SOS! Emergency Preparedness for Cats
Nobody plans to have an emergency, but everyone should plan for emergencies. This is especially true if a cat is part of your family. Cats can be difficult to deal with in crisis scenarios, so you should do your best to prepare for the worst. Here are several steps that you can take to give your cat the best chance possible to stay safe and sound in the event of an emergency.
A bug-out bag contains everything that you need to survive in emergency situations where you need to leave your home. It should always be stocked and ready to be grabbed at a moment’s notice. We recommend having a dedicated bag for your pets, or at least including your pets’ necessities in your family’s bag. Bug-out bags should be located in an easy-to-grab location when you need to make a quick exit.
Pack enough food for your cat for at least a week. It’s important to minimize stressors, so the food you pack should be the food that your cat regularly eats. If your cat eats a food that is impractical to pack in a bug-out bag, pack the next best thing, but be sure to acclimate them to it before they need to eat it. For example, if your cat typically eats fresh or frozen raw food, consider packing a comparable freeze dried food.
The food in the bag should be rotated frequently to ensure freshness. One strategy to keep the food fresh is to replace the food each time you buy more food. The food that was already in the bag can be given to your cat, and the new food can replace the old. Depending on the packaging of the food, it might be best to store the bug-out bag food in a plastic resealable container. Whatever the food is stored in, whether a separate container or the original packaging, it should be kept safe from pests and humidity.
Pack at least a gallon of bottled water in the bag to keep your cat from becoming dehydrated. Don’t be surprised if your cat does not drink much water, but you should offer it as much as possible. We recommend using pre-packaged, unopened water jugs to be sure that the water is safe. Since cats can be picky with water, be sure to offer it to them under normal conditions to confirm that your cat will drink it.
Bring a few bowls for both food and water. Either pack foldable travel bowls or enough disposable paper bowls or plates to last for at least a week. For sanitary reasons, if your cat eats canned wet food or raw food, you should either opt to use disposable bowls or disposable bowl liners. If possible, the bowls should be fairly shallow to allow your cat to their head in without bending their whiskers.
Pet First Aid Kit
Space Cat Academy recommends having a pet first aid kit with you anytime you go on an excursion with your cat. It’s a good idea to have at least two pet first aid kits: one for regular use, and one for your emergency or bug-out bag. Periodically, you should replace components that are nearing their expiration date in both of your kits. Since you hopefully won’t often use any of your first aid kits, it’s a good idea to mark off a date in your calendar to replace all of the items.
Leash and Harness
We recommend training your cat to walk on a leash. In emergencies, it’s good to have as a last resort option for time where a carrier is infeasible. Even if your cat is used to staying near you outside, they may be scared by something and run off in an unfamiliar area. It’s also good to allow them to exercise if they must be kept in a carrier or tight spaces for extended periods.
While riding in the car, the safest place for them to be is in a carrier in the backseat. When stopped, you may want to let your cat out of the carrier. To keep your cat safe and in your control, you might want to have them wear a leash and harness, especially if any of the car’s passengers intend to open any doors or windows.
Cats respond to stressors differently, and every cat has a unique set of triggers. While some cats might like to get out and stretch their legs, others might find it scary and intimidating. Be mindful of your cat’s anxiety level. If they prefer their carrier, allow them to stay in it.
Want to learn how to harness train your cat?
Litter, Litter Box, and Scoop
One of the most difficult things to pack for a cat is a litter box. Even on planned trips, packing a litter box can be a challenge. Most cats won’t use the litter box while a car is in motion, so you might need to stop periodically and offer it to your cat. Don’t be surprised if your cat doesn’t use the litter box until things calm down.
Some options for litter boxes include portable or travel litter boxes, disposable litter boxes, or even foil roasting pans. You might need to get creative and think “outside the box” to determine a solution that works for you and your cat.
You should bring enough litter for a few days. Some cats are very sensitive to changes in their litter. If you intend to pack a litter in your emergency bag that is new to your cat, it should be tested in your cat’s normal litter box. This will allow you to make sure that your cat will accept the litter under normal circumstances. If your cat refuses any other litters, then you should pack the cat’s preferred litter.
If possible, you should pack a litter that is lightweight, long lasting, and clumping. You don’t want it to add excessive weight to your bag, so find a lightweight litter that your cat will accept. Again, it’s important to make sure your cat will use it before adding it to your bag.
Medications and Calming Aids
Some cat guardians find it beneficial to use cat calming pheromones, such as Feliway. These come in spray bottles that you can spray on a blanket or in your cat’s carrier help them relax. Be sure to read the instructions on the bottle for proper use and storage.
If your cat is on any prescription or over-the-counter medications, be sure to pack enough for at least a week. Have a plan for any critical medications that require refrigeration. Make sure you have a list of all of the medications and what they’re used for in case someone else needs to administer them. If you use pill pockets or any other treats to administer medication, don’t forget to pack them.
Have a sheet of paper with your veterinarian’s contact information, and a few regional emergency vet facilities. Also document any medical conditions and some general information about your cat. Include things like your cat’s name, date of birth or approximate age, a picture, and description. You should also include copies of important documents such as health and rabies certificates.
For many cats, their carriers are stressful. Carriers limit a cat’s visibility, mobility, and sense of control, but are a necessity to keep a cat safe and sound during an emergency. In many cases, cats only go in their carriers for trips to the veterinarian, which creates negative associations with the carrier. However, this doesn't need to be the case! They can be taught to love the carrier—or at least accept it.
First, try leaving the carrier open near one of your cat’s favorite spots. Try placing a bed or blanket inside to make it more inviting. The goal is to have the cat form a positive association with the carrier.
To help the process along, you can play games with the carrier. Throw treats into it to encourage them to explore and investigate it. In addition to games, feed them their meals inside of it. It’s important to take note of their stress and anxiety levels. During this time, if your cat is having trouble acclimating to the carrier, experiment with different carrier types. You may find that one style is better for you or your cat.
Once your cat is comfortable with the carrier with the door open, work towards closing the door. Go slowly, and if your cat becomes agitated, take a break. This process may take a few minutes or several weeks, but it’s important to go at the right pace for your cat.
When your cat reaches a point where they accept the door closed, try working on short trips from room to room. Gradually add more duration, go to the car for a moment, bring them back inside, and end the session. Add short trips as well, so they get used to rides that don't end in stressful situations.
Recall Training and Microchipping
Train your cat to come on command. This can help in the event they get loose or you need to find them in your house to prepare to leave. Most owners choose a word like “come” or “here”. This should be trained with positive reinforcement, giving treats and praise for coming.
You should have your veterinarian microchip your cat in case they get loose and run away. In situations where you aren’t able to give a successful recall command, a microchip can be the last resort to getting your cat back. If your cat needs to be microchipped, reach out to your vet. It’s typically a very easy process that only takes seconds.
Work with your cat to desensitize them to sound triggers, such as thunder and fire alarms. When you find a sound that your cat is fearful of, try playing a recording of the sound a very low volumes. Give them treats to form a positive association with the sound. When they no longer show signs of fear or anxiety at a given volume, try increasing it a notch. Repeat the process until your cat is no longer fearful of the trigger. This is an important step, because it can be dangerous if your cat’s response to a fire alarm is to run under the bed. Desensitizing them to sounds and having a fail-proof recall can save their lives in an emergency.