By: Dr. Pam Pussich
Nobody likes to think about disasters, but a little bit of thought ahead of time can save your pet’s life. Being prepared for a disaster can give you a direction to go during a time of chaos and ultimately may save precious moments, which can save yours and your pet’s life. The following will give you some guidelines for what to do before, during and after a disaster.
Making a plan and practicing a plan is always the first step in being prepared. The whole family should be involved so everybody knows what should happen. If you have a trusted neighbor getting them involved is also a good idea in case you are not home at the time of a disaster.
Identification is critical during disasters. Whether your pets stay confined at home or are transported to a local pet emergency shelter, you need to make sure you can identify your pets to verify ownership. Dogs and cats should have collars or harnesses with name tags that have current information and rabies tags if applicable. Horses can have name tags or name plates placed on their halters. For other large animals brands and ear tags will help to identify them. Dogs, cats, horses and some reptiles can and should be microchipped. Microchips are permanent, traceable forms of i.d. that can never be lost and are fairly inexpensive. Keep all leashes and halters easily accessible. Temporary identification such as duct tape and a sharpie on halters, carriers, collars and leashes will work in a pinch. Keep a current photo of all your pets in your disaster preparedness kit , which we will go over later.
Organizing transportation is also very important in your preparedness plan. All of your small animals should be transported individually. Even the most loving pets can act very differently during emergencies and as a precaution they should be transported in individual carriers. Horses or large animals should be loaded in trailers next to animals that get along with each other, if possible. Bird cages and aquariums should be secured during transportation. Most shelters will not take pets so know ahead of time where you should take your pets. For large animals calling local fairgrounds or equestrian centers to find out if they will take pets temporarily is a good place to start. You should know several evacuation routes as well. Keep your trailers in working condition, and if your animals aren’t loaded on a regular basis, practice loading.
A disaster preparedness kit is critical for keeping your pets safe during and after a disaster. For all pets it should include:
· Your veterinarian’s information
· Food and water for 2 weeks (for large animals a minimum of 3 days)
· Medications and dosing instructions
· Food and water bowls or buckets
· Vaccination and medical records with a current picture
· First aid items (i.e. bandage material, antibiotic ointment, leg wraps for horses, eye ointment, and banamine for large animals)
· Cat litter and litter box
· Extra towels, blankets, ropes and grooming equipment
· Wire cutters
· Portable radio with extra batteries
· Plastic bags for garbage
Some of these items require you to have an on going relationship with your veterinarian, so make sure that is in place.
During an emergency evacuate your animals early if possible and take your emergency disaster kit. If you can not bring your animals with you, leave them inside in a room with no windows. Leave out dry food only and plenty of fresh water in a non-spill container. You can also fill bath tubs and sinks with water if you don’t have a non-spill container. Do not rely on automatic waterers for large animals as the power may go out. Window stickers are now available to place in the front window of your house. They are a very simple way to notify emergency personnel if you have animals in your house, where they are located, what kind and how many pets you have. This is a great way of saving emergency personnel time and could also save your pet’s life.
As mentioned earlier, after an emergency your pet’s behavior may change. Familiar scents and landmarks may be altered making your pet’s normal environment stressful to them. They may act uncharacteristically nervous or fearful, so you should always be careful handling them until they become comfortable again. You should check over your pet to make sure they don’t need to be seen by your veterinarian. Confinement areas such as dog runs, kennels or pastures should be inspected to ensure they can’t get out and to clear any dangerous debris. Initial monitoring of your pet in their normal confinement areas is recommended until they appear comfortable. If you have lost an animal contact your veterinarian, humane societies, surrounding stable and farms, as well as local emergency services to see who is accepting lost animals. You should also call the microchip company you have your pet registered with to see if anyone has inquired about your pet’s chip number. Visit shelters every other day and create flyers with your pets picture to aid in locating them. If you find a lost animal isolate them, look for identification and contact local animal control or emergency services.
Doing all of these things will save you precious time and allow you to feel a little bit more in control when things are chaotic. Microchipping is the most permanent way to identify your pets and is good not only in emergencies but also if your pet ever gets lost. Disaster preparedness is hard to get motivated to do, but it can really make a difference. Get prepared!