A majority of Americans own at least one pet. Our pets are valuable and loved members of our families. However, we often forget about them while we are making our SHTF scenarios.
Pets still need to eat, drink and take their regular medications. If you are a pet owner, taking necessary steps to prepare your pet for an SHTF scenario is a wise idea.
Remember that pets can also be an important part of your SHTF plans. They can be useful in many situations. In fact, our dogs are trained to defend and round up our free-range chickens.
Dogs can anticipate storms and defend your home from invaders. There are dozens of tasks they can perform, so keeping them around can benefit your family.
Questions to Ask Yourself
What disasters are more common in your area?
Some places have bad tornadoes or killer hurricanes, while others deal with droughts and forest fires, and where the author lives, we constantly flood and just experienced a definite SHTF scenario – a catastrophic volcanic eruption that killed thousands.
Research what to do for the disasters most likely to occur in your area, as well as in what seasons they are most probable. Knowing what can happen and preparing a small pack for your pets will be a huge help later, even if the emergency never actually occurs, or is thankfully small in scale to the possibilities.
What is the most probable evacuation route you will take?
Where are you likely to go – both near and far? If you need to evacuate, you’ll need to know the fastest and safest ways out, and how you should leave.
Do you have a large van? You’ll have more space for your family including the pets and all the items needed. Will a small car even make it or is it better on foot and what will you need to take in either scenario?
Who is a close contact you can go to in an emergency…
… and are they pet friendly, with what type of housing?
Set up an agreement with people you may be able to rely on, and keep updated numbers for them.
Things Pets Need to Survive SHTF
#1. Survival Items
This tip is probably the most obvious. Just like humans, pets need their items to stay healthy. Pet food is one of the most important items. Animals can eat other food, but that can take away from your family.
Plan to stockpile their food or food that you can get on sale with coupons. You might also want to consider canned foods like tuna or beef stew for your pets.
TIP: Dog food and cat food, because of that fat content, can go bad after a while. Make sure you pay attention to the expiration dates and rotate your stock. You can also try storing the food in Mylar bags with O2 absorbers.
Kitty litter is another important item. Cat feces can be toxic, especially to pregnant women, so litter is important. Also, you can use kitty litter to absorb the odor from makeshift toilets. There are a lot of different uses for kitty litter so that it won’t be a waste of your money.
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There are other items you might want to consider such as:
- Leashes and collars
- Nail clippers
- A pet first-aid kit including allergy medication and antibiotics for bacterial infections
- Flea medication or treatment options
#2. Consider Making Your Own Animal Food
When we think about a long-term scenario, it may be smarter to learn how to make your animal food. Luckily, many homemade animal food recipes are financially smarter and more filling than typical dog food! You can search for recipes online, but most include some cooked meat and grain, such as rice.
The great thing about making your animal food is that you can use whatever meat you have on hand. If you recently shot a deer, you can use the scraps to create a week of dog or cat food. The bones can be cooked down into a hearty broth as a base for your food!
If you have cats and dogs, remember that cats need more protein than dogs! That may seem shocking, but it is a key reason why you shouldn’t give cat food to a dog. Dogs can develop stomach aches and diarrhea if given cat food for too long.
Another difference to remember is that cats need an amino acid called taurine. Dogs, on the other hand, create their taurine. If your cat lacks it, ut can develop heart disease and other deadly health issues.
Cats are born hunters, loving the chase. Your cat has the instincts to chase and hunt mice. One thing to remember is that cats because they are a hunter, prefer warm or room temperature food.
TIP: Worried about not having enough meat for the time after your dry food runs out? Start canning meat now. You can use it for human meals as well!
#3. Access to Clean Water
Chances are you already have a storage of water for your family members, but did you remember to include each of your pets? Every pet should have a gallon per day. Farm animals require more than that. Pets rely on hydration just as much as we do!
For a typical SHTF scenario, you should have a week or two supply of water on hand. Your dog might need the food prepared with water, or your pet might be exposed to chemicals during the situation.
Owners should also think about having clean water and eating bowls to ensure your animals have fresh water. Don’t just think you can use dirty bowls! Exposing your animals to pathogens and bacteria in a crisis is NOT wise.
#4. Obedience Training
You don’t need to send your dog to prepper obedience training school, but your dog must be obedient. Dogs should be trained to come, be quiet, sit and stay. If you are hiding, the last thing that you need is your dog barking and giving away your location.
All animals require some training. Even a horse can be trained to stand still, making it easier to mount and dismount.
#5. Work on Desensitizing Your Animals
During an SHTF situation, your family may encounter strange sounds that don’t happen as often. All animals can spook easily because of strange sounds. Guns tend to be at the top of the list, yet even the smell of smoke can disturb some.
The best course of action is to work on desensitizing your animals before these situations arise. If you are target practicing, take your dogs with you. Integrate them into your regular task so that they can be obedient and calm during these situations later. The last thing you want is your horse spooking because of gunshots and running off.
#6. Find Tasks for Your Animals
As you live your life in these situations, your animal has to be able to put its weight. An animal without a service task is just an extra mouth for you to feed daily and sucking resources. You might not realize that right now, but you will quickly later.
All animals can complete tasks! Dogs can pull sleds or people. They also can be trained to carry a backpack and protect your home from invaders. Horses, donkeys, and mules have more obvious services to your family. Create a plan about how your animals can be more than just a companion to your family.
#7. Keep Them Healthy
Before any disaster scenario happens, you want to make sure that you work on keeping your animals healthy. A healthy animal is less of a burden and will pose fewer issues during an SHTF scenario.
Keeping your pets healthy requires you to visit the vet regularly, staying up-to-date on your shots and giving your dog his medications. That also means you should give your animals regular flea treatments!
The rabies shot is important. Most states require you to have the rabies shot for your dogs, but it is important for preppers. After an SHTF scenario, you want your pets in tip-top shape. The rabies shot prevents them from injuries later.
#8. Study up on your animals’ body language.
Consider your dog or other pets’ perspective – you’re unable to speak and don’t fully understand what’s happening. Your family is nervous, they are moving everything, something bad is happening outside, and you can’t communicate in their language to let them know how you feel. A little stressful, right?
#9. Keep identification handy at all times.
Losing a pet in any situation is a heartache, but it’s absolutely horrific when there’s an emergency going on that others are affected by as well. Being able to hang up photos is a good start, but if you really want to prepare you should make a few copied folders of every little detail.
Here´s a list of information you should always keep with you about your pet:
- Your contact information
- Vet information
- Pet sitter information
- Birthdate and/or age
- Special markings
- Anything that makes them unique!
- Photos from every angle (both sides, front, back, paws
No detail is too small.
A photo or two of their teeth is also a good idea as they are an indicator of age and can help match up records.
If your pet has an ID chip you will need to include their ID number and the association it’s registered with in your document. Attempting to contact the association about your pet being lost when you are nearing or in emergency may be a good piece to add in your plan as well.
Collars and ID tags are great for identifying your dog in normal situations, but can be a hazard and are easy to fall off. Consider having your pet chipped if not already done, or even a small tattoo in the fur of their thigh or armpit.
A chip can travel around the body or simply not be picked up by the detector if the animal is even taken to a vet. A tattoo may be hard to find but always brings attention and will definitely bring your pet back home if the information is properly circulated and your baby is safe.
If you are dealing with livestock there are various ways to put identifiers on them that can be registered with legal associations, your city should be able to tell you what is legal for the area.
#10. How are you going to transport your furbabies?
Prepare transport for various scenarios. A leash and collar for many well-trained dogs is fine for an easy scenario, but it won’t hold up in dire straits and it might even cause more harm. Consider an investment in a life vest and reflective wearable pieces. What you need will likely vary depending on the animal.
Dogs: Dogs are pretty independent and you need a crate if possible, but that’s a lot of valuable space that you can’t carry when you aren’t in a vehicle.
Take their size and strengths into consideration. You’ll want to carry the family chihuahua, so finding a mechanism that allows you to strap them onto your body and free up your hands is a great idea.
If you’re bringing the car, the crate might be too much space wasted but you won’t want your dog running around free in the small space and possibly causing an accident. It will also be safer for them to be safely strapped in instead of tossed around in the car if there’s an accident. Look for seatbelts and hiking gear.
Another note to consider, if your dog tends to be aggressive or snappy under high stress, consider fitting and purchasing a basket muzzle.
The basket muzzle allows the dog to still eat, drink, and pant but makes them unable to bite the people around them. This can save all of you in a crisis situation as well as other animals you are bringing with you.
Make sure your equipment is not your everyday equipment (though you should practice with it every now and then to adjust them to it), and should be sturdy – dump anything frilly, cutesy, or super spikey, you need tough essentials.
Cats: An easy to maneuver carrier is best. Consider a fitting harness and leash for when they need to be out of their carriers – this will prevent collar slipping or accidentally injuring them by pulling on their neck too hard.
Cats are very expressive with their claws and you may want to consider purchasing some sort of boot for them to wear.
The boot can protect their feet and your arms, but will be easy to slip off if they do get away, which means they can still defend themselves. Avoid claw caps as they will not be able to defend themselves from danger or climb trees to escape.
Livestock: You will need properly fitting halters and lead ropes. Horses tend to be especially nervous creatures so you will need to be extra careful that you have the materials you need to provide as much fresh water as possible, and feeds that are easy on their digestive system. If there’s a possibility you will have time to dress them at some point you should bring padded leg wraps, vet wraps, and gauze (which should be in your emergency kits). If you think you will be crossing states you need to bring proper documentation and shot records.
Small animals: Find a good carrier for them and correct bedding. The bedding should be dust free and of a material that won’t collect water easily. They will need a water bottle and clean place to put their food, so consider keeping their food bowl separate while the bottle stays inside.
Some people don’t like water bottles as they have a history of harming pets, but in this situation it will likely be best to keep a close eye on them and the water so they have access and don’t risk dehydration.
Aquatics: Save as much of their (clean) tank water when the time comes, as well as their plants. You will want separate storage units for the plants and groups of the fish; they should not be transported in their regular tank.
You can choose to use plastic bags from a local pet store with rubber bands, and will need to put pure oxygen in the bag if you are travelling for more than an hour.
Only one fish should be in each bag with this method, and if you are bringing multiple you should find a picnic cooler or styrofoam cooler to pack all of the bags into, but add sections of bubble wrap around each bag to prevent rolling. Double bagging the fish can help prevent leaks and keep them alive if a leak is sprung from the inside.
A different method is to purchase a new five gallon bucket – never use a bucket that has had chemicals inside as they still live in the plastic and are likely to poison your fish.
Use water from your tank, and leave a good amount of space for oxygen for your fish. You can place the fish into the bucket without any bags; simply secure a lid on top of the bucket. This is a good way to transport multiple fish in a quick amount of time, which will be best in an emergency situation.
If your aquatics definitely can’t survive the travel time without heat, consider packing them into a cooler with their heater and a mobile electric outlet. You will need to test this method beforehand in order to make sure it is not storing too much heat inside, which can also kill the fish.
Reptiles: This is a difficult transport, so you need to be well prepared. A reptile that does not receive proper heat will experience dehydration, stuck shed, regurgitation, and may be very likely to just die on the spot.
Transporting them in a box is just fine as long as it has the correct ventilation and can store wet towels if needed. If you have any venomous pets however, they will need to be placed into two boxes to avoid biting through.
Like with the fish, you can pack their heating devices and a mobile electric source. If you have a whole collection of them though, you may need to do some special setup for an emergency. Prepare well for these sensitive little guys.
#11. Find a safe haven
Let’s be completely straightforward here – we all say we will never leave our babies behind, but realistically, sometimes you don’t get the choice and you have human children and spouses and the elderly to get to safety too. Sometimes, you just can’t take your pets. This is terrible to think about but it’s the simple difficult truth.
If this happens, do you have another place to go with them? With their species, ailments, and general personality what is going to work best?
Start now by contacting animal shelters, rescues, vets, and friends to see if they will be able to board your animals in an emergency situation. Create a contact list of these groups, which animals they can take on, who you would leave them with, and so on.
This should be added into your Identification packet, which you will want to drop off with whoever is keeping the animal.
Create a document on any specific allergies and needs your pet has – remember that they will be dealing with other animals in emergencies, so adding notes like “she needs her smoochies every night” will just be an annoyance. List their medications and brands if applicable; you will want to hand over all of the information, and your contact information, to their caregivers.
#12. Will you be staying at home?
If you are able to take shelter in your own house, you are likely dealing with a flood, hurricane, or tornado, so prepare accordingly.
Find a room without windows, possibly a basement if you have one, and set aside some things for an emergency there. You will want contained fresh water to store away now, blankets, flashlights, a hoard of your pets’ food and medicines, as well as anything special their species may call for.
Non-electrical heating and cooling methods may be necessary, or you can charge up some mobile electric devices – but store these away for real emergencies. Put a card up in your home alerting that you have pets and how many there are, as well as their species.
#13. Training your pets is a responsibility.
We teach ourselves and our kids how to behave in an emergency, but we ignore our pets. Unfortunately, the pets are the ones who won’t have a full grasp on the situation and won’t be able to understand if they are causing more danger.
Work with your pet on dealing with situations, like quickly loading and unloading in the car, free walking, calling and catching, loading in crates, and whatever else may apply to your species. This will mostly be necessary for dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, and especially livestock.
But this isn’t just about emergency situations – we see too often animals without even basic training. They need that before you can teach them emergency response. Make time for the most basic of training first.
#14. Have a first aid kid for your animals and be trained in basic first aid.
The items you have in your first aid bag may not be sufficient for your animals, especially any that are not typical house dogs or cats.
Research your animal’s species if you don’t know already what health problems or injuries they are likely to experience in general, as well as emergencies. Their normal signs of injury and how to locate the injury should be understood beforehand.
Basic first aid kit list:
- Vet tape
- Non-stick bandages
- Rubbing alcohol
- Activated charcoal
- Eye dropper and syringe
- Petsafe medicines (research for your species beforehand)
*In lieu of a muzzle, you can also use a small cloth, sock, towel, tie or similar items; this can help during serious injuries to prevent the dog from biting a handler or themselves during the treatment process.
#15. Make sure you are personally prepared – the caregiver has to be ready.
If you are planning how to care for your animal during an emergency, you are probably concerned with how strong your bond is with your animal. Now is the time to start working on how far that trust goes, especially if you have livestock animals like horses.
Contrary to popular belief, your dog does not believe that you, a non-dog, are an alpha figure, and the assumption that your dog will blindly follow you in an emergency may cause more anxiety and rebellion.
Instead, your animal should see you as a leader – and you can’t put yourself there by force; this is a role that your pack assigns to you, not the other way around. Start now by just being with your pet, not asking for them to do anything, but just hanging out.
Start some fun training – little tricks or especially agility would be a great way to prepare for an emergency situation.
Set the game up so that you are guiding your pet, showing them it’s okay to make mistakes but that you are going to help them make the correct moves, and reward heavily. Try guiding them through water, or walking through water while holding them, and so on.
Get them acclimated to traffic and practice street smarts; be dramatic when you are making a decision and do not move on until the animal makes correct moves. Clearly communicating with the animal, even passively, can change the outcome of the emergency.
#16. Make sure you have some items for your pet that are familiar and comforting.
Animals can be very nervous creatures, and when everything is changing they will have a hard time relaxing. Bring the animal’s favorite toy, blanket, or something with the scent of home to calm them a bit.
The scent allows them to feel like they still have something from before, and as the scent on the item starts to blend with the new location, the animal can adjust better.
Continue with your previous daily routine where possible – feed them at a certain time, play at a certain time, start relaxing and falling into your old habits.
The animal can adjust quicker if they see you returning to normal as well. If your pet has been without their favorite treats or food for a while, try locating some and offering it to the animal.
Sometimes they may reject this food if they are feeling too nervous, but guard it for them and try offering it again later – noticing when they finally take it can also help you keep track of how well the animal is adjusting.
We make a real scene here preparing for an emergency with an animal, but there are plenty who may barely a real emergency and might just think people are running around – how busy is your home?
With upwards of twenty children running through my home on many days and various activities planned, including sometimes having my dog join on group runs, I’m not sure they’ll always notice and they may have no issues with adjustment because nothing seems that abnormal to them. Others might need some time but are relaxed for the most part and forget about it soon after.
You’ll know the difference based on your animal’s personality and your home’s atmosphere along with your lifestyle. It’s also quite common for an animal to be absolutely terrified, during and after the emergency. So here’s what to do after everything starts to get back to relative normal:
Spend fun time with your pet again. You should have already checked them out and made sure they are safe, and even taken them to a veterinarian if possible. Now relax with them and try to play and engage. Check how responsive they are and how they react. Make a note of anything that seems off.
Continue with your usual routine, and try to be fairly normal with your pets, but show you understand they are nervous. If they don’t calm soon, you will want to investigate specific triggers that may upset them.
Once located, you can decide to entirely remove the object or work with them on relaxation; in the case of the latter, you should seek out a professional trainer.
These steps will help you keep your pet babies safe in disasters and other emergencies. Remember though that they’re all different, dependent not just on personality but age, health, species, and breed.
Horses have a very strong fight or flight response (usually flight), and Jack Russells might hide from water but Retrievers may jump into a flash flood looking forward to a swim.
Study your species and your breed, and prepare as much as you possibly can. Keep documents on hand and send a few copies to close friends, neighbors, local vets, and shelters. With the right precautions and just a bit of luck, you and your beloved pets will make it through scratch-free.
Learning what your pet is trying to say is one of the most important bits of knowledge every pet owner should have, yet it’s very common for people to overlook them.
Study what your pets’ species body language is. Panting often means that a dog is too hot, but it can also be a sign of extreme stress. Yawning is seen as a sign of lethargy, but is another very accurate sign of stress.
Many pet owners who want to do right by their dogs may take that as a sign to stop and rest, but the pet may really just want to move faster and will only be caused more stress by the break.
It’s also important to understand that your pet will likely be feeling stressed too, and may be more likely to strike out at you or refuse instructions. Being more careful with your pet and how you express your own body language will be an essential to getting through the situation.
Pets can live through the crisis and excel, just like humans. If you have children or are single, having a few pets with you might make the situation even easier. Kids love their pets and find them a great comfort during hard situations!
If you want your pets to survive, take the time to plan out their SHTF survival plans, just like you would your own. Start creating a kit, stockpiling food and learning how to grow your own.
Head to the vet soon for a yearly checkup and make sure your dog is doing well. All of these things contribute to your pets’ survival.
updated by Sara Castellano 10/16/2018
Bethany Hayes is a mother of three kids who has a small, suburban homestead. When she isn’t homeschooling or gardening, she might be focusing on building up their homestead or preserving the harvest.