A car crash, an arrest, a natural disaster or a medical emergency. While no one wants to think about these awful possibilities, sometimes we should to protect and provide for those we love, in case one day we can't make it home as planned. And those we love include our pets.

Imagine something happens to you and you can't get home to your dogs, cats, birds or other critters. You need a way to not only alert others to the fact that you have pets at home, but also the information they need to care for your pets in your absence. Here are five ways you can ensure that your pets will be looked after.

Carry a card in your wallet

Create a card that you can carry in your wallet or purse. If you’re ever in a medical emergency, a rescue worker or paramedic looking through your wallet for identification will also know that there are animals at your home that need care.

The card can be as simple as a note that you have pets at home on one side, and on the other side lists contact information for friends or family members you’ve designated to care for them. Or it can be detailed, listing how many pets you have at home, their names and the kind of animal each pet is, your address, and emergency contact information for two people you trust to care for your pets. How much information you want to include is entirely up to you.

You can create your own card, download a free template online to print out, or buy cards online that you can fill in information with a pen.

Add a sign on your door or windows to save your pet

Emergency pet sign on windows and doors can alert rescuers when you aren't home.

Another place to put an alert card is in your window or on the door to your home. An emergency pet alert sticker is ideal when you can't get to your home but someone like a firefighter or rescue worker can.

Like a wallet card, a sticker should list how many pets are inside and what species they are, so any rescue worker would know if they'd found all the animals inside.

This is a small but potentially life-saving step in preparing for emergency situations such as after an earthquake, tornado, fire or flood, so that someone who is searching through homes can rescue your pet even if you can't — or aren't allowed — to get back to your home.

Ensure at least 2 separate people you trust have access to your home

Your emergency wallet card states contact information for people you trust to care for your pet if you're in an emergency situation and can't get home to them. The next step is ensuring they can get to your pet when needed.

Make sure each person listed as an emergency guardian has a set of keys, or that they know the secret hiding place for your spare set of keys. If you have an alarm system on your home, you'll need to provide these friends with the access code.

Because these friends or family members not only have access to your home but also will take responsibility for your animal companion, you'll need to put some thought into who you'll have in place as a temporary caregiver or as a permanent caregiver.

The ASPCA notes:

When choosing a temporary caregiver, consider someone who lives close to your residence. He or she should be someone who is generally home during the day while you are at work or has easy access to your home. When selecting a permanent caregiver, you’ll need to consider other criteria. This is a person to whom you are entrusting the care of your pet in the event that something should happen to you. Be sure to discuss your expectations at length with a permanent caregiver, so he or she understands the responsibility of caring for your pet.

You may want to put down temporary caregiver contact information on your emergency cards, and ensure they know who is designated as the permanent caregiver should you not be able to return home to your pets for a long time, or at all.

An emergency kit with your pet's medical information, extra food and other supplies will help rescuers. An emergency kit with your pet's medical information, extra food and other supplies will help rescuers. (Photo: rSnapshotPhotos/Shutterstock)

Create a kit for your pet

A disaster preparedness kit is a great idea both for you and your pet. This also benefits your pet not just for a natural disaster, but if you're in an emergency and can't get to them.

An emergency supply kit should include a document that a temporary caregiver or potential permanent guardian can use to understand your pet's needs. This includes:

  • vet and vaccination records
  • pet insurance details
  • information about any medications your pet needs
  • an extra leash and collar
  • a carrier if you have a smaller pet
  • information on any behavior problems, quirks or habits that a caregiver should know about

Be sure to tell your emergency contacts and temporary caregivers where this information is located in your home, so they can access it should they need it.

Make formal long-term arrangements for your pet

We briefly discussed designating someone as a permanent caregiver for your pet should you not be able to return to them. You may want to consider setting up a formal arrangement for this to ensure that your pet definitely goes to the person you've designated and receives the care they need.

This could be a formal written arrangement with a permanent caregiver or it may be part of your will. You might also consider creating a trust or other financial arrangement to ensure your pet is cared for if you're incapacitated. However, Petfinder notes:

Before making formal arrangements to provide for the long-term care of your pet, seek help from professionals who can guide you in preparing legal documents that can protect your interests and those of your pet. However, you must keep in mind the critical importance of making advance personal arrangements to ensure that your pet is cared for immediately if you die or become incapacitated. The formalities of a will or trust may not take over for some time.

Such a document may at first seem like a lot to handle for a "what if" situation, but by taking the appropriate precautions ahead of time, you can be sure that your pets are immediately cared for should something occur that prevents you from returning home to them.

Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.