Preparing Your Pet for a Wildfire: 4 Steps You Need to Know

Dog overlooking hills
Dog overlooking hills

Dog lying down

Wouldn't it be wonderful if wildfires were at worst a once-in-a-blue-moon phenomenon? Then this article would be largely unnecessary. But as climate change has continued and temperatures have risen, the amount of area destroyed by wildfires annually has increased significantly over the past few decades, according to the EPA

Not exactly a cheery subject, we know. But as a pet parent, it’s a reality you’ll need to face if you live in an area of the US that’s vulnerable to the effects of wildfires. Western states like California, Washington, Oregon and Montana have been particularly hard hit. So if you and your four-legged friend live in a high-risk zone, it’s time to get prepared. Because if a wildfire does hit your area — or even strikes just close enough to impact air quality — you may find yourself needing to take emergency actions to protect your pet. That’s something you’ll need to prepare for.  

In this article, we’ll explore the steps you’ll need to take — and the supplies you’ll need to stock up on — to help keep your pet safe during a wildfire.

Pet food bowl

Pack a Pet Evacuation Kit

Think of potential wildfires with a Boy Scout mentality: Be prepared. And if you’re in an at-risk area, the first order of preparedness is packing an emergency preparedness kit for your pet. That’s not something you can throw together once a crisis is underway — you'll need to have it on hand in advance.  

The kit should include anything and everything your dog or cat might need during an emergency evacuation and its aftermath. Here’s a good start: 

  • Bottled drinking water
  • Pet first aid kit
  • Pet carrier/crate
  • Collar, leash and harness
  • Bowls for water and food
  • Food and treats in waterproof containers
  • Your pet’s prescription or preventative meds (including heartworm, flea and tick meds)
  • Poop bags
  • Dog first aid kit
  • Toys, familiar blankets, bedding or other stress-relieving items. 
  • Identification, including proof of ownership

You simply can’t be flailing about looking for supplies on the day you and your pet are endangered — and there’s a good chance the stores in the area will be closed during a wildfire emergency. You'll need to be able to get out of the house with your furry family member — and all the things you’ll need to take care of them — at a moment’s notice.

Cat in owner's hands

Keep Your Pet Safe From Smoke 

Just because there are no flames licking up the side of your house doesn’t mean you and your pet are safe. When it comes to wildfires, smoke is by far the most common cause of bodily harm. Smoke exposure is a nasty business; even when it isn’t fatal, it can cause congestion, coughing, drooling, nasal discharge, vomiting, loss of appetite, eye irritation, and even neurological symptoms like seizures.

In fact, you’ll need to keep your furry friend safe from the effects of smoke even if the wildfire is far enough away that you don’t actually need to evacuate your home. You’ll particularly need to take action if there’s an air quality alert in your area. 

This mostly comes down to keeping your pet out of harm’s way, and keeping the air in your home as clean as possible. Here are some effective ways to keep your pet safe if there's poor air quality in your area:

  • Keep your pets indoors as much as possible; this means keeping outdoor potty breaks brief (no long walks!), and bringing outdoor pets inside.
  • Keep the windows closed.
  • Refrain from activities that add particles to your home, like smoking, burning candles, using a fireplace or woodstove, frying or broiling foods, using smokeless tobacco, or even using a vacuum cleaner.
  • Consider using a portable air cleaner to make at least one room in your house a clean air safe haven.

And even before there’s a wildfire in the vicinity, anyone living in a high-risk area should make sure their air conditioning units have high efficiency filters. 

Make sure your dog is tagged and microchipped

To be honest, this isn’t a wildfire-specific nugget of advice. Getting your pet a microchip is pretty much a must in this day and age — in fact, it’s legally mandatory in some countries, though not the US. Microchips, which are easily scannable by any local shelters or vets, contain your contact information (assuming you register them correctly — so make sure to do that, because some people forget). With a microchip, a lost dog is far likelier to be returned to their rightful pet parent.

This takes on added importance during an emergency evacuation, especially due to a wildfire. The chaos of a sudden flight from home might be enough on its own to cause disorientation and frighten your pet to the point where they scamper off. The discomfort and terror caused by plummeting air quality or encroaching flames makes it even likelier. 

The bottom line is, pets often run away during emergencies — doubly so when they sense danger and get nervous. 

With a microchip, you’re far likelier to be reunited. (And you should also make sure your pet is wearing a good-old-fashioned tag, complete with contact info, affixed to the collar. You know, just to be extra careful.)

Man with dog on leash

Make sure your dog is tagged and microchipped

To be honest, this isn’t a wildfire-specific nugget of advice. Getting your pet a microchip is pretty much a must in this day and age — in fact, it’s legally mandatory in some countries, though not the US. Microchips, which are easily scannable by any local shelters or vets, contain your contact information (assuming you register them correctly — so make sure to do that, because some people forget). With a microchip, a lost dog is far likelier to be returned to their rightful pet parent.

This takes on added importance during an emergency evacuation, especially due to a wildfire. The chaos of a sudden flight from home might be enough on its own to cause disorientation and frighten your pet to the point where they scamper off. And the discomfort and terror caused by plummeting air quality or encroaching flames makes this even likelier. 

The bottom line is, pets often run away during emergencies — doubly so when they sense danger and get nervous. With a microchip, you’re far likelier to be reunited. And you should also make sure your pet is wearing a good-old-fashioned tag, complete with contact info, affixed to their collar. Just to be extra careful.

Dogs in dog house

Identify Pet-Friendly Evacuation Spots Ahead of Time

In the event of an evacuation, there’s something important you’ll have to keep in mind: Many of the shelters that would welcome us humans — most hotels, for instance — don’t allow our four-legged friends through the door. So if you live in a high-risk area, it’s a good idea to know where your pet will be welcomed with open arms. 

Ahead of time, you should contact friends, relatives or an animal shelter outside the area where you live, and start making arrangements for a potential evacuation. (It might be possible to simply leave your dog or cat with friends or family members in a safer zone.) The last thing you want is to be scrambling in the dark with no plans, or to arrive at a hotel only to be turned away. 

One last thing to consider: There are certain websites, like this one and this one, that can help you find pet-friendly lodging. But it’s best to do your research in advance and establish a concrete plan for where you’re going to book reservations ahead of time — vacancy at pet-friendly hotels can dry up fast in the midst of an emergency. 

Cat with veterinarian

Treat Your Pet for Injuries or Smoke Exposure

If, heaven forbid, you don’t make it out of dodge with an unscathed pet, you’ll need to get them treated once you’ve whisked them to safety. If there are any emergency veterinary clinics within a moderate distance of where you live — especially 24-hour ones — you should know exactly where they are ahead of time.

A veterinarian will treat burns with some combination of pain medications, antibiotics, dressings or even, in an extreme scenario, skin grafts. If you can’t get to a vet immediately, you can treat burns by immersing your pet in saline or cool water, or administering silver sulfadiazine ointment. (That should be in your pet first aid kit.) You may have to remove the hair around the area to administer the ointment properly. 

Of course, as we’ve already established, fire isn’t actually the biggest injury risk when it comes to wildfires. And smoke exposure may also necessitate emergency veterinary treatment. For one thing, severe smoke inhalation can deprive the brain of oxygen due to carbon monoxide poisoning. If this has happened, you may see symptoms like weakness, lethargy, poor coordination, seizures or even coma.

And even when wildfire smoke exposure hasn't caused neurological symptoms, it can impact your pet's lungs and cause difficulty breathing. It can also cause vomiting, excessive drooling, and extreme eye irritation. 

One other thing you should do is take a look at your dog’s gums; in the event of severe carbon monoxide poisoning, they’ll often turn cherry red. 

If you notice any of these symptoms of smoke exposure or inhalation, that’s just as much cause to seek emergency vet care as a burn. Your vet may treat these issues with some combination of oxygen therapy, IV fluids, antibiotics, and pain medications. Get on it fast: The longer you go without treatment, the more irreversible your pet’s symptoms are likely to become. 

Paws on the world for climate change

Wildfires Are a Symptom of Climate Change, Which You (and Your Pet!) Can Fight

It's beyond troubling that you actually need to make concrete plans for a wildfire evacuation. Wildfires are getting bigger and more destructive as climate change continues to wreak havoc. And unfortunately, our pets play a role in driving climate change due to their meat-heavy diets.

At the end of the day, there are ways for pet parents to lead the charge against climate change, whether that’s by changing their own carbon consumption habits or making certain safe changes to the diets of their four-legged family members. 

Hopefully you and your pet will never find yourselves fleeing from a wildfire, and hopefully the day will come when wildfires are less common, less destructive and less of a concern. But until that day comes, do everything you can to keep your pet safe — and to create a safer world.  


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