How to create an evacuation plan that includes your cats

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I recently had to evacuate my apartment temporarily, with my two cats, as a result of a fire in the building next door. It occurred to me later that even though I got the cats out OK and I have an idea of how you’re supposed to prepare for evacuating with cats, I don’t know everything. I think it would be a great service to your readers (and to me, if I have to evacuate with my cats again) to write about what cat caretakers need to do in order to be prepared for disasters.


Siouxsie: You make a very good point, Adrianna. This is really important information, and very few cat caretakers prepare for evacuating with their cats, even if they do think about it.

Thomas: You’ll need to do some crucial planning and preparation long before a disaster occurs, because once that disaster is happening you’re not going to have the time or the ability to get this stuff together.

Dahlia: First, make sure your cats have collars with tags that include your current contact information. Mama put our names on the front of our tags and her cell phone number on the back. Better yet, make sure your cats are microchipped; cats can easily lose their collars because cat collars are designed to break apart if they get hung up in branches or other dangers.

Siouxsie: Modern microchip scanners can detect most types of chips, and most animal shelters in the US have microchip scanners. If you do have your cats microchipped, you must be sure to register your cats with the company’s registry (a lot of people don’t) and that you keep your registry entry updated with your most current contact information.

Thomas: Plan ahead for a safe haven for your cat. Many Red Cross shelters don’t accept pets. Talk to family members and friends outside your immediate area to see if you can bring your cats with you in the event that you need to escape from a disaster. Check for hotels and motels outside your immediate area that allow pets or ask your vet for references to preferred pet boarding facilities.

Dahlia: Get a free pet rescue sticker from the ASPCA to put on your front and back doors. Local pet stores may also sell these stickers.  If you’re evacuating and it’s safe to do so, please write EVACUATED on your pet rescue sticker with a permanent marker.

Siouxsie: Make sure you have one carrier for each cat. This carrier should have enough room for your cat to stand or lie down at full length, and some rescue groups say your carrier should be big enough to keep a litter pan inside. We think it’s more important that the carriers are easy to manage, especially if you have more than one cat. Each carrier should have your cat’s name and your contact information written on it in permanent marker.

Thomas: Put together a “GOD (Get Out of Dodge) bag” for your cats as well as for yourself. Your GOD bag should be easily accessible, as close to the exit as possible, easy to carry, and water-resistant or waterproof. This evacuation kit should include:

  • A list of emergency contact phone numbers and addresses of pet-friendly hotels and motels
  • Photocopies of your cats’ veterinary records — or, at the very least, proof of vaccinations (if you need to board your cat, proof of vaccination will be required)
  • Description of your cats’ feeding and medication requirements
  • Recent photos and descriptions (including any special markings or identifying details) of your cats, preferably with you or your family, in case you become separated
  • Disposable litter pans, either with litter or without (if you get the kind without litter, be sure to include a small bag of your preferred brand of litter in your evacuation kit)
  • Collapsible food and water dishes for each cat
  • A seven-day supply of food for each cat (canned food should be in pull-top cans)*
  • A seven-day supply of bottled water for you and for each cat*
  • A two-week supply, in a waterproof container, of any medications your cat needs to take*
  • A pet first aid kit (these are available at pet stores or through the ASPCA) and first aid manual
  • Extra bedding
  • Paper towels
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Liquid dish soap
  • A blanket and a couple of toys for each cat
  • Garbage bags (for clean-up)

* Food, water, and medications should be replaced every two months.

Dahlia: We know this seems like a lot of preparation to make, but trust us — if you ever need it, you’ll be glad you did!

Siouxsie: The New York State Emergency Management Office offers a printable PDF flyer with an excellent guide to pet safety in a variety of emergency situations. It’s free, and we highly recommend that all cat lovers download and print this document as a reference.

Thomas: We hope you never need to use your evacuation plan, but especially if you live in a disaster-prone area, it’s critical that you be prepared to get your pets safe as well as yourself and your human family.  If a situation is not safe for you, it’s not safe for your cats, so please don’t leave them behind!

Dahlia: Thank you for bringing this up, Adrianna. You’re awesome!

  • Adrianna

    Thanks for the great article. Your awesome too:-).

    An important point with anything unsafe to breathe (like smoke) – cats lungs are much smaller than ours and can’t handle things we can. Although for us humans in the family we would have been fine with the windows shut, we did not want to take chances with our felines.

    When in doubt get out.

  • Shannon

    I think too that your evacuation plans would depend on your resources. I have three cats of my own and foster cats. At times, I have had 8 cats in my home. I’m also single and don’t drive. If I ever had to evacuate I’d take the cats, tucked into pillowcases for easy portability and medications for my girl with a heart condition, along with my cell phone and wallet. I wouldn’t have hands to carry anything else or a car to transport them all.

  • Adrianna

    I think it good to think a head and have a plan even if it not the most graceful. Indeed not all of us have cars. The bottom line is that every one is safe, including our fur babies.

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  • Ann

    I just had a building fire last week–a car exploded in a garage 3 condos over. I have 15 little 4-legged responsibilities as I am in cat rescue. The kittens were the easiest to scoop up into a top-doored carrier so I got them to the front door first. It was too smoky to set them outside. But the adults in other areas of my condo ran from me in terror. The banging on my front door, the arrival of fire engines, etc. made them highly aggitated. I managed to throw on a robe and the good samaritan who was banging at my front door and ringing the bell gave me his headband flashlight so I could see in case lights went out like in his place. The cats ran from me. There was no way to get each into a carrier in the amount of time I thought I had. The smell and smoke began to seep into the rooms just a bit. I had to leave them behind but waited 100 yards away. The fire was contained, my telephones are still out, but I need to get those evacsacks so I am prepared next time…and try to remain calmer–since my panic only made it worse.