Most survivalists plan out everything necessary to keep themselves and their families safe in a SHTF scenario, but few remember to account for their pets. Pets represent several key challenges, but some pets – particularly large dogs – can also provide considerable survival value.
But regardless of the amount of help your pets do or do not provide, you’ll want to be sure to keep their needs in mind when packing your bug out bag and think through the various ways they’ll affect the two-legged members of your family.
Basic Pet Care in a Survival Situation
No matter the specific circumstances and challenges facing you, you’ll have to address the same basic needs of your pet. These are essentially identical to your needs, and they include:
In many locations, water is sufficiently abundant that you won’t have to bring any of your own along. Most dogs and cats can safely drink natural water sources, but it doesn’t hurt to purify their drinking water if it is feasible to do so. You’ll certainly want them to be feeling their best while you are trying to survive, so it is always wise to help them avoid as many gastrointestinal problems as possible.
Hauling water for your pet is a difficult prospect, as water is incredibly heavy (water weighs approximately 8 pounds per gallon). In such cases, you’ll likely find in necessary to fit your pet with a pack, so that your dog or cat can carry its own water.
Although your Alaskan malamute or pet polar bear may be comfortable in subzero temperatures or wet weather, but most pets will require some form of shelter. Typically, your own shelter will work fine, and it will also allow you to share the body heat produced by your furry friend.
Your pet will obviously need food if your survival situation lasts longer than a day or so. Like water, food can represent a significant amount of weight, so once again, the value of a pet pack becomes clear. Note that dry foods are preferred for survival situations, as they weigh less (on a per-calorie basis) than wet foods do. However, wet (canned) foods typically have much longer shelf lives than dry foods do, and they are better protected from pests. Additionally, the moisture content in canned foods can be helpful for survivalists living in arid regions, where water is at a premium.
In a survival situation, you must keep your pets close to ensure they stay out of trouble – you don’t want terrier stirring up a fight with a grizzly or getting too close to a rattlesnake. Especially well-behaved dogs may not require a leash at all times, but they must always be within your line-of-sight. Cats are rarely trustworthy off-leash, so they should be kept on a tether or confined to your tent.
Additionally, you may want to outfit your dog with things like booties and rain coats to help protect them from the elements. These types of garments will also shield your pet from many of the scrapes and scratches that are common in these kinds of situations.
You’ll need to bring along any medications your pet requires, as it may be very difficult to reach your vet in a SHTF scenario. This not only includes things like heart or allergy medications, but also flea and tick treatments.
You can create a dedicated pet first-aid kit, but most of the items they’d need can be found in your first-aid kit. Just avoid giving your dog any medications without your vet’s approval (it is a good idea to consult with your vet on your next routine visit).
Picking Up Your Pet
It is important to note that many pets are effectively too small to walk on their own in a high-stakes situation. Others may simply cause too many problems when kept on a leash.
In these situations, you’ll likely need to carry your pet to keep him or her safe and to make adequate progress while traveling. You can do this by placing your pet in some type of crate or bag. This can be your pet’s kennel, or it can be a pack designed for carrying your pet on your chest or back. Alternatively, you can use a duffel bag with a shoulder strap or a back pack if it will accommodate your pet.
No matter what you use to carry your pet, just be sure to prepare for this additional weight. This will not only slow your traveling speed, it will also reduce the amount of resources you can carry for yourself.
Many of the things you’ll want to pack for your pet are durable items; this means that you’ll only need to bring one pack or leash, for example. But other things you’ll need to bring are consumable, and they will disappear with time. This includes things like food, medications and water. This second group of supplies require careful thought. You don’t want to run out of food or water for your dog, but it is almost as important to avoid carrying more than you need.
There are no simple answers to this conundrum; you’ll just have to use your best judgment and pack enough food, water and medications to last for the length of time you expect the survival situation to last. However, it is probably a good idea to bring one or two extra servings of each of these items, just to account for accidents and unforeseen challenges.
Pet Supplies You’ll Need to Bring
Below, you’ll find the items most pet owners will need to supply their pets with the requirements discussed above.
You’ll have to bring different items for different types of pets, and you’ll also have to account for your pet’s individual and specific needs. Accordingly, you may need to tweak or adjust this list in several ways to ensure you bring along the things your pet will need, but this list should serve as a good starting point.
- Collar or harness
- Water and food bowl
- Pet pack or backpack
- Pet coat
- Pet booties
- Nutritional supplements (probiotics, omega-3 fatty acids, joint supplements, calming aids, etc.)
- Chew toys
- Crate or kennel (must collapse)
- Dog-carrying pack (similar to a baby Bjorn)
- Remote training collar
- Glowsticks or pet lights
- Flea collar
Additional Steps for Pet Preparation
In addition to bringing along the items listed above, you’ll want to do a few things to prepare you and your pet for a potential grid-down situation. For example, you may want to do the following:
- Have your pet fitted with a GPS tracking device. This way, if you become separated, you’ll be able to find your four-legged friend more easily. Because cellphone networks are unlikely to be operational during a SHTF situation, you’ll want to use a dedicated, hand-held GPS tracker, rather than one that works with your cell phone.
- Identify locally available food sources for your pet. If you are forced to endure a prolonged survival situation, your pet will likely run out of food, forcing you to forage for him or her too. Because many pets have different dietary needs and are intolerant of many common foods, you’ll want to ensure you familiarize yourself with some of the naturally abundant things your pet can eat, as well as those things which you should always avoid. Grapes, for example, are toxic to dogs.
- Consider clipping a glowstick to your pet’s collar at night. This will help you keep an eye on your pet after darkness falls, and it will help prevent potentially dangerous encounters with wildlife. Just be sure that you refrain from doing so with pets who like to chew on things, as the chemicals in some glowsticks may be toxic to dogs or cats.
- Use a space-saving collapsible food bowl for your pet. Also, because your pet won’t need a separate bowl for food and water, you only need to pack one bowl. This will help free up a little space in your bag.
- A dog whistle can provide you with a discrete way to communicate with your dog. You’ll have to train your dog to respond to a dog whistle before finding yourself confronted by a survival situation, but this is time and effort well spent.
- Take your cat’s bell off, if he or she normally wears one. A collar bell is a great idea for an outdoor cat living in the suburbs, as it prevents them from sneaking up on your local song birds and chipmunks. However, stealth is often imperative in survival situations, so you’ll always want to keep your cat quiet.
Pets can clearly impact your odds of survival, but if you prepare for their company and try to predict problems that may arise, you’ll likely find a way to get you both through tough situations.