Hurricane Irma has made landfall in the Caribbean and could barrel into South Florida by the weekend. Depending how close to the projected path they live, residents are weighing whether to evacuate. Some may not have a choice.

As we’ve just seen with the devastation from Hurricane Harvey, such emergencies can require anything from a brief absence to a permanent evacuation. It’s disorienting enough for people, but pets also lose their bearings when their home life is disrupted. Here’s how to prepare.

Even if you believe you’re evacuating for only one day, plan for the worst-case scenario. In unpredictable circumstances, pets could be trapped, escape and risk exposure to life-threatening hazards, or even starve. If it’s not safe for humans, it’s not safe for animals.

Storm Survival Tips

Before it’s too late, find a place where you can stay with your dog or cat. Check with hotels to see which allow animals, and ask family and friends whether they’re willing to take in you and your pets. Contact your local emergency-response agencies and find out which shelters allow animals and what requirements they have, such as medical records. Boarding and kennel facilities, veterinary offices, and animal shelters may also provide emergency housing.

Because a storm may strike when you’re away from home, make a plan with a trusted neighbor or friend who can evacuate your pets if necessary. Make sure they know where to find your pet and have on hand any supplies it may need.

How to Pack a Pet Go-Bag

Like their owners, pets should have a go-bag at the ready. The Humane Society, FEMA’s Ready.gov, and the ASPCA all have helpful pet preparedness information on their websites. Below is a list of what the ASPCA recommends to stock in a pet’s evac-pack. Remember, food and medications need to be rotated out of your emergency kit every two months—otherwise they may spoil or become ineffective.

  • Collar with ID tag, contact number, and rabies tag
  • A traveling bag, crate, or sturdy carrier, ideally one for each pet
  • 3 to 7 days’ worth of canned (pop-top) or dry food
  • Bottled water, at least seven days’ worth for each person and pet
  • Pet feeding dishes
  • Extra harness and leash (Note: Harnesses are recommended for safety and security.)
  • Photocopies of medical records and a waterproof container with a two-week supply of any medicine your pet requires
  • Disposable litter trays (aluminum roasting pans are perfect)
  • Litter and paper towels
  • Liquid dish soap and disinfectant
  • Disposable garbage bags for cleanup
  • Flashlight
  • Blanket (for scooping up a fearful pet)
  • Recent photos of your pets (in case you’re separated and need to make "Lost" posters). Also include a photo of you and your pet together to document ownership.
  • If your pet has been microchipped, make sure your contact info is up to date
  • Your pet’s favorite toy, treats, and bedding

To track the storm, keep a NOAA Weather Radio tuned to your local emergency station and monitor TV and radio broadcasts, and follow mobile alerts and mobile warnings about severe weather in your area.