Wildfires are becoming increasingly common, and the EPA predicts1 longer wildfire seasons with larger fire sizes will continue to trend. It’s more important than ever to be prepared if you need to evacuate your pet in the event of a fire.
To be ready, you also need a pet evacuation kit. This will ensure you’ll have what you need if you need to flee your home. Here’s how to prepare for a fire and ensure you always have pet evacuation supplies ready when you need them.
What to Put in a Fire Evacuation Kit For Pets
Your pet evacuation kit can be made from almost any container. Many pet parents use a backpack, duffel bag, or rucksack. If possible, consider using a fireproof container.
Cat and dog evacuation kits generally contain the same types of items, but there are some differences. For example, a cat evacuation kit may include a supply of cat litter, whereas a dog emergency kit may include an extra-long leash.
Prepare your evacuation kit with at least 72-hours’ worth of supplies. Here’s what you should put inside your pet evacuation kit.
Food, Water, Medications
Ensure your pet has the essentials it needs to eat, drink, and stay healthy, including:
- One to two weeks’ worth of pet food
- Bottled water
- Collapsible food and water bowls
- A full supply of medications
- A list of all the pet’s medications and when to take them
- Pill pouches (if needed)
- A supply of treats
Water can be heavy to carry, but even a few small water bottles can be a lifesaver in an emergency evacuation. It never hurts to have some extra water on hand for you and your pets.
First Aid Supplies
Even if you don’t live in a fire hazard zone, you should keep a pet first aid kit in your home in case of emergencies. If possible, create a separate one for your pets that you can put in your pet evacuation kit.
Here are some of the items you could include in your pet first aid kit:
- 3% hydrogen peroxide
- Adhesive tape
- Alcohol swabs or wipes
- An oral syringe or turkey baster
- Antibiotic ointment/spray
- Clean gloves
- Cotton balls or swabs
- Diphenhydramine (antihistamine)
- Gauze roll
- Ice packs
- Pet first aid booklet
- Pet-safe soap or detergent
- Saline eye solution
- Scissors with a blunt end
- Silver sulfadiazine ointment (for burns)
- Styptic powder (to stop bleeding)
Check your pet first aid supplies regularly and update them as needed. Use unopened bottles and sealed packages of medical supplies to prevent them from going bad.
Include all your important pet documents in your evacuation kit. If anything should happen to you, these documents could be lifesaving for your pet, especially if they are hurt or in distress:
- Information about your veterinarian
- Information about you:
- Phone number
- Emergency contact information (if you aren’t available)
- Legal trust documentation (who your pet should go to if you can’t care for them)
- Proof of ownership
- Support animal documentation (if applicable)
- Vaccination records
- Waterproof container for documents
The CDC offers a free, printable “Pet Boarding Instruction” template to help you assemble your pet’s information and store it.
There may be additional documents your pet needs. For example, you can leave instructions for how to care for your pet, information about their allergies and medical conditions, or information about their history and behavior.
How to Evacuate Pets Safely from a Wildfire
It’s best to make plans before an emergency. Here’s what you should do if you live in an area that’s prone to wildfires:
- Plan your escape route and evacuation location: Determine beforehand where you’ll bring your pets if you need to evacuate and plan your route to get there. Many shelters and hotels don’t allow pets. Choose an evacuation location that allows pets before a disaster strikes, so you know you’ll be able to find accommodations.
- Fuel your vehicles: If you’re evacuating in your car, make sure you have plenty of fuel, as there may be delays.
- Make plans with your neighbors, friends, and relatives: Ensure someone will be available to care for your pets if you are unable to do so.
- Collar your pets: Ensure your pets have collars with ID tags on them in case they get lost.
- Microchip your pets: Pets with microchips are easier to locate and reunite with their families if they get lost.
If your area experiences a wildfire alert, here’s what you should do to keep your pets safe.
- Bring pets inside: Bring all your pets inside and prepare them to evacuate. This will also protect them against smoke inhalation and other air quality issues.
- Place your pets in carriers: If it seems likely that you’ll need to evacuate, prepare your pets beforehand. Pack food and water, prepare your evacuation kit, then place your pets near the door.
- Follow the directions of first responders: Always follow the directions of first responders and public safety authorities. If you receive an order to evacuate, do so immediately.
- Evacuate humans and pets first: Move humans and pets into vehicles or away from the home before bringing out luggage or valuables. Even if you can’t see the fire yet, conditions could cause it to spread rapidly.
Common Pet Fire-Related Injuries
Pets can be at risk of injury from a fire whether they are burned or not. According to the AVMA2, about 40,000 pets die in residential fires each year. However, most of these deaths are due to smoke inhalation, which affects 500,000 pets each year overall.
Here are some of the most typical fire-related injuries among pets and what you can do about them.
Exposure to the smoke produced by burning materials can cause immediate breathing problems. However, it can also expose pets to toxic substances, including carbon monoxide.
Signs of smoke inhalation include the following:
- Coughing or wheezing
- Red, irritated eyes
- Lethargy and weakness
- Increased, difficulty breathing
- Inner mouth burns, swelling, or inflammation
- Foaming at the mouth
- Burns to the skin and eyes
- Abnormal behavior
If you believe your pet is suffering from smoke inhalation, remove them from danger first.
According to VCA Hospitals3 most cases of smoke inhalation need to be treated with oxygen therapy, but the estimated survival rates for animals without skin burns are about 90%. You’ll need to get your pet to an animal hospital as quickly as possible so they can receive oxygen through a mask or an oxygen cage.
Your pet may also need IV fluids, pain medications, and potentially antibiotics to prevent or treat infections.
Thermal burns are always a potential risk when there is a fire. But even if your pet has a burn that doesn’t seem threatening, it’s important to take it seriously. There is always a chance for secondary infection if the burn isn’t treated.
According to the American Kennel Club4 “Burns should be treated immediately with immersion in cool water or saline (salt and purified water) or spraying the affected area with cool water or saline.” The pet should then be taken to an animal hospital for emergency care immediately.
If it isn’t possible to take your pet to an animal hospital, you can clean the affected area with saline and apply silver sulfadiazine ointment from your animal first aid kit. Cover the area with sterile, dry wound dressings, then seek veterinary care as soon as possible.
Pets can sustain other injuries during a fire emergency, including cuts and broken bones. Some injuries may seem small or may be hard to spot underneath your pet’s coat.
Once you reach safety, examine your pet's coat, skin, and limbs to ensure there are no injuries. If you find any injuries, seek veterinary care immediately.
As a first step, consider getting pet health insurance. The average cost for unexpected veterinary care for dogs and cats ranges from $800 to $1,500. With insurance, you’ll be able to get reimbursed for unexpected veterinary costs and you can get coverage for your pet in the event of a medical emergency.
Pet insurance is also usable with any veterinarian. Even if you must evacuate to another state, you’ll be able to get reimbursed for pet medical expenses. If your pet does suffer an injury, you’ll be able to get them the care they need without worrying about the impact it will have on your finances.