What your pets need from you before, during and after an earthquake

Illustration of hamster with a hardhat on
The best thing you can do for your pet — whether dog, cat, turtle or hamster — is be prepared.
(Gluekit / For The Times / Getty)

Apps on your phone can alert you to an oncoming earthquake, and your pets may have that ability too. Scientists suggest that animals can feel shifts in the earth just before humans can.

That said, earthquakes can be even more disorienting for animals than they are for humans. The best thing you can do as their owner is be prepared even before they sense anything.

Denisse Cobian-Tobler, vice president of brand strategy at Michelson Found Animals Foundation, and Susan Anderson, director of Disaster Response and National Field Response for ASPCA, have you covered on how to keep your pets safe when disaster strikes.

Before the earthquake

Your disaster plans need to involve your pet. Practicing placing your pet in their respective carriers while you and your human family members practice your earthquake drill can help prepare your animal for a potential evacuation. Cobian-Tobler said to practice at least once every few months.

While building your earthquake preparedness kit, be sure to include animal-specific items.

You don’t want to scare your kids, but you do need them to be prepared for what to do before, during and after the shaking of a major (or even minor) earthquake.

June 12, 2021

For cats and dogs, you need bowls for water and food, carriers, leashes and waste collection supplies like cat litter and doggie bags. Have salt licks, bedding and carriers for hamsters and birds. Creature comforts, such as a favorite toy or blanket, can help ease the emotional stress an animal might endure during an earthquake.


“It’s really about thinking of everything that you would need should you need to walk out the door right now and making sure that you’ve got that packed and ready to go,” Cobian-Tobler said. (See below for a sample checklist.)

Microchipping and registering your pet is vital, Cobian-Tobler said. Without proper registration of a microchip, she said, your pet could be lost forever in the face of disaster. A collar with the appropriate information or other forms of identification on your animal, Anderson said, are important steps to help ensure that your animal will be returned home safely after an earthquake.

Copies of vaccination records and the contact information of your pet’s vet should also be included in your important documents.

During an earthquake

When an earthquake starts, as humans we know to drop, cover and hold on. But what do you do with your pets?

In most cases, let them do their own thing, Cobian-Tobler said.

“Trust your animals — they are really good at finding safety,” she said.

Smaller animals that can be held should be kept with you in your safe space, but if your cat wants to hide under the bed let them.

Other animals, like caged and tanked pets, should be kept in their enclosures and transferred to portable carriers in the case of damage or the need for evacuation.

If you’re outside with your pet, Cobian-Tobler said, get low to the ground and away from any potential hazards like trees or telephone poles. The best option, however, may be to just let them go and find them later. (Which is why microchipping and keeping the information up to date is so important.)

After the earthquake

Earthquakes can be unsettling even for lifelong California residents. Animals who might not understand what’s going on can become easily distressed and show signs of trauma.

Cobian-Tobler said to watch for changes in behavior like hiding or clinginess but to not be concerned.

“Just be there and be supportive, very much the same way you would be for one of your children,” she said.

Japan has a sophisticated system to alert its residents, and Mexico City has ubiquitous sirens. Is California’s early warning system ready?

June 12, 2021

Animals are in tune to what’s going on around them, including your emotions. Anderson said to be mindful of your emotions and your breathing around your pets after the earthquake. Try to keep a calm demeanor and practice deep breathing.

“Remember that our pets don’t understand what is happening when things change suddenly, like they do in a natural disaster,” she said. “We can’t explain to them why we’re in a new place, or why there are new people, or why people are acting ‘weird.’ Keeping this in mind will help us to bring patience and compassion to our pet’s emotional stress.”


As part of your preparation, identify pet-friendly hotels that you can go to in case your home is uninhabitable after the earthquake, Anderson said. Other arrangements, such as taking your pet to a friend’s house, should be made beforehand and practiced as well.

If your animal was injured or appears to be severely ill after the earthquake, contact their veterinarian or the local animal hospital (their contact information should be in your emergency pack).