Preparing for an Emergency

No one wants to think their dog or cat will ever have an emergency; especially one that could potentially be life threatening.

Unfortunately, emergencies happen. Having had a couple of emergencies with two of my pets this past year (thankfully with good outcomes), I talked to veterinarians and practice managers at several emergency clinics and they offered these suggestions for pet owners. In an emergency, every second can count; being prepared is vital.


In some emergencies you may be separated from your pet. Numerous pets have been found wandering alone after earthquakes, floods, storms and wildfires. To raise the odds that you and your pet will be reunited, your pet must have identification. Hopefully your pet is already microchipped but if he isn’t, talk to your veterinarian about having it done. Then, when you register the microchip, in the details section, list your regular veterinarian’s information and give permission for your pet to be taken there if you can’t be contacted. Plus, notify your veterinarian this has been recorded so that permission to treat your pet is in your pet’s records.

If you move, change phone numbers or change anything else that’s important, change the information in the microchip registry.

Although microchips are great, I still have visible identification on my dog’s and cat’s collars. I use tags on the dogs and embroidered collars on the cats. I have this additional identification because I want something easy to read in case one of my neighbors (or someone else who may not have a microchip reader) finds one of my pets. Besides my information, I also add a friend’s contact information just in case I can’t be contacted.

First Aid Kit and Course

My friends used to laugh at my first aid kits (and yes, that is plural) because my kits are big and well stocked. But once someone needs something and I have it, they stop laughing. After previously being evacuated for wildfires and not having on hand some needed first aid supplies, I’ve made sure that my kit at home, in my truck and at work include a variety of supplies for people and pets. I include basic medications, bandaging supplies, tools (scissors and tweezers, for example) and a first aid guide.

Many veterinarians and dog trainers hold emergency pet first aid courses and these are a great idea. The courses teach basic first aid skills so that if your pet is hurt or injured, you can stabilize your pet until you can get him to the veterinarian. The courses often include a first aid book so you have a basic reference.


In an emergency, do you have a plan for transporting your pet? If your dog is big, is there room for him in your car? That may seem like a silly question, but what if someone in the family drove the SUV one day and left the compact car at home. What would you do?

For many pets, especially small dogs and cats, a crate is often the safest and easiest way to transport them. Is there room in your car for a cat or dog crate? Is your pet used to the crate? Is the crate easy to grab or is it in the rafters of the garage or buried in the basement? It’s always a good idea to have one close at hand.

I keep leashes in a variety of locations so one is always available. I have leashes in the house, in the garage and in my truck.

Be prepared to use your imagination when you need to transport your pet. A small dog or a cat can always be leashed and then wrapped in a big towel if a crate isn’t available. Practice this now though; don’t wait until your pet is sick or hurt.




Emergencies can be expensive. After one of my dogs ripped out two toenails, tearing them from the nail bed inside his back paw so badly he needed surgery, the bill was more than $1,500. Life threatening injuries or illnesses can be even more.

One friend of mine has a dedicated credit card that she saves for pet emergencies. Another friend has pre-applied for a veterinary credit plan. There are several; talk to your veterinarian for more information. The numbers of pet owners who now use pet health insurance are growing; again, if you would like more information, talk to your veterinarian. Ask which ones they deal with regularly and which are easiest to use.

Your Veterinarian

Have your veterinarian’s phone number saved to your phone as well as posted in your home. On your phone’s navigation app, program in the address and driving directions to your vet’s clinic, and save it, just in case someone needs to drive you while you tend to your pet.

In addition, know your veterinarian’s hours and what their policies are for emergencies. For example, if you need their help close to closing time, will they stay late for you? They may recommend you go directly to the emergency clinic. Ask now, before an emergency, what their policies are.

Local Emergency Clinics

Ask your veterinarian which emergency clinics they recommend and then look up those clinics. Which one is closest to you? Save the phone number of that clinic and then save the address and driving directions to your navigation app.

Search for the clinic online and look up their website. Read through their information, especially frequently asked questions, as those should answer all your questions as to what to do in case you need their services. If you have any other questions, call and ask. Unless they are overwhelmed at the moment, they’ll be happy to help you. After all, if you’re prepared, it will make their job easier.


If the emergency requires that you evacuate your home—for a storm moving in for example or a wildfire heading your way—where would you go? Are there friends out of your area but within driving distance who would let you and your pets stay with them? Or would you need to stay at a hotel? Save the information (phone number, address, directions) for several pet friendly hotels to your phone and to your navigation app.

FEMA requires that shelters make accommodations for pets. That doesn’t mean your pet will be with you however. Many times the pets will be in a different room or building. Your pet’s identification will be important here, too, as will his crate. If at all possible, when evacuating, grab some of your pet’s regular food as you go. This could help prevent digestive upset during an already stressful situation.

Be Prepared

Emergencies rarely announce themselves (although you may have warning of a storm moving in) so being prepared is vital. My dog’s torn toenails happened on a camping trip so the first aid course I took the year before had refreshed my skills and my well stocked first aid kit supplied the bandaging materials I needed. Then I called my vet, who’s number was saved in my phone, and on his advice, headed home from the camping trip as he was worried about dirt deep in the wound and potential infection. Because I could talk to him, though, and tell him what happened, I knew we could drive home and didn’t have to find an emergency clinic immediately.

Preparation can help your pet and also give you some peace of mind.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to

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