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Guide to Prepping for Your Pets

Avatar for Jodie Weston Jodie Weston  |  Updated: October 4, 2021
Guide to Prepping for Your Pets

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Pet owners have to make special considerations for their animals during a disaster. Frequently, animals are abandoned during natural disasters, left behind to be rescued, or not. If you’re bugging in instead, you still need to have supplies on hand to take care of your pet’s needs and health.

Dogs and cats may, to varying degrees, also be useful in a number of SHTF scenarios. But let’s be honest, Rusty is your pet first and a prepping asset second, if at all. If your dog isn’t trained for protection work, chances are he or she won’t be able or willing to defend you. Your cat isn’t much help unless rodents are a big worry during the disaster.

If you don’t plan for your animals, they will be more of a hindrance than a help in a disaster. But, you can prep for them, not only to keep them alive, but perhaps so that they can help keep you alive, too. Here’s how!

Guide to Prepping for Your Dog

1. Training

The first thing to do to protect your dog is to ensure that it will obey your commands when it matters most, in emergencies. For starters, stay is an important thing to teach. It seems like most owners find teaching this command a challenge, so brushing up on it is always a good idea.

woman training dog

It’s also useful to train your dog to bark, be quiet, refuse food from strangers, and carry their bug out bag. I’ve written a lot more about how to train your dog before emergencies.

2. Food and Water

Dogs need water, of course, so you’ll need to add to your water supply.

How much? It depends mostly on how much your dog weighs. Each pound of dog needs an ounce of water:

  • A small dog, of 30 pounds needs 30 ounces or 0.85 liters per day
  • A medium dog, of 60 pounds, needs 60 ounces or 1.70 liters per day
  • A large dog, of 90 pounds, needs 2.5 liters per day

This is only the bare minimum. Like humans, dogs need more water in hot conditions, when sick, when their food has less water content than normal, etc.

pitbull cute running in water

Of course, dogs also need food, and a considerable amount of it must be protein, from animal sources. That’s fairly hard for you to supply in a long-term SHTF scenario unless you have a stockpile. Hunting to meet the needs of your dog will, for most people, be a challenge.

This is especially true because if a dog gets too much protein in a day, they don’t store it in fat as they store excess calories, instead, they lose it in urine.

Exactly how much protein your dog needs is an issue of debate in the veterinary community. It also depends on how active your dog is, and whether its a puppy or lactating (more protein) or a senior (less protein). Generally, a pet adult dog that isn’t lactating needs 15-30 percent of their food to be high-quality, easily digestible protein.

As far as packaged dog food goes, that is usually supplied by chicken or lamb, though other forms of meat can be digestible, too. If you happen to be homesteading or have chickens or other birds as a food source for when SHTF, you can always supplement your dog’s food with eggs to ensure they’re meeting their protein needs.

Most people will need to have a stockpile of their dog’s food. Aim for it to last as long as the supplies you have for yourself, if not longer. You don’t want to cut into your own protein in an attempt to meet your dog’s needs and it’s much easier to hunt, forage and grow to meet our much more flexible diet than to feed our dogs.

fluffy dog

Thankfully, dog food can be relatively cheap and stores well. If you decide to stock up on canned dog food, you don’t need to do anything special to store it, and it will provide more water than normal for your pup.

If you have bagged dog food, it’ll last a long time by itself, but you can extend its shelf life by putting it into 5-gallon buckets and/or mylar bags, and adding desiccants (oxygen absorbers). Learn more about food storage here.

And if you’re worried about the cost of this food, remember that you can rotate your food supplies so that your dog is always eating the oldest food you have in stock. That way, you’re using it.

3. Health Issues

During SHTF events, especially natural disasters, your dog may come into contact with more wildlife than normal and more strange dogs than normal. Therefore, it’s especially important that they are up-to-date with their vaccinations. This goes double for rabies, which could endanger your life if your dog gets infected.

cute dog

Then you need to buff up your first aid supplies. In general, going to your local pet store isn’t going to get you great supplies. Look online for working dog supply stores, which deal with hunting/protection dogs, for a higher quality first aid product. Veterinarymedicine is going to be up to you during a SHTF situation.

Supplement your existing first aid supplies with these extras for dogs:

  1. Extra bandages and gauze: Liquid bandage spray can make applying the bandage much easier on you. But, it just doesn’t cut it for serious wounds. For those, you’ll need non-stick bandages, so they won’t get stuck in the dog’s fur.
  2. Disinfectant: Iodine is commonly used for dogs. On the other hand, there are some specialized, though more expensive dog disinfectant gels that may also combine antibiotics.
  3. Antibiotics: Talk to your vet for advice about the best general-purpose dog antibiotics, and stock up.
  4. Hemostatic agent: This material stops major bleeds, pet groomers usually have it on hand for cutting nails, as there is a chance they will cut into the dog’s artery when doing so. You can use it for other injuries, too.
  5. Flea treatment: You should try to keep a good supply of topical medication for fleas and ticks. You don’t want to be dealing with a flea infestation when you’re already stressed, and fleas can annoy humans, too.
  6. If you dog takes internal flea and tick medication, by all means get a supply of that but I would still have some topical on hand because it can be purchased without a perscription and it is inexpensive.
  7. Dog-safe bug spray: Obviously you can’t use most bug sprays on dogs, because they lick themselves. But when mosquito numbers are high, especially during floods, your pet can really suffer.
  8. Painkillers: You can’t use human painkillers on dogs. If your dog may need to keep up with you, this is especially important, especially for older dogs with pre-existing health conditions like hip dysplasia.
  9. Anti-parasitic medication: Also called de-worming, this medication is key especially in long-term SHTF scenarios, where your dog could infect the soil or your home, which could then infect you with the parasites.
  10. Muzzle: Sometimes, stress and injury can overwhelm a dog such that your old reliable Rusty becomes unpredictable and aggressive. Have a muzzle so that you can treat him without worrying that he will hurt you, or further hurt himself.
  11. Treats: Have some treats specifically set aside to encourage your pet to co-operate with your first aid efforts.
  12. Instant cold pack: Dogs are much more susceptible to hot conditions than humans, and if you may be stranded in the heat, they could develop heat stroke.
  13. Tick remover tool : There are many styles of this tool but the general idea is the same.

4. Bugging-Out with Your Dog

dog forest bug out

If there’s a possibility you’ll bug out, you’ll need extra supplies for your dog:

  1. Leash: You’ll need to control your dog while you’re traveling, don’t forget the leash!
  2. Food and water bowls: Get the stacking kind to save space.
  3. Dog bags: A simple roll of 100 bags will help you keep things clean.
  4. Dog boots: Your pup’s paws might get dry, cracked, cut, or sore during prolonged travel, especially in cold or hot conditions. Winter salt and hot pavement are two big threats to a dog’s feet. If this is a usual problem for your dog, I find Vaseline really helps.
  5. Dog jacket: A dog’s coat is usually enough, but short-haired breeds may have trouble in prolonged cold, and keeping a dog from getting soaked in hurricane conditions can really help keep you dry.
  6. Toy: When you get to your location, having a tennis ball or tug toy on hand can go a long way to improve your dog’s mental health. If they have a toy that boosts their feeling of security, that’s a good one too bring too. Some dogs can actually damage where they are staying if they get too bored or anxious.
  7. Hotel list: If you are heading to a hotel for shelter, have a list of pet-friendly hotels in areas you’re likely to bug out to. Though, many hotels alter their policies during natural disasters. Shelters and their foster connections can help too.

5. Bugging-In with Your Dog

There’s not too much you need to consider for your dog when bugging in with him. Other than having extra food, water, and medical supplies for them, you just have to think about what kinds of needs your dog has that might not be available for a while.

dog on bed sleeping

You won’t be able to get out to the groomers, so you’ll need to have nail clippers and hair clippers at home. For some dogs, hair clipping is a matter of health, for others, you can do without it.

But all dogs need their nails trimmed and need to stay active. In a SHTF scenario, you may not have the ability to bring your pup outside for his usual game of fetch. So I suggest having some activities for your dog tucked away to help keep his spirits up during emergencies.

Personally, I have frozen bones (beef marrow, uncooked) tucked away in my freezer for my dog. It occupies him, and many dogs find chewing to be stress-reducing. You can also find puzzle toys online that engage your dog’s brain. Usually, they challenge your dog to get a treat out of an odd contraption.

6. Dog Abandonment

Pet abandonment during Hurricane Katrina was massive, in part because rescuers would not allow pets to be brought into boats or shelters. But since, the rules have changed.

Shelters in the US must accept pets, rescuers must take them, and evacuation plans must include transportation for pets. Now, you may actually face fines for leaving your animals behind, especially if the disaster you’re facing is relatively routine, like a hurricane.

If you need help to house your pet, call shelters located in a safe area, they’ll often expand their capacity during disasters.

white dog fluffy cute

I get it, sometimes you have to put your family’s lives before the life of your dog and leave him or her behind. Hopefully, by prepping for your pet you’ll be able to avoid that in all but the direst of scenarios. But, let’s say the situation is extreme like a nuclear incident has broken out and the seconds matter.

What do you do?

  • Have your dog microchipped now so that if they are found after the incident they can be reunited with you. However, know that, in these extreme conditions, they probably won’t survive.
  • Don’t tie them up or restrain them. Your dog has a better chance of survival if they are free to flee from threats and seek out water.

If you have time to fill up a tub with water or pour some food for your dog, you should be bringing them with you.

If you find an abandoned pet after a disaster, remember that they will be stressed and scared. Approach cautiously, and know that dog bite incidents do increase after disasters. Offering the animal food or water will reduce their stress and remind them that humans are friends. This is a basic rule of animal behavior.

The Guide to Prepping for Cats

1. Food and Water

Cats, even more so than dogs, need to eat meat. Thankfully, because they’re small, it doesn’t take much room to stockpile enough food for your cat.

cat eating cute treat

  • If you buy canned food, it’s as simple as buying up extras and making some room on the shelf.
  • If you buy dry food, a bag will last a few months on its own, or you can store it in 5-gallon buckets with oxygen absorbents to really extend its life.

Having evolved in the desert, cats also have low water needs. A healthy adult cat usually only needs a cup of water per day. If they are eating dry food, they will need a bit more, as canned cat food is usually 10 percent water. This said, choosing the right food for your cat is a whole topic in itself.

2. Medical Supplies

Essentially everything that is listed for dogs is also needed for cats, but there are a few differences, which we’ll discuss here.

  1. Bandages and gauze: A spray bandage is even more essential for a cat. They are, on average, less co-operative than dogs when hurt. However, a cat’s major injuries should still be treated with more serious bandages. You can get bandages that taste poorly, so the cat won’t bite them.
  2. Eye-dropper or syringe: It’s hard to get cats to take medication, both because they are less motivated than dogs are by food and because their treats are smaller and therefore it’s hard to hide pills in them. To avoid wasting medication, use liquid medications and squirt them directly into the cat’s mouth. You should still offer them a treat after as reward!
  3. Medication: You cannot use human painkillers or other medications on cats. Just like with dogs, you’ll need to refer to your veterinarian to get your supplies.
  4. Basic Surgery Kit: While you may not be doing any major surgery, a basic kit that allows you to remove splinters, drain abcesses, or remove foreign objects, is a good idea. The sooner an area gets on the road to recovery the better. Removing a foreign object, draining the wound, and using antibiotic ointment can prevent a life threatening infection from a small object.

3. Bugging Out with Your Cat

cat in the wild cute

  1. Cage: The best way to transport your cat during an emergency is in a pet cage.
  2. Leash: A leash, for a cat? I know, but once you and Fluffy arrive at the shelter, you won’t be able to take them out of the cage unless you have a leash. Your cat will be stressed and might run off and not be able to find their way back because they’re in a new environment. But with a leash, you can let your cat out for some exercise.
  3. Food and water bowls: The stacking kind save room.
  4. Toy: Most cats enjoy swatting at toys. Bringing one with you can help reduce your cat’s stress. Plus, many people love watching cats play with toys, you can de-stress everyone that way.
  5. Hotel lists: Have a list of hotels that accept pets in your potential bug-out locations, so that you can find some lodging. But remember, shelters now have to accept pets.

4. Bugging In with Your Cat

Other than having provisions for your cats while bugging-in, there’s not too much you have to think about. You’ll also need a stockpile of litter. And it’s ideal to have nail clippers to keep your kitty comfortable. Otherwise, your cat should be fine.

cat looking outside

In fact, your cat may be so fine you’re tempted to let them outside. Maybe they are an outdoor cat already, or maybe you want to extend their supplies by letting them hunt for themselves. Either way, it’s a bad idea to let your pet outside, the conditions are too dangerous and food will be scarce out there anyway. When bugging in, keep your cat indoors.

5. Cat Abandonment

It’s true, most cats can fend for themselves when outdoors in good conditions. However, during disasters prey will be hard to come by, conditions will be dangerous, and there will be humans out there, risking their lives to save abandoned pets.

Plus, cats put stress on wildlife, who are already trying to cope with whatever disaster just occur. For all these reasons, you can now face fines for abandoning your cat during a disaster.

Final Thoughts

I’ll leave you with this quote from ASPCA vice president Tim Rickey, who made a statement as Hurricane Irma was sweeping towards the coast: “The ASPCA stands ready to assist animals in Hurricane Irma’s path, but the first and best line of defense for a pet will always be a well-prepared owner.

cat and dog in grass

Author Bio: Ellysa Chenery can be found writing all over the web. She loves adapting traditional skills for new situations, whether in the wilderness, garden, or homestead. Her favorite smell is carrots fresh from the dirt.

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5 Responses to “Guide to Prepping for Your Pets”

  1. With a cat it helps to put a leash/harness on them before an emergency once in awhile so it’s not something new and scary during a time of stress. I also keep my cat’s carrier out and open with a soft liner. I’ll put treats in it or her favorite toy once in awhile. It makes getting her to go in it to transport her much less of a fight as it’s familiar to her and associated with things she enjoys (treats and balls)

  2. Regarding #1 for cats above, the information you have is incorrect. According to the reference you link to above, wet cat food is about 75% water, not 10% as you state. Dry cat food is what contains 10% water. That also passes the common sense test, since most grain products are considered sufficiently dry when they get to around 10% water content. Plus, wet cat food is obviously mostly water.

  3. Most dry foods will go rancid from the oils over long term. I wonder how long canned will last? They used to sell a “long” term 5yr dog food but that company quit selling it.
    The amount of animals that get abandoned in bad times is staggering. In 08 during the crash I was getting dumped on 5-6 days a week for months and unfortunately most had to be put down. I was in a unfenced place just outside of town at that time. My inner perimeter is chain link now but I’ve had big dogs come over and of course cats so it’s still an issue I’ll have to contend with.
    In other countries when I was deployed almost all were on their own and then if things continued to decline they were eaten. I’m guessing it will be an even four way split between those who abandon, those who just kill them, those who risk their lives and those who eat theirs if it all collapses.

  4. I would add dog shampoo to the list of essential items. Most dogs are not thrilled getting a bath, but it would give the dog the sense of a normal routine.

  5. our pets are always the last thought in an emergency problem. in addressing any problem first we must know about the problem. how well do we know our pets and their limitations? each pet will also have its own limitations. an overfed pet that is overweight will die first just as would an overweight human. overfeeding your pet isn’t kindness. dependant pets are cute but will slow you down making decisions about the pet you want should come first. just as they are a family member in a crisis each family member must be able to contribute. if they cant they put you in danger. compassion must be reserved for civilization.

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