Pet Disaster Preparedness:

An Essential Guide

Each year, in the United States alone, hundreds of thousands of people are affected in some way by natural disasters. This can mean hurricanes, floods, fires, and tornadoes.

We all certainly hope that we will never be faced with such a disaster, but statistically speaking, the odds are stacked against us.

The key to a successful outcome, for all members of our household, is being prepared.

Before The Disaster:

Prepare a plan

We are all aware that there are certain precautions we must take to ensure the safety of ourselves and our families. But often we overlook what precautions may be necessary to preserve the well-being, or even the life, of our pets.

Our pets are family members, too, and, as such, they rely on their adult owners to bear the responsibility of that ownership. They may be well cared for, but they are not capable of providing this care for themselves under dire circumstances. It is up to us to ensure their safety during these circumstances.

The first step in emergency preparedness is just that – be prepared!

We can prepare for a disaster in the following ways:

Become Informed About Possible Disasters You May Face

  • Familiarize yourself with the types of disasters you may have to face.

Do you live in a hurricane zone? Tornado alley? How about floods?
Are all those lovely woods surrounding your rustic retreat in danger of becoming a tinderbox?
Anything that may threaten you and your family should be considered.

  • Familiarize yourself with your immediate area, and the quickest, easiest, and safest escape routes. Map out both primary and secondary evacuation routes.

Find A Safe Place Ahead of Time

  • Research in advance which hotels and motels along these routes will allow pets to stay. Ask about restrictions as they apply to number, breed, and size of pets.
  • Keep a list of available accommodations readily available, and call for reservations as soon as you know you will be evacuating your home.
  • If you are evacuating to a local shelter, be aware that not all shelters will accept animals, unless they are service animals.
  • Contact your local humane society or animal welfare group to inquire about pet accommodations during disasters.
  • Contact friends and relatives who live outside the immediate area and ascertain if they would be willing to take in your family, pets included, in case of an evacuation.

Put Together A Pet Disaster Kit

Emergency supplies should be put aside, in an easy to grab and transport kit.

This kit should be placed as close to an exit as feasible. Make sure every member of the family is aware of where the kit is located.

Some of the essentials to be included in a pet disaster kit are:

  • Leashes and harnesses to restrain and control your pet as needed, You should also consider a pet carrier or crate, for ease of transport and temporary housing.
  • Make sure there are multiple means of identifying your pet, such as tags, microchips, etc. Attach identifying information to any carrier you have. This info should contain your pet’s name, your name, and contact information.
  • Food, drinking water, and bowls. The kit should contain enough for at least a week. And if your pet requires canned food, remember the all-important can opener, or use a brand with lift-off tabs. Bear in mind that such supplies may have a shelf life, so make sure to replace the food and water every six months.
  • Medications, if needed, for at least two weeks, as they may be less readily available than food and water.
  • Flea and tick treatments, as well as heartworm medication for at least a month.
  • Medical records, stored in a watertight container. Make sure that all the information contained in this packet is up to date and accurate. Be aware that certain facilities may be unwilling to accommodate insufficiently vaccinated pets, so you may be asked to verify their vaccination status.
  • Plastic bags for dog excrement, as well as a litter pan for your cat.
  • Cleaning supplies to clean up after your pets, such as paper towels, plastic bags, and disinfectants.
  • A recent photo of your pet.
  • A photo of you and your pet together verify the ownership of your pet and prevent mix-ups with look-a-like animals.
  • A first aid kit. Such a kit should contain cotton rolls, medical tape, scissors, antibiotic ointment, flea and tick medications, isopropyl alcohol and saline solution, a towel and washcloth, and tweezers.
  • A concise booklet on first aid for animals would not be amiss, either, as you never know what can happen and when you will be able to contact a vet.
  • Information on your pet’s feeding schedule, medical conditions, and the contact information of your vet.
  • Bedding and toys for your pet to ease their stress levels during this trying time.

Identify Your Pets

  • Have your pet wear an identifying tag, containing your pet’s name, your name and contact information.
  • Better yet, have your pet microchipped. The chip stays with your pet for life, with no danger of it being destroyed or lost. But remember that this chip will do absolutely no good if it has not been registered with the manufacturer, or if the information is outdated.
  • If possible you may also want to include the contact info of a trusted friend, and the address of your evacuation site.
  • The more information you include, the easier it will be to identify your pet and return them to you should you become separated.

Make Sure you Have A Secure Pet Carrier

  • Make sure you have a secure pet carrier for each of your pets.
  • Each carrier should have the name of the pet, your name, and contact information.
  • The carrier must be secure enough to prevent your pet from escaping.
  • The same security should be applied to any harnesses, leashes, or seatbelts used to transport your pet during this time of confusion and upheaval.

Create A Buddy System

It may be wise to consider forming a sort of a cooperative with other pet-owning friends and neighbors in the area. In the event that you cannot return to retrieve your pet, they may be able to do so, provided you offer to do the same for them.

You may know a neighbor who is at home during the hours when you are normally away. Look for someone who has proved himself trustworthy and reliable.

Consider the following questions before making a choice: Has he met your pet on previous occasions? Has he proven himself a capable and caring pet owner?

Keep in mind that you are granting this person access to your home in your absence. Make sure you trust him or her completely before you turn over your keys.

This may work better if the arrangement is a reciprocal one. Of course, you must be ready, willing, and able to make the same sort of commitment to them.

Make sure the people you choose are trustworthy, and make it easy for them to locate, and care for your pet by informing them where to find any emergency supplies you have stored in your home.

Identify Emergency Vet Services Outside Your Immediate Area

Identify and locate emergency veterinary services in the area to which you will evacuate. If conditions are dire enough to force evacuation in your area, odds are emergency vet services will be curtailed.

Animals could easily become injured, or ill, during evacuation, and it would be beneficial to know where to find emergency medical services. Ask your vet about any such offerings, or contact your local authorities.

Evacuation Drills!

In a time of disasters, your pets will naturally become more nervous and excitable. It is advisable to prepare them in advance for any disaster evacuation which may be necessary. 

You can do this by practicing rounding up your pets for transport. You may have to do this several times to ensure that they are comfortable with the procedure.

Take them for for multiple rides, with them secured in the seat belt, harness, or any container you plan to use in case of emergency.

During The Disaster:

Make Sure Everyone Is Safe

When disaster strikes, remember the following:

  • Follow all rules and regulations set down by local authorities for a safe and timely evacuation. Do not risk your life, or your pet’s life, by ignoring these recommendations.
  • Evacuate early. Do not wait for a mandatory order! As conditions worsen, the trip will become more dangerous.
  • A change in conditions, such as smoke, water, or high winds, will only make your pet, and you, more alarmed and nervous. A scared pet will be harder to handle, and that is the last thing you need at this time.
  • Evacuating before conditions become too severe will make the process safer for everyone involved.

Bring Your Pet With You

Every emergency action plan must include your pets.

If conditions are unsafe for you and your human family, they are just as unsafe for your furry family.

In addition, you have no idea how long you while be forced to stay away from your home. Therefore, you should make every, effort to bring your pet to safety along with the rest of the family.

Your precious pets will most likely not be able to survive on their own. And even if they do, once you leave them behind, you may become permanently separated, never able to locate them.

Moreover, leaving them behind may jeopardize any rescuers who may attempt to come to their aid. Confused and stressed pets may become defensive and aggressive, making them a hazard to anyone who approaches them.

Pets left on their own may easily become lost, injured, or even killed. So, always be prepared to bring your pet with you.

In Case You’re Not Home

Despite all your precautions, there may be certain circumstances where you will find it, regrettably, necessary for you to leave your pet behind.

Perhaps the call for evacuation came at a time when you were not at home or found it impossible, for some reason, to get there.

No matter what’s the reason, It is now up to you to maximize their chances of survival.

You may help to ensure their safety by entering into a mutually agreed pact with a neighbor to look after your pets in time of disaster by promising to do the same for them.

Be sure to choose a reliable and trustworthy acquaintance for this, as they will have access not only to your pets but your home as well.

Ideally, this should be somebody who is already familiar with your pets, and with whom they are comfortable.

Tell him where your emergency supplies are located, and where your pets are most likely to hide when nervous.

If you have previously used the services of a pet sitter, they could be the ideal choice for such a task. Arrange in advance for a mutually agreeable pick up point where you can be reunited with your pets.

If You Decide To Stay Put – Stay Safe!

There may be circumstances when it is advisable to stay in place then to evacuate. But just because you and your pets are remaining in familiar surroundings does not mean that the situation is normal.

If you find it necessary to shelter at home, remember these important things:

  • Select a single sheltered, preferably interior, room to be used as a shelter.
  • Ideally, this should be a room with few, or, better still, no windows.
  • Access to freshwater is essential, so bathrooms or utility rooms make excellent choices. Fill the bathtubs and sinks with water in anticipation of need.
  • Secure any small, enclosed area where your cat may hide in case of panic.
  • Remove any toxic elements from the shelter room. Some cleaning supplies and detergents can be harmful to children and animals, as well as some common houseplants.
  • These plants include, but are not limited to, philodendron, peace lily, pothos, oleander, caladium, and ivy.
  • If the disaster in question is flooding, choose a room on the highest floor, with high counters or shelves for your pets to use.
  • Make sure all access points in your chosen shelter room are blocked. This includes vents, chimneys, and pet doors.
  • Bring all emergency supplies into your designated shelter area.
  • Have plenty of newspaper, or puppy training pads, scattered about to minimize the mess created by your dog’s nervousness.

If You Can’t Take Your Pet With You

Despite your best intentions, it may be necessary to leave your pet behind during a disaster.

It now becomes necessary to do your best under these circumstances to ensure their safety, maybe even their very survival.

The following tips may help to ensure their well-being:

  • Never leave them outside! especially if they are chained, Don't confine them to a small, enclosed area of the house either.
  • Leave your pet loose inside the house, but make sure it is safe by removing or securing any toxic elements, such as household cleaners, or even houseplants.
  • Make sure that food and water are out and readily available.
  • Leave the bathroom door open, and make sure the toilet seat is up to allow your pet access to water.
  • Cover your floors with newspapers, puppy pads, or old blankets to keep your floors and carpets from getting soiled.
  • Be sure to have a Pet Rescue Sticker on your front door to inform potential rescuers of the number and type of pets in the house.

How To Handle Pets During Disasters

There are several steps to take which can make an evacuation with your pets more manageable:

  • Bring your pets indoors at the first sign of trouble. In times of dramatic weather conditions such as fire, floods, or storms, animals tend to be highly sensitive to these changes, and may become frightened. When this happens, they tend to isolate themselves, and, if left outside, they may run away.
  • Feed your pet moist or canned food for the duration. This way, they will require less water for hydration, and your floors and carpets will thank you.​
  • Separate cats and dogs. Even if they usually get along, there is no telling what the additional stress of an emergency situation will cause them to do.
  • Stay close and comfort your pet. A gentle touch and your calm presence will work wonders in calming them.

Why Are Dogs Afraid Of Thunder?

One reason your dog may be acting so out of character during a disaster may be his perfectly natural aversion to, or even terror during, a thunderstorm.

Science has yet to pin down the exact cause, but this can be caused by a number of things.

It may be a combination of wind, thunder, and lightning.

It could be a reaction to the change in atmospheric pressure, or low-frequency tumbling which may precede a storm, and which we cannot even hear.

Some sources even suspect that they suffer electrical shock from static electricity generated by the storm.

Unless your dog is only mildly affected, this condition may be hard to treat.

It may be difficult to discover exactly why your dog may become fearful and panic-stricken during a storm, but if he does, this could certainly present problems if you are confronted with an evacuation scenario during a storm event.

But it may be possible to desensitize your pet to some extent;

Try rewarding him for calm behavior in the face of such negative stimuli; Kind words, a pat on the head, and a treat will go a long way toward calming him.

You can also try to desensitize him by playing the sounds of a storm, at a lower volume.

Gradually increase the sound as he becomes more and more desensitized to it.

However, this may not be successful, as the only stimulus will be sound, and not the corresponding pressure changes and static charges.

There is some anecdotal evidence that a tight garment around the animal’s chest may provide him with some relief, somewhat like swaddling comforts a fussy baby.

But be prepared for none of these methods to have any effect on your pet’s behavior during the real thing, and you may be faced with a fearful animal suffering the effects of a major storm.

Some experts believe that you shouldn’t confine the animal during one of these panic attacks, but you may have no choice if you are in a shelter.

If you are concerned about the problem, and how it may affect your pet during an evacuation, consult your vet about other ways of attempting to solve the issue.

How To Calm A Dog During A Storm

If your dog gets nervous during a thunderstorm, you may worry about the pain and psychological damage that he can do himself during a severe storm.

This concern will only be exacerbated by the possibility of your dog suffering the extreme distress of a major storm disaster, with the added confusion and disorientation of having to leave familiar surroundings due to evacuation.

But there are some things you can do to calm his anxiety under such circumstances:

  • Stay close. He will find your presence comforting and familiar in a strange place.
  • Create calmness; Speak softly and gently or give him a gentle massage.
  • Provide a distraction. Continue to pet him and speak to him. Or try a game of indoor fetch.
  • Offer him a safe place to hide. Move his bed or crate to the quietest room in the house and close the blinds to hide visual evidence of the storm outside.
  • Compete with the noise by using a radio or a white noise generator.
  • Desensitize your pet to the sound of thunder by exposing him to increasing levels of thunder sounds on a CD. Reward his calm behavior as the sound level increases.

How To How to stay healthy During A Disaster

Once you have protected yourself, your family, and your pet from the immediate effects of a disaster, you must now ensure that they, and you, remain healthy in the face of such adverse conditions. 

You can help achieve this by:

  • Washing or sanitizing your hands frequently.
  • Not allowing your pet to lick your face or hands.
  • Keep your pet's vaccination up to date.
  • Practice safe handling of your pet by keeping him caged or leashed at all times.
  • Allow no contact with other animals, especially wildlife.
  • Report bite injuries immediately.
  • Clean and disinfect cages and litter boxes.
  • Avoid contact with stagnant water.
  • Do not allow your pet to drink contaminated water.
  • Survey the area for signs of downed electrical lines, dangerous chemicals, or potentially harmful debris.
  • Call a vet at the first sign of injury or illness.

What To Do If You Get Separated From Your Pet

If you get separated from your pet during a disaster event, there are a number of steps to take:

  • First, make sure all your human family members are safe and secure.
  • If you are in a shelter, provide the shelter with your pre-printed flyers with your dogs’ photos and details.
  • If you have returned home, contact your local animal care and control office.
  • Check local shelters on a daily basis.
  • Use online resources. Most organizations may use their own websites and Facebook to post information about lost and found animals in order to secure pet/owner reunions.

After The Disaster:

Help Your Pet Recover

Just because the immediate danger has passed, it does not necessarily follow that your pet will recover immediately. Your pet may suffer some post-traumatic stress and it may be quite a while before he returns to his normal, friendly self.

The immediate emergency may be over, but your pet and yourself may still be at risk

A disaster can be overwhelming.

Even a normally docile animal may become defensive and aggressive due to the stress of the situation.

Your pet may be confused due to a change in familiar landmarks and scent clues. It may seem like home, but other signals are telling him it simply isn’t.

The following steps will help to ease the transition from disaster to recovery:

  • Make sure your dog is leashed whenever you go outside.
  • Maintain close contact at all times. Your presence will comfort your pet, who has been through a traumatic experience, just as you have. He will, no doubt, be feeling disoriented and confused.
  • Check for damaged gates and fences to prevent your pet from wandering away.
  • Survey the property for downed electrical lines, dangerous debris, and signs of hazardous materials
  • Be aware of signs of snakes and other wildlife which may be encroaching on the area and maybe a hazard to your pets, especially smaller ones.
  • Be aware of the debris as it may contain spilled chemicals, dangerous fertilizers, and other sharp objects.
  • If you are sheltering at a remote location, provide your pet with the comfort of his toys and, perhaps, some blankets from home.
  • Call your vet at the first sign of injury or illness.

Hopefully, with the proper planning and precautions, you and your pets should be able to come through any disaster with flying colors.

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