Keeping Pets Safe During Wildfires

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

wildfire pet rescue

Story at-a-glance -

  • If you live in an area where wildfires are common, it’s essential to have a plan in place ahead of time of how to evacuate your pets safely
  • If you own a horse or other large animal, be sure that you have enough trailers and vehicles to move them during an evacuation
  • If you’re in need of a trailer to evacuate a large animal, the app Evac-U-Pet, which connects volunteers with animal owners in need of evacuation, may help
  • If you’ve lost your home in a wildfire and have nowhere to keep your pets while you regroup and rebuild, contact your local veterinary hospitals; some may offer free boarding for pets affected by wildfires

Thousands of animals are displaced by wildfires every year. In Northern California animal shelters alone, 2,000 animals may be hosted due to wildfires — often more than the number of people in Red Cross shelters.1 Evacuation orders can come quickly, and pet owners may find themselves having to flee quickly.

This is when having an evacuation plan in place is crucial, as without one you may find yourself without a shelter for your pets. If separation does occur, there are steps you can take to hopefully reunite with your animals, but the best choice is to stay together from the start — a strategy that necessitates proper planning.

Create a Pet Evacuation Plan

If you live in an area where wildfires are common, it's essential to have a plan in place ahead of time of how to evacuate your pets safely. Even if you don't live in a wildfire-prone area, a natural disaster can strike at any time, so having a disaster plan in place is important for all pet owners.

Before a disaster occurs, know where you'll go. Seek out animal-friendly public shelters or speak with friends or family outside of your immediate area who you and your pets could stay with if necessary. You can also keep a list of pet-friendly hotels in case you can't find a shelter that accepts animals.

Get your pet used to being transported in a kennel or pet carrier. When you have only minutes to spare, having a pet who will readily enter a carrier can be the difference between life and death.

When you evacuate with your pets, place a rescue alert sticker on the front door and write "Evacuated" across the sticker so rescue workers know you're all accounted for.

For your emergency kit, use a portable waterproof container and be sure it has the essentials: pet food, a safety harness with tags and leash, water, medications, first-aid supplies, medical records and proof of ownership (you may want to take a photo of yourself with your pet for identification purposes in case you get separated).

If your pet has a microchip, be sure the information connected to it (including your address and phone number) is kept current. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) also recommends including the following in your kit:2

Pet first-aid kit

Three to seven days' worth of canned (pop-top) or freeze-dried food (be sure to rotate every two months)

Disposable litter trays (aluminum roasting pans are perfect)

Litter or paper toweling

Liquid dish soap and disinfectant

Disposable garbage bags for clean-up

Pet feeding dishes

Extra collar or harness as well as an extra leash

Photocopies (or a thumb drive) of medical records and a waterproof container with a two-week supply of any medicine your pet requires

Bottled water, at least seven days' worth for each person and pet

A traveling bag, crate or sturdy carrier, ideally one for each pet

Flashlight

Blanket (for scooping up a fearful pet)

Recent photos of your pets (in case you are separated and need to make "Lost" posters)

Especially for cats — Pillowcase or EvackSack, toys, scoopable litter

Especially for dogs — Extra leash, toys and chew toys, a week's worth of cage liner

Help for Horses and Other Large Pets

If you own a horse or other large animal, be sure that you have enough trailers and vehicles to move them during an evacuation. If your animal is at a boarding facility or barn, be sure an evacuation plan is in place to notify owners and/or evacuate the animals safely.

If you're in need of assistance to evacuate a large animal, the app Evac-U-Pet, which connects volunteers with animal owners in need of evacuation, may help. One of its main goals is connecting people with trailers with horses that need to be transported.3

If you're in the midst of an emergency without a trailer, let the animals into a large enclosed area. Do not allow them access to a barn or stall, as they may try to enter it, even if it's burning. Mark the animals with your phone number using livestock grease markers or nontoxic spray paint, shaving the number into their coat, or braid an identification tag into their mane or tail, so you can be reunited.4

Veterinarians May Offer Free Boarding

If you've lost your home in a wildfire and have nowhere to keep your pets while you regroup and rebuild, contact your local veterinary hospitals. Some may offer free boarding for pets affected by wildfires.5

If you've lost your pet, contact your local animal shelters and veterinary clinics to find out if your pet has been turned in. Social media can also help, including sites like Pet Rescue and Reunification, which seeks to serve as a command center for posts of missing animals in Sonoma County, California. The effort is run by volunteers, who work to identify and track lost pets to reunite them with their owners.

Other ways to help include giving money and other contributions, such as food and supplies, to shelters and rescues in areas affected by wildfires. For those living in areas where wildfire evacuations may occur, remember to never leave your pets behind.

Get a plan in place now so you'll know where you and your pets can go to stay safe. This is the No. 1 step you can take to protect your pets from this type of natural disaster.