Bugging Out with Pets

So enough of the sad facets of bugging out; let’s talk about what to consider if you think you may ever be bugging out with pets.

Last Updated on July 8, 2016

We talk about situations on the Prepper Journal and other survival blogs that are so drastic or life threatening that you are forced to gather vital supplies, throw them into your car or on your back and flee from your current location as quickly as possible. We call this act of leaving while you still can, Bugging Out. There are entire volumes of work devoted to the question of whether one should Bug Out or Hunker down. Even I have written on the subject behind the decisions you should consider when you are asking this question of yourself. Should you stay where you are or leave everything behind except what you can take with you, maybe on your back and run to a hopefully safer place?

When it comes to bugging out, we have to look at this from a couple of different perspectives, but I usually take the most pessimistic when making plans. As I was considering what was right for my family in just about any scenario I could imagine, the sensible thing for me seemed to be to hunker down right where I am. There are a lot of very good reasons why this seems to be the smarter choice, but I know that life is really good at throwing curve-balls at you and it is foolish to not plan for contingencies.

Where are you bugging out to?

Bugging out is simply leaving your current location and moving to a location with more safety. The idea scenario is that the Prepper family has a fully stocked mountain retreat somewhere within a relatively short driving distance. If the situation you are in dictates that its time to leave your home, neighborhood or state, you would load up the station wagon (I know…) pile all your survival supplies in the back and drive through the countryside to your retreat well ahead of any danger, away from most people and without any trouble at all.

I for one don’t think that too many people will ever have the means to do anything remotely like this. If they do, there is a good possibility that you will wait until it’s too late and the roads, highways and streets will be impassable due to the millions of other people trying to leave too. Unless you have somewhere to go and are bold enough to check out before anyone else realizes the trouble you see coming, you will either be stuck in traffic, forced to walk on foot, both or still at home. That is assuming you have someplace to go. What if you don’t have a second home or friends on 50 acres who have planned to take you in? What will you do then?

If that isn’t enough to worry about, you also need to consider the family pet.

I am a dog owner and have written about our newest dog before. We chose our dog because she had qualities that would be beneficial to us in a grid-down situation like I described above. Like I said, our plan is to hunker down for as long as possible, but if the time comes when we are forced to leave we are taking our dog with us. Knowing that now, we had to consider what our pet would need if she had to bug out too.

What is the “right” pet to bug out with?

Why wouldn’t we leave her behind? Well the obvious reason is that she is part of our family. I say that with the full understanding that she is an animal and I wouldn’t place the value of her life over any humans in our family, but I would easily value her life above a lot of other humans. I am not a dog nut by any stretch, but as our pet, an adopted family member and an important aspect of our survival, our dog is going with us.

She is not our only pet, but she is the only pet we would take with us.

What about the cat or the bird? What about the chickens or the pet fish? The chickens would go if we had someplace to take them, but if we are forced to bug out it will be on foot and the dog is the only one who makes the cut for coming along. Sam is a Belgian Malinois and can carry most of her own supplies and water, she can defend us and alert us to danger. She is also a deterrent because usually when people see her, they think she is an attack dog. Sam has not been trained to attack anything other than a tennis ball at this time, but I don’t have any doubt that she would attack anyone who she thought was threatening us. Could your cats do that?

Many animals are still being rescued in New Orleans.
Many animals are still being rescued in New Orleans.

Now, I understand that there may be a lot of people who are planning to take their cats, goldfish or hamsters or any number of other pets. If you have a car and a place to go, why not? There are a lot of dogs out there that aren’t capable of hauling a hair bow much less food for three days and their own water and if you are forced to walk I personally wouldn’t take a pet like this with me. Can small dogs alert you to the presence of someone? Yes. Can they even bite someone who is hurting you? Maybe. Is it worth it to take this pet on a cross-country hike and have to worry about them and their stuff too? I don’t think so. To me, unless your pet is designed to do big things and go long distances and you are bugging out, the best thing you can do is kill them quickly. I wouldn’t take a toy dog breed for example with me.

Why kill your pets? As with anything, it depends on the disaster and I am sure people will give me examples where you would be coming home, or say that its more humane to let the pet live in the wild and fend for itself than it is to kill it. I also know there are stories of small dogs traveling great distances against all odds to reunite with their owners. I think there was even a movie about that… I understand this reaction, but I don’t agree with the logic.

In hurricane Katrina, it is estimated that over 600,000 animals were killed or stranded. This was due to a number of factors. Most animals were either locked in homes they couldn’t escape and died due to flooding, or worse starvation or dehydration. Others made it out of the homes, but when the city was deserted, they still starved because there was no one left to feed them. Do you think living like that is more merciful? I am sure that in some cases their owners hated leaving their pets, but as Preppers you don’t get that luxury. You know right now that bad things can happen and you should be making plans. The sooner you have a plan to either take your pet with you or deal with it humanely should you have to leave, the better prepared you will be when and if that time comes.

Pet Considerations

So enough of the sad facets of bugging out; let’s talk about what to consider if you think you may ever be bugging out with pets.

Bug Out Bag – Yes, dogs can have and carry their own dog bug out bag if they are the right size. A saddle on your dog will enable them to carry some or all of the weight of their own supplies. We have a large breed dog and for large breeds, a dog saddle should be able to hold their food, some water, bowl and possibly a mat for them to lay on and a lot of other things too. Stansport makes a saddle bag for dogs that fits dogs weighing between 30 and 90 pounds. That range covers a lot of dogs and probably includes only those best suited to bugging out in the first place. I would recommend trying this pack out well in advance of actually needing it to make sure your dog can handle the weight. Take Fido to the mountains or the park, load this pack with some weight and get them acclimated to it. Over time you should build up to the weight you think they will be carrying if you need to bug out with your pet.

Food – For humans we consider a good bug out bag load of 72 hours or three days’ worth of food. The same should go for your dog too but I might add a little extra if they are going to be lugging a pack around with them. Along with food I might throw in some favorite snacks. Not a lot, but just like humans, dogs (in my opinion) would like to have something to raise their spirits too.

Water – This is an area I disagree with a lot of people on when it comes to packing my bug out bag. I have seen others that plan on packing three days of water in your pack. Three gallons not only weighs a lot but it takes up a ridiculous amount of space. It’s the same for your dog. While they won’t need the same amount of water a human will need for hygiene and cooking they will need to drink a lot to stay hydrated. Rests will need to be planned for everyone and this includes your dog. I would pack a liter of water for the dog (same as a human) and make sure you have a filter in your pack to filter or disinfect water along the way. What if you live in the desert? I wouldn’t really plan on hiking anywhere in that case for the obvious reasons. I know people hike all the time in the deserts, but the scarcity of water would need to be considered. Maybe if your path was along a river it would be completely different.

Health – Dogs are pretty healthy animals provided their age and health has been maintained. If you have an older dog, they may be on medications that need to be packed as well. Along with prescribed medication I would take a simple first aid kit for them. Vigilant Trails makes a simple Pet first aid kit that has all the basics you could need. If you are going to be traveling on rough surfaces, you need to make sure your dog’s paws are healthy because like humans, if the feet go out, they won’t be able to go any further. For small or mild abrasions you can wash the pads gently and apply Neosporin to the wound, lightly wrap with vet wrap or an ace bandage. This will keep Fido immobile most likely so if you plan on going over sharp or rocky surfaces, some dog shoes to protect their feet would be a smart addition.

Leash and Collar – This might seem like a no brainer, but unless you have Astro the super trained dog who will obey your every command the first time with zero mistakes, you will need a leash and collar. For walking outdoors over terrain I would recommend nylon 6 or 10 foot leash instead of a retractable leash. Retractable is fine if you are taking the dog out for their morning business but if they are hiking through the woods, you want something simpler, stronger, less prone to breaking and that is the good old nylon leash. A 10 foot will let the dog walk in front of you a little further, easing fatigue when going over terrain because you won’t be walking them loose leash beside you like Caesar Millan if you are bugging out through the forest. If you are walking down the highway you might though.

Noise Discipline – I wrote about noise discipline for your home in another post, but there may be a reason to apply this to Fido too. We have the rabies tag and the big dog tag with her name on the front but anytime she moves, that tag combination makes noise. If you are trying to be quiet that simple jingling of metal on metal could give you away. Plan to either tape the noisy parts of the collar together so they aren’t lost but don’t make noise. Either that or you can remove them and keep them in the dog bug out bag.

Hopefully that gives you some ideas and I would like to hear yours. What is your plan for bugging out with pets?

  1. Why not let cats fend for themselves? … or for that matter, any other pet? Who are we to determine when they should die & why? …How long they will live otherwise? …. Whether or not they will suffer, so we will be their savior and executioner? Freedom is what we all want. If we are given the chance to live or die based on chance, what would we prefer? Isn’t bugging out an example of suffering in itself? What makes a pets struggle for normalcy any different than our own? – “Thy shalt not kill” ! .

    1. Thanks for your comments Mark,

      I knew that I would get some push-back on that part of this article and I understand your point of view. I have even shared that view myself in the past, but we humans have inserted ourselves into the lives of animals and once that happens, I think we have a responsibility for them. If we were to apply your logic to this situation we should let all the pets roam free, right? This way, nature gets to determine whether or not they live and that is supposed to be more kind.

      If we had never kept cats for example as pets I would agree with you, but I can’t see taking our cat who has been declawed and never even stepped foot outside and throwing her out the door to defend herself and try to eat. This isn’t freedom, it would be a death sentence. I personally don’t consider starving to death, being attacked, or mauled by other animals freedom. She has never known anything other than the care and safety of our home. Maybe she would be fine, but I seriously doubt it and in my opinion, for me I would end her suffering before it started quickly and humanely. Again, this is in disaster scenarios, not because I want to go on vacation.

      By doing that I would not be adding to potentially thousands of other animals scratching to get by and largely starving to death. You can look at Katrina to see what happens when that many pets are left to live or die by chance as you prefer. Do you really think this is more normal or humane? Have you seen the pictures of starving, scarred animals with their bones protruding because they can’t eat?

      You mention the Bible and the Commandment against killing. I am pretty sure that was for humans not to kill other humans. The Bible was chock-full of animal sacrifices as offerings to God and in Genesis 1:26 it clearly says we have dominion over animals. “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” I believe that gives us ultimate authority over animals and that authority should extend itself to caring for animals that we personally have taken out of the wild and changed to the point that they can no longer fend for themselves. I don’t believe that leaving them to starve and die is caring or freedom.

      Again, this is all hypothetical right? Hopefully none of us will ever have to worry about anything like this.


  2. It’d be easier for me to shoot a bad person than a good dog. That said, I’d kill mine before I abandoned them to an almost certain lingering, painful death. We keep our mutts licensed, and have their licenses and vaccination records in our BOBs. Keep thinking I should pay the fee to get them “registered” as service animals (google it, no training, no tests, just send money and a picture and ‘poof’, registered service animal). Forging it would be cheaper, who’s going to check (and how would they?) if you had some professional looking docs and a plausible story? I’m obviously thinking about how I’d get them with us on planes, trains, buses, ships, or accommodations that had a “no pet” policy as in a temporary event as opposed to a full-blown SHTF event. Thinking back to your recent precious metals article, would it really surprise anyone to learn that people starved or died of exposure in a disaster, while some pets survived just fine because their owners had (real) money and knew who to bribe? Just saying..

    1. I can easily see that happening Justin. Money has and will always get favors with people. Maybe those favors are safety or to look the other way or simply allowing a pet someplace they aren’t supposed to be.

    2. Sometimes it does look so simple to get a fake service animal paper off of the internet but don’t forget that YOU would be liable for your dogs and the people of things your dogs may harm but not being really prepared for the situations you think they are. My aunt had polio as a child and is crippled because of it, she has a service dog, a Golden Retriever. Her dog has been kicked, hit by shopping carts and screamed at in public, never done more then put his head down and flinch. Can your dog go thru that and not react because if they did then the police would 100% be called and YES there is ways to check and see if the service credentials are valid. Just a warning.

  3. We don’t have guns in my country, they’re only given through rigorous process. I couldn’t bring myself to slash the throats of animals I had to leave behind. If I had to bug out, since I’d stocked up, I would leave an abundance of food and the like out for my pet at my residence. It makes me nervous that some people likely would let their pets out because again, few have guns here. Mostly with dogs you can’t always tell who’s friendly and who isn’t. A quality machete is what I’ll be most concerned about.

    1. That isn’t a choice I would like to make either and Im glad we have the utility of a nice .22 to take care of things like this. Even so, I could probably use a sharp knife if forced to. I wouldn’t like it, but the opposite would be worse in my opinion.

      Thanks for your comments A.


      1. After thinking about it a little more I agree with you. It would all depend on what type of situation may be unfolding. Would there be a possibility of returning home? How large is that possibility? I would have deep regret if I did leave food/etc for my pet, hoping to check in or return and defend my home or what have you, and that plan failed and my pet died. The situation would have to be evaluated, but in a SHTF scenario things could change on a dime. This article gave me a lot to think about and has had me thinking about many things over the past day. Appreciate your blog a lot, very important insightful stuff!

  4. It’s a great breakdown and interesting food for thought. I would take issue with only a few things.

    Our cat, for example, is a terrific hunter who would do fine on her own. She actually has spent whole days by herself outdoors. In fact, if we were travelling on foot she would probably follow as she often does with me on walks. I have seen her growl at potential intruders (albeit quietly) and, during spring months, she brings more rats, chipmunks, rabbits, and birds to our door than she can eat.

    By the way, being declawed does not necessarily mean that a cat would starve in the wild. My coworker’s declawed (in the front) outdoor cat brought many birds to their house.

    I would not bring much extra water for a dog unless it’s a dry month or a particularly drooly dog. Our dog drinks out of every waterway and puddle he can find. My understanding is that dogs have much better defenses against waterborne infections than humans. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t make him carry some water, but it probably wouldn’t be used by him, unless, again, it was a dry time.

    I don’t know why you think that small dogs couldn’t carry their supplies. I don’t have statistics for dogs, but, in general, smaller animals can carry a much larger portion of their body weight. If food demand is proportional to body weight, then small dogs should be able to carry a longer supply than larger dogs. Many small dogs, like rat terriers, are great hunters. The main question would be whether their endurance would be sufficient – certainly, many toy dogs don’t have the necessary athleticism. As they say, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

    1. Thank you for commenting AP,

      I think you bring up some good points. Obviously if your cat is a terrific hunter then things are completely different when it comes to her survival. I still wouldn’t plan on taking her with me if I was planning on bugging out, but everyone is unique and what works for one might not work for another.

      To your point that smaller dogs can carry a much larger portion of their body weight… I don’t know that we are going to agree on that. It doesn’t make sense to me that a smaller/weaker animal would be able to carry proportionally more weight than a stronger larger animal but again your dogs might be different and I can always be proven wrong.


      1. I think it’s generally accepted that smaller animals can lift and carry a much larger proportion of their body weight. Consider that ants can carry around 50 times their body weight and many other insects are comparable. In general size is inversely proportional to RELATIVE strength (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square-cube_law): “If an animal were isometrically scaled up by a considerable amount, its relative muscular strength would be severely reduced, since the cross section of its muscles would increase by the square of the scaling factor while its mass would increase by the cube of the scaling factor. As a result of this, cardiovascular and respiratory functions would be severely burdened.”

        You can see evidence of this in weightlifing records (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Olympic_records_in_weightlifting). In the lightest weight class, the total combined record lift is 5.44 times body weight. In the heaviest limited weight class, the same ratio is only 4.14.

        1. OK, I give.

          Maybe we’ll meet on the road and your cat and my dog will share a laugh at the craziness of their owners. Hopefully neither of us will have to worry about this and the debate will stay hypothetical. Thank you for reading and participating in the discussion AP.


        2. “[I]t’s generally accepted (by whom?) that smaller animals can lift and carry a much larger proportion of their body weight…”

          Lamar Gant (the gentleman that you mentioned) is a freak of nature, with a will beyond normal – and extreme scoliosis. It wouldn’t have mattered if he weighed 350 lbs instead of his 123 lbs (when he set that record by lifting more than 5 times his weight in 1985), he still could have replicated the effort, except, perhaps that if he had weighed 350 lbs he wouldn’t have felt the same need to prove his strength, because he’d already be a top-tier powerlifter at that body weight.

          So who else has proven your theory? Have any 90 lb individuals lifted 6 times their weight? Have any 70 lb individuals lifted 7 or 8 times their weight? There isn’t enough evidence of your theory.

  5. Well i have read everyone’s comments and I agree to disagree. in other words everyone is right in their own way. it is up to the individual, they know their pets ability’s and lack there of. My dog goes every where with me and my wife. There is one rule that i live by, I will die with my dog. I am a dog nut, my dog sleeps with me and the wife, hunts with me and generally is by my side every minute that we have together. There is nothing that will come between me and her (not even my wife and she will tell you that as well). She will hunt with me and for me, she will rescue me (yes I trained her to do that) she will keep me warm when it is cold, she will warn me of unwanted company, she will defend me, more importantly she is there to guide me through the dark times. Dogs and humans came together a long time ago for mutual support. There are things that a dog can do and sense that a human can’t. There are things that a human can do that dogs can’t.

    I have carried injured dogs in the mountains and swamps of this country when others would rather leave them or kill them. I have defended dogs with my life and I will continue to do so. If we acquire a pet we are obligated to them for the rest of theirs lives. I wish that the people that abandon their animals could be put through the same hell that those animals have to go through, even if they survive they will forever be different. My dog will forever know that she has a place next to me, no matter what is going on.

  6. I like to believe that I would never have to make the hard choice of leaving a beloved pet but realistically if I have to leave not all of these pets are going to be able to come with me. Sure if I was lucky I would have a super armed Prepper cabin where no one could hurt me, in real life I live in a city of half a million people and some of the biggest gang activity on the West Coast of the United States. This means that there will not be anyone here to take care of them if it was not me. Being prepared is knowing and accepting that these kinds of things are going to have to happen.
    But on the other hand I have looked at a lot of backpacks and the like for my dogs so that I am able to do the best I can by my dogs. Talking to my dog trainer about some walk in walk camping trips I took with my dogs, a well condition physically fit dog should be able to carry 1/5-1/4 of its body weight without problem. This is long term walking, sure they can do more for a little while but a sustainable weight that wont break them down. I have a German Shepard (85lbs) and a Pitbull (55lbs). Their packs ended up at about 23 and 16 pounds respectively. They were both very tired by the time we reached camp but after a good rub down and LOTS of water they were ready to play in the river and didn’t hesitate for a moment to put on the pack again. Both of which are receiving a lot of training and are A.K.C. Canine Good Citizens not that it would do much if SHTF but the rest of OUR training should come in handy. Something I learned while living rugged with these two is in my case at least my dogs will tell me when something is off. Such as there was a crease in the pack which was causing friction on my Pit, usually he is at my side never misses a beat, however he kept bumping me and shaking the pack and refused to stop till I took off his pack and fixed it, then he was in a fantastic mood again. Another thing to think of when looking at Bugging with Dogs is that wildlife HATES dogs. I am from the mountains near a State park and we would let our German Shepard spend the night at neighbors houses because the scent she would leave would help to discourage the Bears from eating the trash. So that could go either way in a survival situation

    1. Thanks Sammi!

      Yes, the backpacks are great aren’t they? I haven’t loaded my Malinois down with that much weight yet, but she is still only 10 months old. I know she can handle more but the most I have given her so far is food for a day and two full water bottles. She didn’t miss a beat.


  7. I think it does depend with cats, however. Bugging out, yeah, there isn’t much of a chance of traveling with a cat. Bugging in, however, they’d be useful in killing vermin that might destroy your food supply.

    1. Around the house I think they could be great at keeping mice and rats at bay, but I think you are right. They wouldn’t even follow you so I can’t see bugging out with a cat. Naturally, someone will say they have a trained cat they go on hikes with every day, but that would be the exception to the rule I think.


  8. There are a few companies that embroider needed info onto durable nylon collars -Preston pet collars & Red dingo. A prepper buddy of mine got his pitty a collar w/ a metal buckle then had engraved with his info on one side & rabies info on the other.
    Also, I would think that a smaller dog could hold some value in bugging out if they were trained in small game hunting OR even had a strong prey drive. Even if you had a big dog & small. The smaller could carry a bit of weight & share his burden with the big dog.

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