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Emergency planning for your pet

Your pets are totally reliant on you, in good times and in bad, and this is even more the case during emergencies. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead so everything you need is in place to keep them safe and secure, whether the emergency involves a bushfire, cyclone, flood or other natural disaster.

Luckily there are good resources to help you protect your pet but you need to develop your pet emergency plan in advance to assist you to stay calm, avoid making decisions in a panic and ensure the safety of your precious pets.

The best way to successfully evacuate your pet in a natural disaster is to have early warning of the emergency. Many lives have been lost through waiting too long and handling some animals when they become fearful which can make them behave differently to their normal selves. To avoid this scenario, sign up for alerts from your local emergency agency and check regularly for updates. You can do this on social media, websites or by phoning emergency hotlines.

Create an emergency plan

The first step to creating a pet emergency plan should be to prepare for evacuation. This means you must have already organised the following:

  • Ensure your pets are identified (by microchipping dogs and cats with up-to-date details on the microchip register, providing them with ID tags with your contact details and registering them with the local council)
  • Train your pets to be calm when transported and have the necessary transport equipment ready (such as crates, cat carriers, horse floats, bird cages etc. as appropriate to your animals)
  • Identify somewhere you can evacuate your pets to if necessary, whether this is with someone you know or at a boarding facility in a safe area; other options may include animal care centres such as the RSPCA, council pounds and evacuation centres set up by emergency department officials to cater for animals
  • Ensure all vaccinations are current and keep vaccination certificates in a safe place (as these will be required by boarding facilities)
  • Decide in advance to move your animals to a safe place as soon as possible and before the need to evacuate

Put together a pet emergency kit

The next step is to pack your pet emergency kit and keep it somewhere handy so you can act quickly when an emergency arises. This kit should include:

  • A folder with essential paperwork such as registration and vaccination certificates, contact details of your veterinarian, local animal shelters and council pounds, medication instructions and photographs of your animals.
  • Transportation equipment
  • Medications
  • Collars, leads, harnesses and ID tags
  • At least a week’s supply of non-perishable food and water
  • Food and water bowls
  • At least a week’s supply of litter and litter trays for cats, poo bags for dogs
  • Bedding or nesting materials
  • Toys

As with everything, practice makes perfect, so the last step is to do regular drills of your pet emergency plan, starting by containing your animals nearby before leaving. During an actual emergency, important steps to make your plan go smoothly are to:

  • Phone ahead to the safe location so they know to expect your arrival
  • Pack your pet emergency kit
  • Load animals in your vehicle last, making sure they are sufficiently contained with plenty of fresh air, attending to special requirements for birds and reptiles.

Make sure you always plan ahead

Animals should only be left behind on your property as an absolute last resort, which means it is impossible to evacuate them. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, take the following measures to increase their safety:

  • Leave at least one week’s supply of food and water in places your animal can easily reach and in more than one container; for outdoor animals, this means access to pasture, 7 days’ supply of hay and access to water from sources that don’t rely on pipes or power
  • Never tether, chain or tie up your animals - they need to be able to move away from danger
  • Leave a note on your door with your contact details, the number and species of animals you have left behind and the names and photos of pets
  • During floods, for indoor animals, leave food and water in an elevated position that will also provide refuge; outdoor animals must be moved to higher ground
  • During bushfires, outdoor animals must be moved to an area that is closely grazed and with drinking water, shade and steel fencing
  • Protect animals from cyclones or severe storms by providing solid and sturdy cover
  • Horses must not be shut into small fenced yards or stables, but are safest in grazed paddocks or sand arenas; they must not be wearing synthetic blankets
  • Increase the chances of outdoor animals being relocated by fitting them with high visibility coats or rugs, with your mobile phone details attached

Emergency planning for pets has always been essential, but due to global warming, there is even more need to be prepared for natural disasters with a well-developed evacuation plan. To make sure your pet emergency plan is watertight, do a monthly drill during both daylight hours and in the dark.

Even with planning, your pet can face a life-threatening accidental injury or illness at any time, so another way to provide peace of mind is making pet insurance part of your plan.

Image of Dr Rosemary Elliot

Dr Rosemary Elliot 

Dr Rosemary studied veterinary science at the University of Sydney after having established her career as a clinical psychologist, and has qualifications of BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), MPsych (Clin), BA (Hons) as well as previously establishing her career as a clinical psychologist. Her experiences during veterinary training fostered an ambition to focus directly on animal welfare and ethics, with a particular interest in animal sentience and the human-animal bond. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Rosemary combines her psychology background and veterinary skills to contribute to and promote animal welfare, and regularly contributes quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance's Pet Care blog.