How to Navigate a Natural Disaster With Your Cat

Preparing ahead of time for a natural disaster is key to keeping your kitty safe and healthy. Here are some easy steps and things to know.

A sick cat wrapped up in blankets.
A sick cat wrapped up in blankets. Photography ©zlyka2008 | Getty Images.

No one ever thinks a natural disaster will actually hit their home — and a lack of preparedness can make the tragic devastation all the more damaging. As the guardian of a cat, you have a duty of care to take crucial steps to secure your pet’s safety ahead of time. Here’s an overview of how to get equipped should a natural disaster come to town.

1. Find a safe haven

An emergency shelter.
An emergency shelter. Photography ©eyecrave | Getty Images.

If you’re told you need to evacuate your home, never leave your cats behind. They may not be able to survive on their own, such as in the recent floods from hurricanes, or you may not be able to locate them when you do return. Your first thought might be to flee to your nearest local shelter.

The federal Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) was passed in 2006 and many states also adopted laws that say disaster planning must include pets and service animals. Even with this, some emergency shelters are still unable to accept pets — which means you’ll want to figure out in advance where you can safely drop off your cat.

If you’re fortunate to have trusted family or friends living close enough, you can preemptively ask if they’d be willing to take in your cat. Just remember to give a realistic heads up on what caring for your cat might involve, especially if you’re considering someone who runs a pet-free home. If they say yes, prepare an instruction sheet on your cat’s care ahead of time.

Two potential places of refuge are hotels and animal shelters: Call or email to ask whether they can take cats during a natural disaster — and inquire how long they could board your feline if required.

2. Create an emergency kit for your cat

A cat posing with an emergency preparedness kit.
A cat posing with an emergency preparedness kit. Photography ©Monika Wisniewska | Alamy Stock Photo.

You’ve probably heard that you should have an emergency kit packed up — but what essentials should your cat-centric bag contain?

  1. food
  2. water
  3. portable litter box
  4. litter
  5. paper towels
  6. medication
  7. first aid supplies

Naturally, food and water are crucial. Emily Schneider, the ASPCA’s PR Director, recommends securing three to seven days’ worth of food, sealed in an airtight, waterproof container. You’ll also need water for the same duration — so stockpile bottles of water, keeping supplies for humans and cats separate. Oh, and you’ll want to rotate out the emergency food every couple of months so it doesn’t go stale.

Once your cat is done eating and drinking, she’s going to need to use a litter box. Grab aluminum foil roasting trays from your local dollar store or supermarket — these can be repurposed into portable litter boxes. Don’t forget to pack fresh litter or paper towels, too.

If your cat is taking medication, you’ll need to include that in your kit. Make sure you have enough in stock, and order more medicine from your vet if needed. More generally, essential first aid supplies include cotton bandages, tape, scissors, antibiotic ointment, latex gloves and a pet first aid book.

3. Prep kitty’s paperwork

A cat in a filing cabinet drawer.
A cat in a filing cabinet drawer. Photography ©SilviaJansen | Getty Images.

Seal your cat’s vital documentation in a waterproof folder.

Key information includes:

  1. your cat’s adoption papers
  2. up-to-date medical records (which should detail medication or treatments she’s currently taking)
  3. a photo of you and your cat

The ASPCA recommends including photos of your cat with your paperwork, in case she gets lost and you need to distribute posters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency goes further and suggests pictures of you and your
cat together — that way if someone finds her, it will be easier for them to recognize you as the pet’s owner.

4. Get kitty ready to go

A cat looking out of a carrier.
A cat looking out of a carrier. Photography ©Highwaystarz | Getty Images.

Beyond an emergency kit, you’ll need a plan for getting your cat out of the house. Include:

  1. a leash or harness (these are a must)
  2. a cat carrier
  3. a collar with relevant information

Let your cat get accustomed to the carrier before you need to use it — treats or a favorite blanket can help with this process. And, even if your cat doesn’t normally wear a collar, purchase one with her name and your contact details on it, and also attach her rabies tab.

If your cat has outdoor privileges, cut them off if you hear word of a potential natural disaster: Dramatic changes in the atmosphere can cause cats to panic and become disoriented. Keep your cat safe inside.

5. Identify a safe room

A cat with a harness and leash.
A cat with a harness and leash. Photography ©cynoclub | Getty Images.

If you’re advised to stay home during a disaster, here’s how to select your safe spot …

  1. For hurricanes and tornadoes, pick a room without windows or glass that could break and turn into flying debris.
  2. Basements, bathrooms and even utility closets are good spots.
  3. If you’re waiting out a flood or a storm, secure a room on the top level of your home — or at least one with high shelves where your cat can hide out.
  4. In all cases, if your safe room doesn’t have running water, fill up a bathtub, bucket or stock pot ahead of time.
  5. Whatever the disaster, rooms with more than one possible exit are always preferable safe spaces.

Getting prepared in case a disaster strikes sounds like a lot of work, but most of these steps can easily be taken care of in an afternoon. Stay calm and remember you’re doing this for your cat.

6. Take these lessons from recent disasters

Illustration by Scott MacNeill.

After Hurricane Maria, the ASPCA advised that disaster relief that targets humans and cats together is more effective than separate courses of action.

Lessons learned from Hurricane Florence include stockpiling more food and water than you think you’ll need and being aware that cellphone service might go out.

Most importantly of all, if you’re told to evacuate, do it: Stay-putters place a strain on rescue operations and resources, and also have a higher likelihood of perishing. Don’t let your stubbornness put you and your cat’s lives at risk.

Thumbnail: Photography ©zlyka2008 | Getty Images.

About the author

Phillip Mlynar spends his days writing about cats, hip-hop and food, often while being pestered by his rescue, a mackerel tabby named Mimosa. His work appears in Vice, Pitchfork, Red Bull, Bandcamp, VinePair and Catster. He’s won various awards at the Cat Writers’ Association Communication Contests, some of which are proudly on display at his local dive bar in New York City.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Catster magazine. Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

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