How To Protect Your Pets During An Earthquake

A kitten rescued from the Woolsey Fire clings to an spcaLA team member. (Courtesy of spcaLA)

As Californians, we've long accepted that earthquakes can hit anytime, anywhere. When that immovable, solid earth suddenly shifts beneath you, it can be scary and dangerous. We don't like it. You don't like it. And your pets don't like it either.

That's what this guide is for: to help you and your pet stay safe during an earthquake.

Ana Bustilloz, director of communications at Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, shared some tips. TL;DR it's all about being prepared before an earthquake hits.

She sums it up like this: "Make a kit, make a plan and prepare your animal."

You got this.

STEP ONE: MAKE A KIT

Just like you should have an earthquake safety kit, your pets need one too. You'll need many of the same supplies, such as food, water and an animal first aid kit. Your pet will likely be in distress, so prepare treats, toys, blankets and anything that might comfort them.


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Bustilloz advises keeping a folder of photos and copies of medical and vaccination records in the kit. If you lose your pet, sharing this information with animal shelters will be a huge help in your search.

Don't forget to account for waste disposal either. For example, if you have a dog, you'll want extra bags. If you're a cat owner, prepare a disposable cat tray.


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While there are premade pet kits available, each pet is unique and should have one tailored to them. You can start with a base of standard supplies, but make sure you have items specific to your animal's needs. Find the right size carrier or crate. Check that you have their medications. Prepare their favorite toys and treats to ease their stress.

Then put it in an accessible place. You should be able to just grab it and go, as you would your own personal kit.

STEP TWO: MAKE A PLAN

It's difficult to predict when disasters will happen. You might not be with your pet when they hit, which is why it's a good idea to know your neighbors. Collaborate on a plan for how you can help one another during emergencies. See if they can check on your pets and look out for them when you can't be there.

Another helpful way to prepare is by taking a pet CPR or general first aid class if you can.

STEP THREE: PREPARE YOUR ANIMAL

Microchipping your pet and confirming that the information on it is up to date can make reuniting much, much easier. The chip's registration will serve as definitive proof of ownership and help prevent your pet from being stolen or sold. Animal shelters can easily read the chip and use the information on it to reach you.

Also, make sure your pet wears a collar and ID tags with your most current contact information.


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Q: HOW CAN I HELP MY PET DURING AN EARTHQUAKE?

Just like all those airline instructional videos say, it's important to first seek safety for yourself. Check that your structure is safe. Check that you are okay. You can't protect your pet if you are in danger.

Try to remain calm. According to Bustilloz, even if an earthquake isn't causing much breakage or loud crashing noises, your animal can still pick up on your heightened sense of stress and anxiety. Keeping you and your family calm can help keep your pet calm as well.

Know what to expect. If you've ever spent Fourth of July with your pet, you know that they probably don't enjoy loud noises and commotion. You can expect an earthquake to elicit similar reactions. They will likely either be barking or seeking refuge somewhere, so know their hiding places. Know that special under-the-bed nook they like to go into, so you can seek them out and comfort your friend. Check first, of course, that they are not physically injured.

Remember to clean up any debris too. Glass stuck in feet is one of the most common injuries after an earthquake, as we learned from The Big One podcast, so watch out for your pet's feet too. Keep them away from areas where there could be spilled chemicals, broken glass or anything else that could hurt them. If they do get cut, try witch hazel to disinfect the wound.

WHAT ABOUT NON-HOUSEHOLD PETS?

For Angelenos who have horses or livestock, the city will activate large animal evacuation and housing sites, typically in the Valley. Check with your local animal care and humane societies to find out where those are. In the past, Hansen Dam and Pierce College have often been evacuation points.

In times of disaster, Los Angeles activates large animal evacuation sites at Hansen Dam and Pierce College. (Courtesy of spcaLA)

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I LOSE MY PET?

One of the biggest risks for pets during earthquakes is getting lost. An upset animal can escape when structures, doors or windows buckle and open up. Los Angeles is a very, very big place, and finding a beloved animal can be difficult if you haven't taken the necessary precautions.

If your pet disappears, contact your local animal care services, and ask if your it's been brought in or picked up. After large scale disasters, animal services sometimes set up pop-up shelters where they can take photos of lost animals and post them online. However, Bustilloz says that unless there's a really bad earthquake, these emergency services are not always available. You'll most likely have to physically go to the shelters and look for your pet.

Another possibility is that a neighbor in your area may have picked up the animal. This is when having a collar, tag or microchip can really come in handy. Your neighbor will have a much easier time contacting you.

If your pet has wandered further away, someone else may have taken them to a shelter outside your area. That's when you'll have to start checking out other animal care services around the city.

Another way to expand your search is through neighborhood apps and social media. Nextdoor is a popular one, Bustilloz says. The app is tailored to local communities and connects you with others in your area.

Finding Rover, an app with facial recognition for pets, is a good one as well. You can take photos, post them in the lost and found feature and even look for pets for adoption. Facebook is a pretty good bet too. "Any social media seems to do well," she said.

It's always helpful to just keep asking around if anyone's seen your pet. Talk to your neighbors. Talk to your mail carrier. Put up posters. "It can be a lot of work," she said. "But it can absolutely work."

If you still find yourself out of luck, it's important not to lose hope. Animals have shown up in shelters months or even years after they were lost. "Don't give up," Bustilloz said. "It's always possible."

Rescuers bring pups back to spcaLA's animal care center. (Courtesy of spcaLA)

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I FIND A LOST PET?

If you have the means to - that is, if you have a leash or carrier, and you feel comfortable - you can always take in a pet temporarily before helping them find their family. Just be careful when approaching a scared animal. Using leashes specifically made to catch or train dogs may help make that process easier.

Another option is to take the pet to a vet and see if there's a microchip that can be read. However, this requires a little more effort on your part and may not always be feasible after a disaster.

The best move, Bustilloz says, is to bring them to local animal services in your neighborhood. "When people lose their animals, they are going to look at shelters," she said. "So it's important that you report it or drop them off."

ANY OTHER QUESTIONS YOU HAVE? ASK US BELOW.

We've answered a whole bunch of other earthquake-related questions in another story and in our podcast The Big One. Don't see yours there? Share it with us.