Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Master Disaster

How to prepare pets and yourself for evacuation or sheltering in place in the event of a disaster.

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

The West is on fire. Large swathes of Iowa have been destroyed by a massive windstorm called a derecho. And as I write, two hurricanes are heading for Louisiana. No matter where you live, you’re probably at risk of one natural disaster or another, including floods, tornadoes and earthquakes (although maybe we shouldn’t give 2020 any more ideas). Here’s how to be prepared.

Pack a “go bag” for each family member, including pets. A pet’s bag should include an unopened bag of food (enough for at least three days); copies of prescriptions and vaccination records; a toy, blanket or bed that smells like home; and a photo that could be used for a “lost” poster in case you become separated. Rotate food out of the go bag regularly, replacing it with a fresh bag. If you have to pack in a hurry, don’t forget medication, parasite preventive and grooming tools. Have an ice chest with a cold pack available for food or medications that need to remain chilled.

Remember the five P’s, advises Lorilynn (no last name given), who faced the 2017 Thomas Fire in Ojai, California. Those would be Pets, Prescriptions, Passports, Papers and Pictures.

Carla Wilson-Leff, who lives on two acres in Elko, Nevada, with three dogs and a rabbit, is always ready to go during fire season.

“My van holds 95% of the things I need for my dogs, including a case of water,” she says. “If we needed to evacuate, I add dog food, medications, toiletries and clothes. I keep a cat carrier next to my rabbit’s stall. I could have us out of here in 15 minutes.”

Terilynn Mitchell lives in Forestville, California, with six cats. When her home was recently threatened by fire, she was ready to evacuate with her cats to her brother’s home.

“At the first sign of danger, I loaded a litter box, potty pads, litter, scoop, and wet and dry food,” she said. “My carriers are always set up with towels and potty pads. I planned ahead of time who would go in which carrier.”

She placed important paperwork, electronics, medical equipment, medications and feline paraphernalia in the car first, then placed the cats in carriers and loaded them. “It might have been better to load the cats first before they got anxious, but it was 90 degrees and I feared them overheating,” she says.

Prepare pets for travel. If they aren’t already accustomed to carriers, start teaching them now that the carrier is a great place to be. Leave carriers or crates out in areas where family members spend time. Place treats inside them regularly for pets to find. Put a favorite blankie or toy inside to make the carrier a cozy hideaway. Spraying or wiping the interior with synthetic feline or canine pheromones (not while the pet is in the carrier) that send calming chemical messages can also give it an air of security. You can find more about carrier training at

Take a first aid class. Those skills prepare you for the unexpected.

“In a disaster, pets could step on broken glass or flying debris could cause injuries,” says Arden Moore, a master certified pet first/CPR instructor with Pet First Aid 4U. Her advice?

“After taking a first aid class, have some fun practicing wrapping the leg, splinting the leg, getting the dog or cat in or out of a carrier safely so they have that predictability factor,” she says. The same goes for practicing evacuations.

“Do practice drills. Make it a game. You don’t want them freaking out when the real deal hits,” Moore says.

Finally, if you’re in a safe place and have room to spare, offer to take in animals or humans who need shelter from the storm. You can also find more about disaster prep at


Put poisons

in their place

Q: I’m getting my first cat. Are there any household poisons or other dangers I should be concerned about?

A: Cats are not as likely as dogs to scarf up any old thing they run across, but they are still at risk of accidentally ingesting toxic substances such as ammonia, bleach, cleaning agents, disinfectants, drain cleaner, gasoline, oven cleaner, paint, and rodent poisons -- all of which can kill your cat.

Maybe you mop the floor with pine-scented cleaner and your cat walks across it while it’s still damp. He then licks his paws to clean them off, and the next thing you know, he has been poisoned from ingesting the cleaner. That can happen with many substances if your cat walks through them. Antifreeze drips on the garage floor are a big concern, for instance.

Any time you use cleansers on floors, counters or other surfaces, put your cat in another room until the surface is dry or you have thoroughly wiped up the residue. Clean up antifreeze spills immediately, and never assume that poisons are out of your cat’s reach. Put anything toxic, especially if it could leak, inside a locked cabinet away from your cat’s normal living area. That includes weed killers, pesticides, turpentine and dried-up paint rollers. If you have a rodent problem, use traps that kill instantly instead of rodenticides or sticky traps that cause cruel, painful deaths.

Other household dangers include washing machines or dryers with doors left open. We know of a very sad case recently where a kitten was drowned in the washing machine because no one realized he was inside it. A cat may also find the warm interior of a dryer an inviting place to take a nap, but it could be fatal if someone turns it on without checking first. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to or visit


Pet feeding

needs vary

-- Wondering how much to feed your pet? The right portion size is individual to each dog or cat. Age, metabolism and activity level are factors that play a role in how much a pet needs -- or wants -- to eat. Feeding guidelines on the bag or can of food are just that: guidelines. Your dog or cat may need more or less than the recommended amount. Let your pet’s condition guide you. If she’s putting on weight, cut back a little. If she’s looking skinny, add more. Your veterinarian can help you determine an appropriate weight.

-- Foxtails are grasslike weeds that look harmless, but have barbs that can latch onto your pet’s skin -- becoming embedded between toes, inside the ears or nose, or on other parts of the body. They can work their way through the skin or be inhaled, causing serious injuries that are difficult and expensive to treat, or sometimes fatal. Foxtails that migrate inside the body can travel to the heart, lungs, brain, kidneys or other organs. Check pets for foxtails after they’ve been outdoors or if you notice them licking or biting at an area, especially if it looks swollen. Use tweezers to remove visible foxtails. If your pet is sneezing uncontrollably, squinting or shaking his head frequently, a visit to the veterinarian is in order.

-- Dog showing has its own language. Here are some terms you might have wondered about. Bite: the way the upper and lower jaws meet. Conformation: a dog’s form and structure. Dewlap: excess loose, hanging skin at the throat. Flews: skin that hangs down at the corners of the mouth. Plume: a long fringe of hair on the tail. Self-colored: when a dog is a solid color with no white. Type: the combination of features that make a breed unique. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.