Disaster Preparedness For Pets | Great Tips From A Veterinarian Who Has Experienced Being Evacuated During A Natural Disaster
By Rachele Baker, DVM – September is National Preparedness Month so it is a good time for all of us to review our plans to care for our pets in the event of a natural disaster such as fire, hurricane, or flood.
A few years ago, my entire neighborhood was evacuated due to a nearby fire. I did not have any warning that this was going to happen. I received a knock on my door one day and when I opened the door, a policeman told me that I had to evacuate my home immediately. Those are terrifying words to hear! My first thought was taking care of my pets’ needs so I quickly packed pet food, bowls, and leashes into paper bags and loaded them into my car. In my panic to get everything loaded into the car as quickly as possible, I accidently locked myself out of my house! So I had to race around the neighborhood trying to find a neighbor strong enough to kick a door down so I could get back into my house to collect my pets. This leads me to my first tip:
Store A House Key In A Safe Place Outside
This is easy to do and can be a lifesaver. Places where I have stored a house key outside include under an unused plant pot and in an unlocked storage shed. However, you can purchase fake rocks and other decorative items for the garden that incorporate hidden compartments for house keys.
When I was forced to evacuate my home with my pets due to a nearby fire, I did not have any evacuation plan in place. I was scared, and I just started driving in the only direction that was not full of smoke to try to get as far away from the danger as possible. Eventually I began stopping at hotels and asking about accommodations for me and my pets. Hotel after hotel turned me away because they did not accept pets. Even though I explained that I had been evacuated from my home, they did not care. Rules, apparently, are rules. I ended up driving from hotel to hotel, in one town after another, until about 1:00 in the morning when I finally found a pet-friendly hotel. This leads me to my second tip:
Search For Pet-Friendly Hotels Before You Need Them
After my entire neighborhood was evacuated from our homes due to a nearby fire, we were not allowed back in our homes for several days. I recommend finding out which hotels in the area you plan to evacuate allow pets well in advance of needing them. I have assembled a list of websites below that feature pet-friendly accommodations. However, I have often called hotels listed online as being pet-friendly only to find out that they did not accept pets or that they charged such exorbitant pet fees as to make their accommodations unaffordable. So please call the hotels you are considering for your evacuation plan to verify that they accept pets and to inquire about their pet fees before including them in your evacuation plan.
If you have a large dog, be sure to ask if the hotel accepts large dogs. A lot of hotels that say they are pet friendly will only accept very small dogs. Some hotels will accept dogs but not cats, or vice versa. Some hotels only accept a limited number of pets. Make sure that the hotel that you are considering will accept whatever pets you have before you incorporate that hotel into your evacuation plan.
Consider putting local pet-friendly hotel phone numbers in your cell phone contacts so that if you are in panic mode during a natural disaster, all you have to do is click on a hotel’s phone number to call ahead for a reservation.
Here is a list of websites that feature pet-friendly accommodations:
Make Sure That Your Pet Is Microchipped And Keep Your Contact Information Current With The Microchip Manufacturer
Another very important aspect of disaster preparedness for pets is making sure that your pet is microchipped and keeping your contact information current with the microchip manufacturer. A microchip is a permanent pet ID that is inserted under the pet’s skin between their shoulder blades by a veterinarian. The microchip is read by passing a microchip scanner over the pet. The scanner emits a low radio frequency that provides the power necessary to transmit the microchip’s unique dog or cat ID number to positively identify the pet.
If your pet ever gets lost and is taken to an animal shelter or veterinarian, they will scan the microchip to read its unique pet ID number. The shelter or veterinarian will then call the microchip manufacturer’s pet recovery system with your pet’s ID number to identify your pet and retrieve your contact information from the microchip manufacturer which will then be used to contact you and reunite you with your pet.
When you have your pet implanted with a microchip, it is very important to register your name, address, and contact information with the microchip manufacturer. Do not assume that the shelter or veterinary hospital will do this for you because in most cases they will not do so. Find out the name of the microchip manufacturer for the microchip that has been implanted in your pet so that you know who to contact with your address and contact information. Some commonly used microchips include Home Again and AVID.
If the shelter or veterinarian that implants a microchip in your pet says that they are going to register your pet’s microchip for you, I recommend contacting the microchip manufacturer in a couple of days to make sure that this has been done. There is usually a small fee associated with microchip registration.
IMPORTANT NOTE: It is essential to contact your microchip manufacturer’s pet recovery system to update your address and phone number whenever you move or change your phone number. I am sad to say that I have had more than one lost pet brought into my veterinary hospital to be scanned for a microchip only to discover that the pet parent had not updated their contact information with the microchip manufacturer and could not be reached.
Innovative Ways To Keep Your Pet’s Medical Records Easily Accessible
So that you will always have access to your pet’s vaccination and medical records, consider scanning your pet’s records into your computer and then storing them on the cloud for easy retrieval from anywhere. I use Microsoft One Drive which provides free online storage for all of my files.
The ASPCA has a free mobile app which allows pet parents to store their pet’s medical records. If your pet goes missing, the app can provide a personalized missing pet recovery kit. The app also allows you to build a “Lost Pet” digital flyer that can be shared instantly on your social media channels. The free ASPCA mobile app can be downloaded from iTunes or Google Play.
Check Your Pet’s Collar ID Tag
When I was preparing this blog post, I checked my golden retriever Savanna’s collar ID tag to see what information it contained since I had not looked at it closely in some time. I was dismayed to find out that the letters on her metal ID tag had worn down to the point that they were barely readable. Check your pet’s collar ID tag regularly and replace it as needed. Your pet’s collar ID tag should include your pet’s name as well as your name, address, and cell phone number. It is a good idea to provide an alternate phone number as well.
I searched online for good quality pet collar ID tags and found engraved plastic ID tags on DrsFosterSmith.com that have lots of good reviews.
If you have found another source for good quality pet collar ID tags, please share in the comments section below this post.
Online Sources Of Pet First Aid Kits
The information from the AVMA below offers suggestions on how to assemble a Pet First Aid Kit. Some pet parents will have no problem with this DIY approach. However, for those of you that would like a ready-made Pet First Aid Kit, I searched online for sources of good quality Pet First Aid Kits and narrowed the list down to these two companies:
If you have found another source for good quality Pet First Aid Kits, please share in the comments section below this post.
Window Decals For Your Home To Alert Rescue Personnel
It is a good idea to place window decals on front and back house doors to notify rescue personnel of pets on your property. The ASPCA provides free window decals which you can order online. Their website says it takes 6-8 weeks for delivery.
The valuable information about disaster preparedness for pets that follows has been excerpted from the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) online booklet entitled Saving The Whole Family Disaster Preparedness. For information about disaster preparedness for pets other than dogs and cats (including birds, reptiles, horses, and livestock), please refer to the AVMA online booklet.
I have included a great video about disaster preparedness for pets prepared by FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) at the end of this post.
Disaster Preparedness For Pets
Excerpted from the AVMA online booklet entitled
Saving The Whole Family Disaster Preparedness
Devastating natural and man-made disasters can ravage our lives. No one is exempt from the possibility of being personally affected. You need to prepare for yourself and for your pets in case of disaster.
Countless times people have been told to leave their homes for a “short time,” only to find they cannot return for days or weeks. Even disasters like gas leaks and minor flooding can keep you from tending to your pets for an extended period of time. To prevent situations such as these, TAKE YOUR PETS WITH YOU. Have a plan in place prior to a disaster. This will help you successfully evacuate and maintain the safety of your family and your pets.
Preparing A Disaster Plan For Your Pets
Assemble a pet evacuation kit. Place stickers on front and back house doors to notify neighbors, fire fighters, police, and other rescue personnel of pets on your property and the location of your evacuation supplies. Keep a list of the species, number, and locations of your pets near your evacuation supplies and note your pets’ favorite hiding spots. This will save precious rescue time. Keep muzzles, handling gloves, catch nets, and pet restraints where rescue personnel can find them. Remember that pets may become unpredictable when frightened.
Designate a willing neighbor to tend to your pets in the event a disaster occurs when you are not at home. This person should have a key to your home, be familiar with your pets, know your evacuation procedures, and where your evacuation supplies are kept.
You may also want to have a signed veterinary medical treatment authorization with your evacuation kit. This will aid your veterinarian in providing care if your pet must be treated during your absence.
Identification for Dogs and Cats
Having identification on your pets including rabies and license tags, if applicable, may help reunite you with your pets in the event you are separated.
Identification should provide your name, home address, phone number(s), and the phone number of someone out-of-state with whom you will be in contact during or soon after the disaster/evacuation. If possible, include your veterinarian’s name, address, and phone number.
Preparing For Transportation And Housing Of Dogs And Cats
Have a leash, collar, and/or harness for each pet.
Have a collapsible cage or airline-approved carrier with proper bedding for each pet. This can be used for transportation and housing purposes. Owning enough carriers to accommodate your pets facilitates a speedy evacuation and may mean the difference between the life or death of your pets.
Cat carriers should be large enough to hold a small litter pan and two small dishes and still allow your cat enough room to lie down comfortably or stand to use the litter pan.
Dog kennels or collapsible cages should be large enough to hold two no-spill bowls and still allow your dog enough room to stand and turn around.
For added assurance, clearly label each carrier with your identification and contact information. Locate and prearrange an evacuation site for your family and pets that is outside your immediate area. Ideally, this will be a friend/relative or a pet-friendly hotel willing to let your family and pets stay in the event of a disaster. Other possible pet housing options include veterinary hospitals, boarding kennels, and pet shelters.
List Of Important Emergency Contacts
Prepare your emergency contact list now – before disaster strikes. Keep one copy near your telephone and one copy in your pet evacuation kit.
- Numbers where you may be reached
- Your prearranged evacuation site
- Local contact person in case of emergency if you are not available
- Out-of-state contact person
- Your veterinarian’s name, clinic name, and phone number
- Alternate veterinarian 30-90 miles away that provides boarding
- Local boarding facility
- Boarding facility 30-90 miles away
- Hotels that allow pets within a 90 mile radius
- Local Animal Control agency
- Local Police Department
- Local Fire Department
- Local Public Health Department
- Local Red Cross chapter
- List of internet “Lost and Found” pet sites
- Local animal shelter, local humane society, or local ASPCA
Evacuation Kit For Dogs And Cats
The following lists will help you prepare an evacuation kit for your pet(s) in the event of a disaster. Assemble the kit in easy-to-carry, waterproof containers. Store it in an easily accessible location away from areas with temperature extremes. Replace the food, water, and medications as often as needed to maintain quality and freshness and in accordance with expiration dates. If medications are stored elsewhere due to temperature requirements (refrigeration), indicate the name of the medication and its location.
- 2 week supply of food (dry and canned)
- 2 week supply of water in plastic gallon jugs with secure lids
- Batteries (flashlight, radio)
- Cage/carrier (one for each pet labeled with your contact information)
- Can opener (manual)
- Cat/wildlife gloves
- Copies of veterinary records and proof of ownership
- Emergency contact list
- Familiar items to make pets feel comfortable (favorite toys, treats, blankets)
- First aid kit (see below)
- Diet instructions:
Record the diet for each pet including what not to feed in case of allergies
- Medication instructions:
List each pet separately and for each medication include the drug name, dosage, and frequency of administration. Provide veterinary and pharmacy contact information for refills.
- Leash and collar or harness for each pet
- Litter, litter pan, litter scoop for cats
- Maps of local area and alternate evacuation routes in addition to GPS (in case of road closures)
- Muzzles (dog or cat)
- Newspaper (bedding, litter)
- No-spill food and water dishes
- Paper towels
- Radio (solar or battery operated)
- Spoon or fork (for canned food)
- Stakes and tie-outs for dogs
- Trash bags
First Aid Kit For Dogs And Cats
The items below serve only as examples of what may be included in a pet first aid kit.
- Antibiotic ointment (for wounds)
- Antibiotic eye ointment
- Bandage scissors
- Bandage tape
- Chlorhexidine antiseptic solution
- Cotton bandage rolls
- Cotton-tipped swabs
- Elastic bandage rolls
- Eye rinse (sterile)
- Flea and tick prevention
- Gauze pads and rolls
- Isopropyl alcohol/alcohol prep pads
- Latex gloves or non-allergenic gloves
- Medications and preventatives (such as heartworm prevention) – minimum two week supply with clearly labeled instructions. Provide veterinary and pharmacy contact information for refills.
- Non-adherent bandage pads
- Saline solution (for rinsing wounds)
- Sterile lubricant (water based)
- Styptic powder (clotting agent)
- Syringe or eyedropper
- Thermometer (digital)
- Towel and washcloth
For links to more great information about disaster preparedness for pets, see the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Disaster Preparedness Links.
FEMA has prepared this great video about disaster preparedness for pets:
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