Make a Disaster Plan for Your Pets
How to keep pets safe in natural disasters or everyday emergencies. When disaster strikes, the same rules that apply to people apply to pets: Preparation makes all the difference, and if it’s not safe for you, it’s not safe for them. Take a few minutes to make a plan and assemble an emergency kit for yourself and your pet.
TO-DO LIST FOR PROTECTING YOUR PETS IN A DISASTER
Start getting ready now
ID your pet
Make sure that your cat or dog is wearing a collar and identification that is up to date and visible at all times. You’ll increase your chances of being reunited with a lost pet by having him or her micro chipped. If your pet is adopted from a shelter or rescue organization, make sure the registration has been transferred to you and is not still with the adoption group.
Put your cell phone number on your pet’s tag. It may also be a good idea to include the phone number of a friend or relative outside your immediate area—in case you have had to evacuate.
Put together your disaster kit
Every member of your family should know what he or she needs to take when you evacuate. You’ll also need supplies for your pet. Stock up on non-perishables well ahead of time, and have everything ready to go at a moment’s notice. Keep everything accessible and stored in sturdy containers (duffel bags, covered trash containers, etc.) that can be carried easily. Any dry pet food should be stored in air-tight containers and refreshed every 6 months.
If you live in an area prone to flooding or hurricanes, make a kit to keep in your car in case you have to evacuate quickly. If you live in an area where tornadoes occur, store supplies in a tornado-proof room or cellar.
A basic disaster kit
- Food and water for at least five days for each pet, bowls and a manual can opener if you are packing canned pet food. People need at least one gallon of water per person per day. While your pet may not need that much, keep an extra gallon on hand if your pet has been exposed to chemicals or flood waters and needs to be rinsed.
- Medications and medical records stored in a waterproof container and a first aid kit. A pet first aid book is also a good idea.
- Cat litter box, litter, litter scoop, garbage bags to collect all pets’ waste.
- Sturdy leashes, harnesses, and carriers to transport pets safely and to ensure that your pets can’t escape. Carriers should be large enough to allow your pet to stand comfortably, turn around, and lie down. (Your pet may have to stay in the carrier for hours at a time.) Be sure to have a secure cage with no loose objects inside it to accommodate smaller pets—who may also need blankets or towels for bedding and warmth as well as special items, depending on their species.
- Current photos of you with your pets and descriptions of your pets to help others identify them in case you and your pets become separated—and to prove that they are yours once you’re reunited.
- Pet beds and toys, if you can easily take them, to reduce stress.
- Written information about your pets’ feeding schedules, medical conditions, and behavior issues along with the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to board your pets or place them in foster care.
Other useful items include newspapers, paper towels, plastic trash bags, grooming items, and household bleach.
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Find a safe place to stay ahead of time
Some communities have groups that have solely focused on providing emergency sheltering for pets, and other communities simply don’t have the resources. That’s why you should never assume that you will be allowed to bring your pet to an emergency shelter.
Before disaster hits call your local office of emergency management to see if you will be allowed to evacuate with your pets and that there will be shelters that take people and their pets in your area. And just to be safe, track down a pet-friendly safe place for your family and pets.
Find a pet-friendly hotel or motel:
Contact hotels and motels outside your immediate area to find out if they accept pets. Ask about any restrictions on number, size, and species. Inquire if the “no pet” policies would be waived in an emergency. Keep a list of animal-friendly places handy, and call ahead for a reservation as soon as you think you might have to leave your home. Here’s an online resource for pet-friendly hotels:
Make arrangements with friends or relatives. Ask people outside the immediate area if they would be able to shelter you and your pets—or just your pets—if necessary. If you have more than one pet, you may need to arrange to house them at separate locations.
Consider a kennel or veterinarian’s office. Make a list of boarding facilities and veterinary offices that might be able to shelter animals in disaster emergencies (include their 24-hour telephone numbers).
As a last resort, ask your local animal shelter. Some shelters may be able to provide foster care or shelter for pets in an emergency. But shelters have limited resources and are likely to be stretched to their limits during an emergency.
Plan for your pet in case you’re not home
A disaster or evacuation order may come when you’re out of the house.
Make arrangements well in advance for a trusted neighbor or nearby friend or family member to take your pets and meet you at a specified location. Be sure the person is comfortable with your pets and your pets are familiar with him or her. Give your emergency caretaker a key to your home and show her or him where your pets are likely to be (or hide) and where your disaster supplies are kept.
If you use a pet-sitting service, it may be able to help, but discuss the possibility well in advance.
Rule number one: If it isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for your pets. Even if you think you will only be gone for a few hours, take your pets. You have no way of knowing how long you’ll be kept out of the area, and you may not be able—or allowed—to go back for your pets.
Pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Those left inside your home can escape through storm-damaged areas, such as broken windows. And pets turned loose to fend for themselves are likely to become victims of exposure, starvation, predators, contaminated food or water, or accidents. Leaving dogs tied or chained outside in a disaster is a death sentence.
Rule number two: Evacuate early. Don’t wait for a mandatory evacuation order. Some people who have waited to be evacuated by emergency officials have been told to leave their pets behind.
The smell of smoke, high winds or lightening may make your pet more fearful and difficult to load into a crate or carrier. Evacuating before conditions become severe will keep everyone safer and make the process less stressful.
If you stay home, do it safely
If your family and pets must wait out a storm or other disaster at home, identify a safe area of your home where you can all stay together. Make that safe area animal friendly:
- Close off or eliminate unsafe nooks and crannies where frightened cats may try to hide.
- Move dangerous items such as tools or toxic products that have been stored in the area.
- Be sure to close your windows and doors, stay inside, and follow the instructions from your local emergency management office.
- Bring your pets indoors as soon as local authorities say trouble is on the way. Keep pets under your direct control; if you have to evacuate, you will not have to spend time trying to find them. Keep dogs on leashes and cats in carriers, and make sure they are wearing identification.
- If you have a room you can designate as a “safe room,” put your emergency supplies in that room in advance, including your pet’s crate and supplies. Have any medications and a supply of pet food and water inside watertight containers, along with your other emergency supplies. If there is an open fireplace, vent, pet door, or similar opening in the house, close it off with plastic sheeting and strong tape.
- Listen to the radio periodically, and don’t come out until you know it’s safe.
Keep taking care even after the disaster
Your home may be a very different place after the emergency is over, and it may be hard for your pets to adjust.
- Don’t allow your pets to roam loose. Familiar landmarks and smells might be gone, and your pet will probably be disoriented. Pets can easily get lost in such situations.
- While you assess the damage, keep dogs on leashes and cats in carriers inside the house. If your house is damaged, your pets could escape.
- Be patient with your pets after a disaster. Try to get them back into their normal routines as soon as possible. Be ready for behavioral problems caused by the stress of the situation. If these problems persist, or if your pet seems to be having any health problems, talk to your veterinarian.
- If your community has been flooded, search your home and yard for wild animals who may have sought refuge there. Stressed wildlife can pose a threat to you and your pet.
Be ready for everyday emergencies
You can’t get home to your pet
There may be times that you can’t get home to take care of your pets. Icy roads may trap you at the office overnight, an accident may send you to the hospital—things happen. But you can make sure your pets get the care they need by making arrangements now:
- Find a trusted neighbor, friend, or family member and give him or her a key to your house or barn. Make sure this back-up caretaker is comfortable and familiar with your pets (and vice versa).
- Make sure your back-up caretaker knows your pets’ whereabouts and habits.
- Let your back-up caretaker know where your pets’ food is and where you normally feed them and keep their water bowl, and if they need any medication.
- If you use a pet sitting service, find out in advance if they will be able to help in case of an emergency.
High temperatures don’t just make your pets uncomfortable; they can be dangerous. Here are basic guidelines for summer safety.
- Never leave your pets in a parked car. Not even for a minute. Not even with the car running and air conditioner on.
- Watch the humidity. Dr. Barry Kellogg, VMD, of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association says, “Animals pant to evaporate moisture from their lungs, which takes heat away from their body. If the humidity is too high, they are unable to cool themselves, and their temperature will skyrocket to dangerous levels—very quickly.”
- Don’t rely on a fan. They don’t cool off pets as effectively as they do people.
- Provide lots of shade and water. Any time your pet is outside, make sure he or she has protection from heat and sun and plenty of fresh, cold water. A doghouse does not provide relief from heat—in fact, it makes it worse.
- Limit exercise on hot days to early morning or evening hours, and be especially careful with pets with white-colored ears, who are more susceptible to skin cancer, and short-nosed pets who, because of their short noses, typically have difficulty breathing. Asphalt gets very hot and can burn your pet’s paws, so walk your dog on the grass if possible.
- Look for signs of heatstroke, including heavy panting, glazed eyes, a rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst, lethargy, fever, dizziness, lack of coordination, profuse salivation, vomiting, a deep red or purple tongue, seizure, and unconsciousness.
- Treat suspected heatstroke immediately. Move your pet into the shade or an air-conditioned area. Apply ice packs or cold towels to her head, neck, and chest or run cool (not cold) water over her. Let her drink small amounts of cool water or lick ice cubes. Take her directly to a veterinarian.
The electricity goes out
Keep your pets with you. If you’re forced to leave your home because you’ve lost electricity, take your pets. If it’s summer, even just an hour or two in the sweltering heat, whether outdoors in a yard or inside an apartment, mobile home, or house, can be dangerous. Find a pet friendly hotel. If it’s winter, don’t be fooled by your pets’ fur coats; it isn’t safe to leave them in an un-heated house.
If you stay at home during a summer power outage, ask your local emergency management office if there are pet-friendly cooling centers in the area.
Plans aren’t just for pets
Disaster plans aren’t only essential for the safety of pets. If you’re responsible for other kinds of animals during natural disasters, disaster plans for feral or outdoor cats, horses, and animals on farms can be life-savers.
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