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The recent proliferation of natural disasters made one thing very clear to me: my family needed a disaster plan in place for our dogs.

My spouse spent Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean with one of our dogs. When Irma went from a category 3 to a category 5 overnight, she was unable to evacuate, as the last flights off the island were cancelled. Expecting the worst, she packed up all of the supplies she and the dog would need in the event the island suffered catastrophic damage while she was at a hurricane shelter, and prepared to hunker down. Irma largely spared the island she was on, unlike nearby Barbuda and Anguilla, but it was a very close call.

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From fires and floods to hurricanes and earthquakes, the worst can and does happen to dog owners all over the country. Just like you should have a plan in place for the humans in your family, you also need a disaster plan for your dog.

Step One: Assess Your Risks

It is impossible to be prepared for everything, but knowing the natural disasters most likely to affect your area can help you prepare for as many of them as possible. Figure out what the risks in your area are, including wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, landslides, and heat waves. This will help you understand what supplies are necessary to keep on hand.

Step Two: Prepare Your First Aid Kit

Every emergency situation requires a first aid kit. This kit should include medical supplies, extra food and water, and anything else you may need to care for an injured dog. The AKC has a useful canine first aid kit guide to help you figure out what you will need, and you can add things as necessary.

Step Three: Evacuation Checklist

Evacuations are stressful. You will have to leave behind valued possessions, and you will often have very little time to decide what to take and what to leave behind. The last thing you want to be worrying about is what to take for your dog.

Put together an evacuation checklist ahead of time that covers the necessities. You may not have time to gather all of these things if you have to move in a hurry, however. If that is the case, make sure you and anyone who regularly watches your pet knows where to find your dog’s food, medications, medical records, leash, and crate.


Step Four: Evacuation Destination

If you have to evacuate or leave your home, dogs complicate things. Not all shelters or hotels accept pets, and you may find it harder to find friends and relatives willing to open their homes to both you and your dogs.

This means it is up to you to come up with a list of possible safe havens beforehand. Look up which hotel chains are pet friendly. Talk to friends or relatives to figure out ahead of time who might be willing to put you up for a few days. Most importantly, consider crate training your dog. Crate-trained dogs can be accommodated more easily than uncrated dogs, and your dog will also be more comfortable if she is used to spending time in a crate.

Step Five: Stay Up-to-Date on Vaccines and Microchip Information

Nothing shuts doors faster than failure to provide proof of vaccination records, especially for dangerous diseases like rabies. Keeping your pet up-to-date on his vaccines will protect him from diseases such as rabies, distemper, or leptospirosis, and it will also make it more likely that your dog is allowed into disaster relief shelters and kennels. In addition, if you and your pet become separated, dogs with microchips and rabies tags stand a much higher chance of being returned to you safely.

Getting your dog microchipped is just the first step. You also have to make sure that you register the microchip with an up-to-date phone number and contact information, so that shelters and veterinary hospitals can reach you. You could even look into a collar with GPS technology for added peace of mind.

Step Six: Travel Preparations

If you live in the Midwest, hurricanes are probably not at the top of your list of things to worry about. However, if you are traveling with a dog, you may be exposed to disasters you would not be normally, as vacationers to Florida and the Caribbean discovered this past month.

If you regularly travel with your dog, you will need a disaster plan that travels with you. This means packing, at the very least, a canine first aid kit, veterinary paperwork, extra food and water, contact information for your veterinarian, and a travel crate. That way you won’t be caught unprepared if your vacation does not go according to plan.

Additional Steps

Identifying the disasters you and your dog may face, packing a first aid kit, assembling an evacuation checklist, and identifying an evacuation destination will give you the foundation for your disaster plan. Make sure that you and the rest of your family are aware of the details of the plan, including a meeting point and important contact information.

Your plan may need to be adjusted according to your needs.

For instance, if you own a breeding or sporting kennel, evacuating your dogs may be more challenging than it would be for someone who owns just one dog. You will have to arrange for transportation of multiple dogs, not to mention making sure you have enough food for all of them, as well as any additional supplies needed for litters or females in estrus.

Your dog’s personality also plays a role. Not all dogs get along well with others. If you know that your dog will not do well in a crowded environment, make sure you pack a crate and perhaps even a muzzle for his protection. If it is cool in your location, you may even be able to place a blanket or towel over part of his crate to give him some privacy.

Some medications can pose complications. Dogs that require refrigerated medications will need a cooler and ice on hand to keep the drugs viable. This can be difficult if you are in a situation without power or access to a store with ice. Talk with your veterinarian about steps you can take to preserve the integrity of your dog’s medication, and about what to do if the medication loses potency.

You can also practice implementing your plan. If you have a tornado shelter in your yard, get your dog used to climbing in and out to prevent balking in an emergency. If you think your dog may need to be muzzled as part of your disaster preparedness plan, you can also practice putting the muzzle on with positive reinforcement, so that muzzling does not add stress to an already stressful situation. Most importantly, basic obedience will help ensure that your dog stays safe, while also allowing you to stay focused on keeping your family together.

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This article was originally published in AKC Family Dog magazine. Subscribe today ($9.95 for 6 issues, including digital edition) to get expert tips on training, behavior, health, nutrition, and grooming, and read incredible stories of dogs and their people.