost animal” postings.

Make sure your first aid kit is well-stocked–another good precaution that could help both you and your pets in an emergency.

Have more portable litter and containers, as well as garbage bags, in case you need to evacuate. The ASPCA recommends “scoopable” pet litter for evacuation situations–especially for cats–and suggests, “aluminum roasting pans are perfect” as disposable litter boxes.

Have blankets or heavy towels on hand for scooping up frightened pets.

Have “comfort items” on hand:  toys, chew toys, scratch pads, special beds, cardboard boxes–whatever familiar things might help ease your pet’s anxiety in the midst of a storm or in a strange place.

Let Your Horses Out: “Pick up and put away everything sharp, make sure your fences are solid, leave the shed or stall doors open, and let them stand in the middle of the field. Most likely that is what they will do,” says local horse and donkey rescue expert Bird McIver. “Mine all stood out in the middle of the big arena. And don’t worry. They know how to cope with a storm.”

Special Recommendations for Birds, mostly from the ASPCA:

  • Have a secure travel cage or carrier, and USE IT. If your bird gets loose, it could starve or die of exposure. Or it could become an invasive species.
  • The ASPCA recommends,  “In warm weather, carry a spray bottle to periodically moisten your bird’s feathers.
  • Have recent photos available, and keep your bird’s leg bands on for identification.
  • Bring paper towels to line the carrier, and change the frequently.
  • Find a quiet area to keep you bird.
  • Buy a a timed bird feeder. “If you need to leave your bird unexpectedly, the feeder will ensure his daily feeding schedule,” notes the ASPCA
  • More “items to keep on hand,” according to the ASPCA: “Catch net, heavy towel, blanket or sheet to cover cage, cage liner.”

Keep your chickens in:  So long as the hen house survives, they’re probably better off inside than blowing around.  One danger with a large flock is panicked birds piling up and smothering each other; keep the coop dark, and you may need to spend the night with them, if the danger to yourself isn’t too great.  For a few pet chickens, one chicken-oriented Web site advised setting up a small enclosure in the garage and covering it with a tarp or blanket.

Tips for reptiles, hamsters and gerbils: Turn them in to the Department of Ag. You’re not supposed to have them, anyway, and  if they get loose, you’ll be responsible for another damned invasive species on the island.

If you have to evacuate, take your pets with you.   Here’s a list of “pet friendly” emergency shelters, but be aware that you’ll have to keep your animals confined:

Kealakehe High

Konawaena High

Hilo High

Waiakea High

Kea’au High

Pahoa High & Intermediate

Honoka’a High & Intermediate

Kau High


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