Natural and manmade disasters can occur at any location and at any time. Localized incidents may just affect your home but regional incidents can affect a whole neighborhood or region. Those affected are left reeling and are faced with the task of rebuilding their lives. Anything from floods and fires to wars and civil disturbances can result in you having to leave your home for a while. It could be days, weeks or even months before you can go back to living in your home. This is very upsetting for humans but have you thought about how stressful this would be for the animals in your life?
Cats, in particular, can get very distressed about having to leave their familiar surroundings. You can make the transition easier for them by being prepared in advance just in case the unthinkable should happen. There are plenty of things that you can do to prepare your kitty for such an emergency.
Many owners also put together an emergency evacuation kit for their cat. Of course, they hope that they will never have to use it but it is comforting to know that it is there in case you need it.
Put Together an Evacuation Plan for Your Cat
If it is not safe for you to remain in your home, it is not safe for your cat either. Obviously, human safety comes first and you should never put your own life in danger to rescue your cat. However, there are a few things that you can do to ensure that an emergency evacuation with a cat will go more smoothly.
- Work out where you will go
Pre-plan where you and your cat could stay if you had to leave your home. It could be with friends or family if they have cat-friendly homes. Many hotels will not allow you to have a cat in your room and emergency shelters are not cat-friendly places in general. Alternatively, research the local cat hostels and find one that you know you will be happy with. Have their emergency contact numbers to hand so that you can contact them at any time of the day or night.
- Teach your cat to come when you call
You may have to leave your home in a hurry and you will not have time to go looking for them. You can teach your cat to come to you when you call by giving them a tasty cat treat when they do so. You may find that a clicker or shaker helps out with the training process. Training your cat to come to a whistle command is a good idea because your voice may not be heard over alarms and emergency vehicles. Make sure that you and your cat have fun whilst learning this new trick.
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- Identify where your cat likes to hide
A stressed cat will tend to hide in a familiar hiding place. You need to know where these are so that you can find your cat in an emergency. When your cat becomes stressed by something, keep an eye on them and observe where they hide. It will save you hours of searching in a genuine emergency.
- Plan how you will transport your cat
Unlike dogs, cats will not appreciate being led away from your home. If you try to carry them, they are quite likely to struggle and leap out of your arms. This is dangerous for you and for them. It is essential that you get them used to being transported in an appropriate cat carrier. Buy a suitable one and keep it around the house with the door open at all times. Place a soft blanket inside to make it welcoming. When your cat needs to be transported, they will not be stressed by being put inside the carrier because it will be so familiar to them.
- Make sure the carrier is suitable
Smaller carriers will be easier for you to transport. Remember, you are probably going to have to carry it yourself. On the other hand, it needs to be big enough for you to get your cat into in a hurry. Netted cages with zippers are rarely robust enough for an emergency evacuation. Instead, choose a hard plastic variety with securely shutting doors
- Practice an evacuation drill
Don’t wait for an actual emergency to try this out! Have a trial run where you summon your cat (or go looking for them if they have hidden), get them into their carrier, grab your emergency evacuation kit (the contents are listed below) and get out of the house. How long did it take you? Would that be acceptable in an emergency? If it took hours, you have some more preparation and training work to do.
- Consider leash training
Dogs tend to fair better than cats in emergencies because the owner can pop a leash on them and lead them away from danger. A cat that is not leash-trained is going to hate this and could harm themselves. If you want to make a leash part of your emergency evacuation plan, you need to get your cat used to it. Preferably, start the training when they are a kitten. Cat harnesses are safer than leashes attached to collars because your cat can’t jump around as easily and are less likely to injure themselves or anyone else. Leashes with night-time reflectors are best for emergency situations when the visibility may be very poor.
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- Cat identification
Should you get separated from your cat during the evacuation, you must be able to identify them if they are found by someone else and taken to safety. You could put an ID tag on their collar but collars can sometimes fall off. A microchip is another alternative and it can be scanned by special machines that are owned by vets and animal shelters. Don’t forget to update your contact details with the chip provider when you change address or telephone number or they will not be able to get hold of you. It’s also a good idea to have some photos of your kitty on your phone to show people if you need to go searching for them.
Prepare an Emergency Evacuation Kit for Your Cat
You cannot look after a cat in an emergency situation without having some supplies. It’s useful to gather these together in a backpack which you can keep close to your cat carrier. A cat backpack is more useful than a bag because you will already have to carry the pet carrier in one hand and may need the other hand free to steady yourself on hazardous pathways and stairs. Then, should the worse happen, all you have to do is pop your cat in the carrier and grab the backpack. Here are some ideas on what you should put in your cat emergency evacuation kit.
- Bottles of water
Do not assume that you will be evacuated somewhere that will have water for your cat. An 8 oz bottle of water will last your cat for up to three days. You need two bottles in your emergency kit.
- Cat food
You can take dried food in a sealable bag or wet cat food with flip top lids. The advantage of canned food is that it provides moisture as well as nutrients. A very stressed cat may not drink enough water to keep them hydrated. Sealed packs of semi-moist food may be another option.
- Feeding bowls
You could use disposable food storage containers with lids. These will not take up much room in your kit.
- Emergency litter tray
Your emergency accommodation may not have a cat litter box so you will have to improvise. The small disposable aluminum roasting pans are a perfect size and will do until you have a chance to make more permanent arrangements. If your host does not have any cat litter, you can use shredded paper, sand or fine wood chippings as a temporary measure. Don’t forget scoops and plastic bags are also very useful as is an odor neutralizing spray.
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Your cat may be taking essential medication for a chronic condition. Keep a supply of this in your emergency backpack. You can explain to your vet why you need an extra prescription when you are setting up the backpack. Check it periodically to make sure that the use-by date has not expired. Pills and un-constituted powders will last a lot longer than liquid medicine. Don’t forget a liquid medicine dispenser or dropper as well if you need one. You need at least a week’s supply.
You may need paperwork to prove a pedigree breed or proof of ownership. You don’t want these to be destroyed in an emergency so store them in your backpack and they will be with you at all times. You also need vaccination and medical records. If you have to check your kitty into a cat hostel for a few days, they will want to see these.
- Emergency numbers
These days, most people store all their contact details on a mobile phone but what if your phone gets lost or damaged or you do not have the opportunity to charge it up? It is sensible to store the contact details for your vet on a piece of paper in your backpack.
- First aid kit
It is possible that your kitty will sustain minor injuries during an emergency evacuation and it would be useful if you could deal with these yourself. A first aid kit should contain latex gloves, some wound disinfectant and liquid bandage and some milk of magnesia in case of accidental ingestion of a poisonous substance. Other useful items would be saline eye wash, some gauze dressings and a small scissors. Paper towels and baby wipes are also very useful for cleaning up after injuries or little ‘accidents’.
- Familiar bedding
Hopefully, you will have already put some soft bedding in your cat’s carrier and this will smell familiar to them. A few familiar toys will help too.
- Personal care items
If you have a very long-haired breed of kitty, don’t forget their grooming brush or comb.
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- Calming remedies
You can reduce stress by providing familiar bedding or even some clothing that smells like you for your cat to sleep on. However, some cats will still be very stressed. You can pop some tranquilizers or calming remedies in your backpack so they will be on hand if you really need them.
- Repair tape
Plastic cat carriers can get broken very easily in emergency situations and you will not be able to find another one for a while. When they are moved in and out of rescue vehicles or boats they can crack and this is hazardous for you and your cat. Some heavy-duty repair tape takes up very little room but could be very useful in this sort of situation.
In a Life or Death Situation
Rarely, a situation arises where you have to evacuate an uncooperative cat in seconds in order to save their life. A hurricane or flash flood would be a typical example. Never risk your own life to save an animal and do not return into a burning property to save a cat that you think is in there. The chances are they have already escaped.
However, if you do have to get your cat out in a hurry, it is acceptable to place them for a very short period of time inside a pillowcase. They will not like it, but it will afford you some protection from getting scratched or bitten whilst you get them to a place of safety.
Finally, there are often local animal charities who have workers on the ground who can help with the pets of evacuated families. The emergency services or local authorities will be able to put you in touch with them.
- Make a Disaster Plan For Your Pets, The Humane Society of the United States
- Keeping Your Pet Safe in Case of a Disaster, The MSPCA–Angell
- Pets and Emergencies: What to Do in the Midst of a Crisis, Best Friends Animal Society