Useful Survival Pets?

This is the third installment dedicated to pets in survival situations. People have thanked me for my previous articles related to prepping for our pets’ food and healthcare, but I’m sure this one will be more controversial and less popular. I’d like to go over which pet species will be the best and most useful companion after the fall of civilization? The most obvious winner could be “man’s best friend” (dogs), but the utility of other animals may surprise you.

I’ll start by stating that all animals can serve a basic function when it comes to emotional support and general entertainment. However, some creatures tend to be more useful than others beyond emotional attachment. If a civilization-ending disaster occurs, it’s important to recognize the value your pet can offer to the survival of your family and objectively determine if it serves as an asset or more of a liability. The information provided is based on the average or typical behavior exhibited by certain animals, and many readers will probably think their pet is the exception[1].

The purpose of this article is to remind readers that hard decisions may be necessary to ensure your family’s survival. Living as a survivor or struggling as a victim starts with being able to objectively assess the usefulness of objects, living or otherwise. When it comes to pets, that means deciding to keep, release, or make a hard decision. Reading this will hopefully make you more aware of your pets’ abilities.

Fish

Unless you have a self-sustaining fish farm, fish may be the most useless pets after the fall of civilization. All fish need oxygen, but infusing the water with it may be impossible without power. You may be able to use a solar water pump and create a “waterfall” to get the same effect, but even that may not be enough to supply their needs.

If there’s adequate oxygen, how are you going to feed your fish? Most require special food you probably can’t acquire anymore. Once you run out of fish food, those fish may best be used as food for other pets or as plant fertilizer.

Don’t wait for your fish to die before serving them as food for other pets either. There’s no telling exactly how or when the fish died. For all you know, the fish could have been killed by a bacterial infection brought on by a weakened immune system or contaminated water. Feeding it to another pet may be too great of a health risk, which means the safest thing to do with a dead fish is bury it in your garden or compost pile.

If you can keep your freshwater fish alive, the waste they produce can be used to provide nutrients in your garden. Simply clean the tank as you normally do, but pour the waste-water into your garden instead of down the drain. Don’t do this with saltwater because it will kill plants and ruin the soil for years to come.

What if you’re child has a pet fish?

Lack of power will probably cause the fish to die sooner than expected. When it happens, the best thing you can do is hold a burial in your garden. Doing so will keep your kid happy, and the fish will be reused as fertilizer. Maybe you can soften the loss by telling the kid a story about how the Native Americans once used fish to nourish plants, and/or explain it as part of the circle of life.

Reptiles

Most reptiles live in tanks their entire lives, and won’t be useful in a survival situation. You won’t be able to such a pet and it may be necessary to release it into the wild. Hopefully, it will adapt and hunt for its food.

If you have young children, tell them the lizard or snake ran away and is having a good time hunting in the wild. You can even make a token effort to look for it. Once the search is over, make sure the kids understand that your property has other reptiles which may look like your former snake, but those are wild and deadly. 

Rodents

Hamsters, mice, guinea pigs, squirrels, and rabbits are all rodents used as pets. They can technically eat anything, so food may not be an issue. But if you have a mating pair, they can create more mouths to feed. This in itself is problematic because some rodent species will eat their own babies if there isn’t enough food to go around.

Another problem with rodents is they tend to be small and fast. It’s easy for a pet mouse to get loose and lost somewhere in the house. They can die from pesticides intended for bad rodents from outside, or escape and become yet another wild pest. Should this happen and you have kids, you’ll need to tell your kids something similar to the reptile story:

“Mousey is having a grand time foraging in another neighborhood. Our property has other mice that look like Mousey, but you can’t play with them because they’re wild and carry diseases.”

Some rodents can be useful… as food. North Americans once hunted and trapped rabbits and squirrels, and South Americans eat guinea pigs as a delicacy. If you have multiple rabbits or guinea pigs and the space and know-how to start a “rabbit” farm, then you’ll have a ready source of protein for years. The hard part is convincing your family to look at Fluffy as dinner, and not their best friend.

Birds

Most birds are entertaining and pleasant to look at, and some larger parrots can pop open a beer for you. But let’s face it, most birds are a luxury and will be a constant drain on your resources. More power to you if you can afford to feed a pet bird, but consider what others will think if they figure out you own a living luxury item. 

If your neighbors are suffering from starvation, such a symbol of wealth and abundance may cause resentment. Even if you’re barely making ends meet, the simple fact you own a bird will cause your neighbors to think you’re sitting on a mountain of food. They may attack or steal your supplies thinking they’re justified doing so because, obviously, you have more than enough and you’re a vile person for holding out on them. 

Luxury birds may be worse than useless, but chickens are useful “pets”. Hens can lay eggs for your breakfast, and to replenish your chicken population. And when they get too old to produce eggs, you can eat them. 

Chickens are low maintenance because they eat almost anything from table scraps to spiders. They only require access to water and a safe place to roost. However, chickens will attract thieves and you’ll need to address that problem appropriately[2].

I’d like to finish the bird-section by mentioning falcons, owls, and other wild birds. They aren’t commonly used as pets, but these wild avians offer passive benefits by naturally reducing snake and rodent populations.

Cats

I personally love cats, but they don’t provide many immediate benefits to your family in a survival situation. They don’t follow orders or commands unless they feel like it. They won’t go on a walk with you, and they aren’t great guard dogs either.

Think of why we have sayings like: “Herding cats” and “Scaredy cat”.

While cats may not be immediately useful, they do offer a lot of passive benefits. Cats have been known to hunt and kill pests like mice and other rodents. Such rodents eat food crops, are infested with fleas, and may harbor diseases. Some larger rats are dangerous to small children and love eating the fingers of babies and toddlers.

The problem is how we use or treat cats. The usefulness of a cat is wasted if you’re just going to keep it as a house pet. It can’t kill pests if it’s trapped in the house, but it will start hunting on its own if you let it out. After some practice, a cat can acquire much of its food through hunting and may not be as dependent on you for its daily survival[3],[4].

Our family had an indoor/outdoor cat, and I know the greatest reward a cat can give you is:

  1. Love and affection by day.
  2. Peace of mind at night.
  3. And the occasional gift at the door to “enjoy”.

Dogs

Dogs will almost certainly be the most valuable pet in a survival situation. They are loyal, follow commands, serve as security, and can be trained to help around the house and farm. Dogs of any breed or age can help us psychologically cope with tragedy as well.

However, what many people deem valuable dog traits in today’s world, will be more of a handicap after the SHTF. Popular “toy dogs” are bred to be cute accessories and aren’t as helpful as larger breeds. Toy dogs aren’t completely useless, because most still have superior senses of hearing and smell. Those senses can be used for foraging, and make them great living alarms[5]. Just keep in mind that small dogs, inherently, aren’t physically capable of defending your family. They’ll try their best, but the little ankle-biters can’t do much damage compared to larger dogs.

Larger dog breeds are the best companions to have in a survival situation, simply because they can do more than smaller dogs. Large dogs are great defenders of property and do so by: sounding an alarm to warn you if a stranger is approaching, as well as intercepting and/or attacking intruders. They can herd livestock and help you hunt or retrieve prey. Some can be trained to pull small carts or wagons, sometimes without any supervision.

The overall utility of dogs over other animals cannot be overstated. They are loyal, follow orders, and will put their life on the line to defend their family. Dogs will be one of the most valuable members of your family after the SHTF, but they require training and practice. Which means you must use them as the valuable workers you need them to be… and not as mere toys.

My Pets?

What kind of pets do I own and how do I rate their usefulness? I have a parrot and a small dog, and already know they won’t be as useful as other pets. Here’s how I assessed their utility.

Parrot

He’ll make a good 1-time meal, but I need to keep a happy home and won’t mention that again. The bird’s immediate utility is limited to entertainment and keeping my boyfriend happy. We could use his droppings as fertilizer for a garden, and his feathers can be made into beautiful ornaments, fans, or feather dusters… if we can find someone interested in such crafts.

We can keep the parrot alive for years because he’ll eat pretty much anything us humans can. However, he can get loud sometimes and I fear he’ll be discovered by hungry neighbors, who may end up resenting us for wasting perfectly good human food on a bird.

Dog

I’m not going to lie. Our small dog is spoiled rotten, but will be more useful than the bird. He has a great sense of smell. If there’s a chicken wing in a bush, that dog will find it. But I don’t think we can reliably use that skill in a survival situation. It’s possible he can be trained to forage for certain plants, but training takes time, and most of that time should be used working on defenses and growing food. Plus, I’m pretty sure he’ll try to eat what he finds before we get a chance to harvest it.

His hearing is impeccable, and I’m sure he’ll be a great guard dog. He’ll have no problem alerting us of intruders, but won’t be able to intercept or attack. I fear that he may be too good at sounding an alarm, and will be the death of us should we need to hide and keep quiet.

Which pet species will be the best and most useful companion after the fall of civilization? All animals serve a basic emotional support function, but some creatures tend to be more useful than others. If disaster strikes, you may be forced to objectively assess the usefulness of your pets and decide if you should keep, release, or make a difficult decision.

Some people will deem such an evaluation as monstrous and may shun you for not sharing the same values they hold. It’s not wrong. They simply aren’t as mentally prepared as you are, or they haven’t fully transitioned to the new normal. I fear most of those people will refuse to evaluate the usefulness of their pets before the damage to the family stockpile is already done.

Always remember that hard decisions may be necessary to ensure your family’s survival.


[1] Unique Exceptions: I could retire if I earned money every time someone told me how my point of view or subject is wrong because of their unique situation.

  • I’ve got a neighbor who can walk his cat like a dog. It’s an amazing sight to watch, but not typical behavior.
  • If your pet is the top performer of your household… that’s great, but it’s not normal.
  • If you’ve been able to train an army of piranhas to jump out of water and walk on land to eat intruders… that’s great too, but definitely not typical.

[2] Violence Disclaimer: I must remind readers that I do not condone violence, law breaking, or vigilante justice.

[3] Biggers, S. (2019, July 1). The Importance Of Cats For Prepping and SHTF: Here come the survival kitties! Retrieved from Backdoor Survival: https://www.backdoorsurvival.com/the-importance-of-cats-for-prepping-and-shtf-here-come-the-survival-kitties/

[4] Sung, W. P. (2019, May 23). Why Do Cats Bring Gifts to Their Owners? Retrieved from PetMD: https://www.petmd.com/news/view/why-do-cats-bring-gifts-their-owners-38127

[5] Dogs for Foraging & Living Alarms: No dog will naturally know how to forage for specific plants unless you train them, which will take time.

Some dogs may not be great at alerting you to intruders either. Depending on breed, the sense of smell or sound may not be as advanced as other dogs and it may not detect an intruder until it’s too late. Some breeds aren’t biologically capable of producing a bark loud enough to be heard at long range (which is important if you’re working in a field).

Bird Flew

We’ve been hearing about how all these chickens are testing positive for bird flew. Chickens don’t typically fly, but they’re fully capable of flying for short distances to find food or reach a perch. 

We don’t normally see these flights because it rarely happens. When such a flight is witnessed, it scares the fuck out of humans! Early intervention is important because if one chicken can learn to fly, even for a short distance, it means others can too.

That knowledge can spread like a virus.

The standing policy for farmers or bird-factories is to report the possibility a chicken may have “flew”. Once the government receives the alert, it triggers a rapid response:

  1. The entire facility is locked down by special forces and the employees are sworn to secrecy.
  2. A team of inspectors is dispatched to do a psychological interview of the witness.
  3. Once it’s verified the worker didn’t hallucinate the incident, all camera footage is examined to verify if the bird or birds did indeed fly.
  4. The birds test positive if flight is verified and the entire stock must be exterminated.
  5. The special forces team is reassigned from containment to extermination and uses flamethrowers to sterilize the facility.
  6. The smell of cooked chicken always draws a crowd, so it’s important to have a cover story. To hide the fact a bird flew, the media is told of a bird flu infection.

Our entire food supply could fly the coop if rapid intervention isn’t taken to eliminate the infection and ensure information of the incident doesn’t make it to the media. If animal rights activists were to learn a bird flew, those hippies will demand better conditions for the chickens.

It won’t stop there. 

If chickens can learn to fly, maybe they can read and write too. Activists will demand the chickens be tested to prove if they are intelligent. As with most controversial studies, there will be mixed results and people may demand a moratorium on chicken consumption. Those social agitators will go even further and push for chickens to have rights and legal representation. Before you know it, Chicken-Scratch will become a grade-school subject!

Chicken-Scratch!

Food prices will spiral out of control while these social reforms are debated. Our civilization will be further polarized between two radical factions. Those who believe chickens are sentient, and those who can’t believe dinner can talk.

We’d end up fighting a neo-civil war on CHICKENS!

If the Independents aren’t forced to pick a side, they’ll watch the war play out in sports bars over a plate of wings. People who probably haven’t touched a gun their entire lives will try to defeat those who own 2 or more. Regardless of who wins the war, the battlefields will be stained a shade of red similar to buffalo sauce.

All because a damn bird flew.

***

Author’s Note: I intentionally inflated the government and social responses to emphasize the fictitious nature of the story. However, bird flu (avian influenza) is a serious disease our nation should take seriously. Humans don’t have much of a natural defense against this zoological version of Influenza, and the majority of human cases are terminal.

Bird flu is usually spread by migrating birds and if it’s here in the United States, it’s probably here to stay. We couldn’t even stop a bunch of rich old birds from carrying Covid-19 from their cruises and vacations from China and East Asia. So, what makes you think we can stop ACTUAL birds from flying into the country. 

Don’t shun food made with chicken just yet, because according to studies, an infected chicken is still safe to eat if cooked thoroughly[1],[2].

Which shouldn’t be a problem because I don’t know anyone who likes a rare chicken.


[1] Eileen Haraminac, W. S. (2022, March 11). Humans cannot get avian influenza from properly cooked poultry and eggs. Retrieved from Michigan State University Extension: https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/avian_influenza_poultry_eggs_safe_food

[2] United States Department of Agriculture. (2015). USDA Questions and Answers: Food Safety and Avian Influenza. USDA.