by Cynthia B. Whitney

One minute you're petting your cat -- the next you're clutching him close - in fear. When your head clears, your world has turned into chaos...

Whether you live in an area prone to hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, tornadoes or floods, you can't wait until Mother Nature comes knocking at your door with torrents of rain, 300 mph winds, or plays rock 'n roll with the ground. The time to be prepared is NOW.

No matter which natural disaster could be on the horizon, there are several steps you can take to ensure your cats will be protected.

What Are the Tools I Need to Keep My Cats Safe?

Cat Carriers:

Ideally, you should have a sturdy carrier for every cat in your household, or at least for every two cats, if your cats are small and will get along in these tight quarters. The carrier should be ready to go. Outfit each carrier with a towel or carrier pad, water and food dish, and a small litter box tucked in the back. An aluminum foil cake pan or small plastic storage box works well. Wherever you take your cats during the emergency, be careful when taking them out of the carrier. Do so in a confined space, with as little distraction or noise as possible as strange places and sounds can be frightening.

Having enough carriers for all my cats was the ONE biggest lesson I learned when disaster hit my house in May 1999. I still remember when we came back to rescue my cats the day after the tornado. We stood in the pouring rain, hands trembling, trying to put together new carriers. Remember that wherever you have to take your cats for temporary quarters, they may not have enough cages. My veterinarian's clinic was full to the rafters, so my only option was for my cats to stay in their carriers. Fortunately, Wal-Mart still had some large ones available, but you can't always count on that option. Even if you have planned ahead and made reservations at a large shelter or boarding facility, in the event of a catastrophe, they could be short of cages.

Of course, the ultimate option would be to have several collapsible cages with your evacuation supplies, but not all of us have that luxury. If you live in an area with seasonal severe weather, like tornadoes and hurricanes, it might be a wise investment to purchase cages and leave them at the off site facility where you plan to take your cats.


Take photographs of your cats and clearly mark the back of each photo with the cat's name and your name, address and phone number. Also note the name and address of your veterinarian. Leave copies of the photos with your veterinarian and/or a friend in case your home is inaccessible. Keep a set in your evacuation kit for quick identification. Describe the cat's color/pattern and any distinguishing marks. Note any special care requirements, including medical conditions and medications. You might want to include copies of each cat's registration slip. Remember to update your kit annually. Mark a date, such as January 1, to update all supplies and information in your emergency kit.

Here are some suggestions for identification of your individual cats and how these ideas adhere to the policy of CFA:

  • Tattooing -- Can be placed on the inside of an ear on cats 6 months or older. According to CFA Show Rule 4.11: "Cats or kittens may be marked with an identifying tattoo, such as the last digits of the CFA registration number or a Social Security number. The tattoo shall be placed inside the left thigh and not exceed ½ inch in height, nor 9 digits in length."

    A non-conforming tattoo may be considered to be an identifying mark. Show Rule 28.10 states: "... or with other identifying marks other than an optional tattoo." So, be mindful that the tattooing must meet the standard.

  • Microchip -- Injected under the skin, these permanent IDs requires special scanners to read them. Many shelters and veterinarians have these scanners. "Many more cats would have been re-united with their owners if they had been microchipped," states Gregg M. Ohmann, DVM, Del City, Oklahoma, who was greatly involved with the big F5 tornado May 1999 in Oklahoma City.

    According to CFA Show Rule 4.11: "Cats may also be identified with a subcutaneous microchip which may cause a slight bump usually in the shoulder region."


Always keep at least one week's emergency supply of cat food on hand. Canned cat food will keep for 6 months or longer if stored in a cool place. Store dry food in a sealed, waterproof container, ideally in the original packaging. If your cats require special food, keep a list of types of food and local suppliers with your emergency information. Your emergency kit should include disposable bowls/plates, plastic spoons and a can opener (unless the cans are pull off tops). Include several bottles of water.

Keep a good supply of your cat's favorite litter in waterproof bags (if flooding could be an issue). Don't forget a litter scooper, plastic bags for sanitary waste disposal, and newspaper. If litter isn't available during a disaster, newspaper, shredded into strips, will serve as a good substitute litter box filler.


Any drastic change in environment, food, or routine can be stressful to your kitties. To minimize any diarrhea or vomiting, it is important to continue feeding your cats their normal food.

Keep an eyedropper or plastic syringe in your disaster kit to force-feed water or give medications, if necessary. Keep a few jars of human meat variety baby food in your kit. Most cats love baby food and will eat it even when they won't eat their normal food due to stress or fear.

The Vet:

As a cat owner, you know how important having a good working relationship with your vet can be. During a disaster, he/she is invaluable. If any of your cats become lost, the identification information you left with the veterinarian will help reunite you. As mentioned above, be sure to note any cats' necessary medications and your veterinarian's contact information. If your veterinarian's clinic is not open, and you need to refrigerate medication, the American Red Cross can assist you.

Disasters are yet another good example of why it is important to keep your cat's vaccinations up-to-date. Disruption to the normal balance of nature occurs after a natural disaster and abnormal sanitation situations, such as the development of standing water will contribute to generating increases in fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, heartworm, and intestinal parasite populations. Be cautious -- and be up-to-date.

Evacuation Plan:

Find out, in advance, where the emergency shelters and/or veterinarians in your area are located. Note: You can NOT keep your cats with you at an official evacuation shelter. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), concerns for people with medical or psychological reasons who need to distance themselves from animals, along with food hygiene and other public health concerns, are the reasons why animals are not allowed into human shelters.

Make pre-arrangements that in the event of an emergency your animals can stay with a friend or relative who lives away from the affected area. Check out local pet-friendly motels, boarding facilities and veterinary clinics.

Practice an emergency evacuation. Such a drill will be the real test whether your preparations are sufficient.

Buddy Back-up:

If you are unable to return to your home and retrieve your cats, make pre-arrangements with a friend or neighbor, someone who has a key to your home and who is willing to check on your cats. Leave your veterinarian's name and phone number with them and also tell them your emergency information's location. Post this information in your home as well. The cabinet door where you store the cat food is a good place for your veterinarian's number and note. Store your emergency data in clear plastic bags or have this information laminated. Give your veterinarian the name of this contact person, giving them permission to obtain emergency treatment for your cats, if necessary.

Although having all these preparations constitute a good safety plan, in my experience with the tornado I found that when all was said and done, what really mattered was having a place for the cats to stay. The carrier issue is important, and having any special needs covered may make things easier, but all in all, unless you are in a very remote area, chances are there will be stores somewhere to get necessary supplies. During a time of emergency, most hotels/motels drop their restrictions on pets. And the ones that will normally take only one or two pets will generally allow you to take all your pets. People want to help.

Keep in mind, all forces of nature, including wildfires, drought, extreme heat, and flash foods, require advance preparation. Don't think you are immune to a natural disaster. It CAN happen to you -- anytime, anywhere.

What Are Other Disaster Specific Preparations?

  • Earthquakes
    • Bolt down cages
    • Store heavy or breakable objects on lower level or anchor with earthquake putty
    • Keep herbal calming medication (Rescue Remedy or similar) and/or baby food on hand.
  • Fires
    • If an animal suffers exposure to a fire, monitor for smoke inhalation pneumonia.
    • Put a Cat Finder decal in your window to alert rescuers there are cats in the house.
  • Floods
    • Store all supplies in high area.
    • Use waterproof containers.
  • Hurricanes
    • Buddy system -- evacuation location outside affected area.
    • Find motels that take cats within a 100-mile radius.
  • Tornadoes
    • Build an underground shelter
    • Designate a ground floor, inside room, as your safe room. Store supplies in plastic containers in this room.
    • Act quickly. On an average, you'll have eleven minutes notice when a tornado is near.

What Is on My Disaster Kit/Checklist?

  • Food and Water for 7 days (in plastic containers)
  • Lantern (no candles around cats!)
  • Food and water bowls
  • Can opener, plastic spoons
  • Paper towels
  • Identification data on each cat (including a photo)
  • First aid kit (for humans AND animals)
  • Special and/or maintenance medications
  • Cat litter, scooper, disposable litter boxes, and plastic bags
  • Flea comb and spot on flea treatment
  • Disinfectant (bleach mixed with water in a spray bottle is good)
  • Flashlight and extra batteries

Besides having a carrier for each cat, you can keep a supply of evacuation bags handy. I found one supplier:

Animal Care Equipment & Supplies (ACES)

Evac-Sac is a mesh bag, 18" x 18" with a drawstring and latch closure.

Where Can I Find Disaster Response Organizations?

American Humane Association
Tel. 800-227-4645

American Veterinary Medical Association
Tel. 708-925-8070

The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc.
Tel. 330-680-4070

Code 3 Associates
Tel. 912-784-9168

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Humane Society of the United States
Tel. 202-452-1100

International Fund of Animal Welfare
Tel. 508-362-6268


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