Severe Weather Preparedness for Pets

Severe Weather Preparedness for Pets

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With severe weather season upon us, have you asked yourself: Am I prepared? Are my pets prepared? We’ve got you covered with severe weather preparedness for your pets.

Originally published April 6, 2018

It’s tornado season here in Middle Tennessee. Are you prepared? Are your pets prepared?

I’m willing to bet you’re NOT totally ready. And after talking to the experts, I know that our family is not as prepared as we could be.

The months of March through May sees the highest occurrence of tornadoes in our area – but as we know, severe weather can happen at any time of the year. Yet once the temperatures begin to rise in the spring, the possibility for strong storms to sweep through the state also begins to rise…

Old barn in a field with a severe storm with lightning approaching.

I saw a great PSA post on Instagram a few weeks back by @chloedoodledog  (go give her a follow; she’s adorable) on weather preparedness. Her post inspired me to do some digging and research.

This is where my post gets personal…

Every year about this time, my thoughts turn towards the spring of 2011. In May of that year, a catastrophic EF5 tornado ripped through the town of Joplin, Missouri. There were 158 deaths and over 1000 injuries. My dear friend, Lorie Holland and her husband Glen, lost their lives in the destruction.  Miraculously, their two dogs survived.

Thankfully, not many of us have ever been through anything like this disaster. I came close to it as a child while traveling with my parents during the Super Outbreak of April 1974.

We were staying overnight at a motel in Somerset, Kentucky. There had been storms in the area…  I remember all the lights suddenly going dark and the other guests coming outside of their rooms to see what was going on. The roaring wind…lightning…rain…. The following morning we learned that the F5 tornado had passed just a mile or so from our motel; the devastation we witnessed on the drive home is indelibly printed in my mind.

We all know these storms have the potential to impact our lives. But whaddya do?? We just don’t know what steps to take. Or maybe the probability of being in the path of a tornado seems so slim, it doesn’t seem worth it. If you’ve never experienced a weather disaster, it just isn’t relevant for you.

So I decided to talk to the real experts when it comes to tornado preparedness. I wanted to talk to some pet owners from Joplin to get their take, to see what worked and what didn’t.

I asked Lorie’s sister, Kristie Tusinger,  to reach out to her friends in Joplin for some advice:

“Have pet carriers in or near the area of shelter. Have a plan for where you will go for shelter (safety). Have leashes nearby. Jeff cut an extension cord in half so our neighbor could get her 2 Dalmatians (showdogs) out of her basement. Also a good idea to get them out of the debris to a safe place as soon as possible.”

“They need to be chipped.”

“We had a large dog and the biggest problem after was a place for her to go outside. The debris were everywhere so much glass and nastiness. Fortunately we had some volunteers help me rake the yard completely and Brian zip stripped the chain link fence as best he could. She could have jumped it but was too good of dog to do it.”

“A couple big things that always stick in my mind as ‘learning experiences’ are that very few pets had any identification and that we just lucked out on an emergency shelter location, “ Lysa Boston, shelter manager at Joplin Humane Society, told me. “I would say less than 1% of the pets we received during that time had any type of identification.”

One Joplin pet owner is still continuing to search for her dog Hanah. Kari Wilkes set up a Facebook page, Bring Hanah Home, after her 5 year old American bulldog was ripped from her arms during the storm. Hanah was photographed alive several days later but to date, she has not been located. BHH is now a non-profit formed “to increase disaster awareness and work towards standard emergency procedures for all pets.”

Natural disasters happen and, often, like tornadoes or earthquakes, they happen with little to no warning. According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) the current lead-time for tornado warnings is 13 minutes.

Do you really want to spend that 13 minutes getting together the stuff you need?

Create Your Plan

You’ve probably got a family preparedness plan. Now it’s time to add on a plan for your pets. It may take a bit of effort but the results are that you are ready to rock at a moment’s notice and you’ll feel more relieved and confident with a plan in place.

There are several websites that have excellent advice on pet preparedness. is a great resource with a downloadable action kit.

Make a Plan with Pets. Learn more at


Here’s a quick run-down of the pertinent info on severe weather preparedness for pets…


In case you need to evacuate, having an emergency bag on hand filled with essentials is best practice.

* You’ll want a 3 day supply of food in a waterproof container and water for each pet. If you feed raw like many of us do, remember you may not have refrigeration available. There are some great freeze-dried raw foods out there. Rely on a top-quality real-food kibble if necessary. Some experts recommend using small pouches or cans of wet food to decrease your pet’s need for water.

* Don’t forget food and water bowls. Collapsible are easy to store in your pet-emergency bag.

* Any medicines/prescriptions your pet needs in a waterproof bag.

* Collars, leashes, harnesses with ID tags. You should have extras or even a length of rope for emergency purposes. Microchipping is a personal decision but one that could help locate your pet easily. If you do microchip, make sure your contact info is up-to-date.

* Crate or pet carrier for smaller dogs/cats. Absolutely essential for our feline friends. Keep your carriers accessible at all times. You don’t want to have to dig through a closet in the midst of a storm.

* Litter boxes (you can use aluminum pie tins and shredded newspaper in a pinch.) Sanitized wipes, plastic bags, paper towels.

* Pet first aid kit.

* Photographs of you and your pet together. Not only will this help identify your pet should you become separated but it will also help you establish ownership.

Plan of Action

Here’s where most of us could use some work. If disaster strikes, what will be your plan of action? If you’ve not already worked out a meeting place with your family, now’s the time to discuss it and set a location.

And if you need to evacuate, you’ll need to have a list of pet-friendly hotels near your area you can rely upon. Talk to your family and friends to make reciprocating arrangements to stay with each other as necessary. If you will need to stay in an emergency shelter, you may have to find temporary boarding for your pets. Keep a list  of boarding facilities handy. Put it in your pet emergency bag.

Develop a Buddy System

Probably one of the most important actions I have heard about. Find a trusted partner that can help you evacuate or care for your pets if you cannot. 

It took me a moment to understand what was meant by that. But if you are incapacitated, your pets will need help. Talk to your friends and neighbors about caring for your pets. Make sure they have information about where to find your pets’ emergency bags and to where they should be evacuated if need be.

All this may sound scary at first, but once you get rolling on it, being prepared is a great feeling.

Dog standing in the lake near the shore looking at dark storm clouds rolling in.

More Severe Weather Preparedness Tips…

  • Know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning.
  • You might also want to keep your dog’s leash/harness handy or have it ready in your safe space. Rescue Remedy or any herbals to help with anxiety is good to keep on hand.
  • If a tornado warning is sounded, grab your emergency bags and your pets and head for your safe space.
  • If disaster does strike, keep in mind that it is as traumatic for your pet as it is for you. Expect behavioral changes. Remember that the entire landscape will be changed and will even smell different to your dog. Keep all your pets in carriers and/or leashed until they are in a secure location.

Finally, we come to long-term and community planning. As Lysa Boston added: “Local shelters should definitely make a plan on what they would do [with] pets in the event of an emergency and owners should have plans of who their pets could stay with if their home was not livable.”  This is a conversation worth starting with your local shelter.

Fingers crossed that NONE of us will weather a tornado. But just in case…preparation is the key.

Have you experienced a tornado with your dog? Comment below and let us know your takeaways and advice.

Keep these tips handy – Pin to your favorite board.

Also see new resource Preparedness Guide

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