Plan for disaster: Pets are family, too

A house fire is a terrible thing. There's no time to think. You've got to know what to do. That means planning ahead.

According to the American Red Cross, the best way to protect your family in a disaster is to have a disaster plan. That plan should include every member of your family, including your pets.

"Make sure that everybody knows who is responsible for that pet. If you have three dogs and a cat, you want to make sure you don't forget the cat," says Dr. Kerri Marshall with Trupanion pet insurance.

Marshall also says you need to draw up escape routes, and plot it out on paper.

"Even though everybody knows their home and their workplace, these maps kind of visualize and help you have a plan in your head before you actually have to do it," she says.

The only way to make sure the plan works is to practice it. Run disaster drills and include the pets. Always keep a leash and carrier near a door where you would exit.

"It's really hard to hold on to a pet without a leash and harness or a carrier when they're outside. And you actually could put them in more danger," Marshall cautioned.

It's important that you get out quickly - even if you can't find your pet right away. Never go back inside for a pet. The firefighters will get them.

"They'll get people first and so the faster you get out, if you can't get your pet, the faster they can get in and help your pet," Marshall says.

When you do your fire drills, make sure you have a meeting place a good distance from the house. Everyone should know to go there once they're out. That's how you can be sure everyone is accounted for.

Be sure you have pet supplies - including food, water and medicines - in the family's emergency kits that can be grabbed at moment's notice. Remember, most public shelters don't allow pets, so you should have a plan for that, should you need to evacuate.

More Info:

Trupanion: Pet Fire Safety
Trupanion: Best Practices in Workplace Pet Safety
American Red Cross: Pet and Disaster Safety