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Hurricane safety for your pet – preparing your pet for a natural disaster

Hurricane safety for your pet – preparing your pet for a natural disaster

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You never know when a natural disaster is going to occur. Luckily, with modern technology, we can see hurricanes days or even weeks before they arrive. Yet, as we recently learned with Irma (and Harvey), they can still be quite unpredictable. As much as we try to prepare, so many people were caught by surprise and panicked in the days before Irma made landfall. That’s why I decided to put together this preparation guide to help ease some of the stress and panic if another storm decides to point itself in our direction.

Growing up in Florida, I am no stranger to hurricanes. However, it seems that when a direct hit is impending, everyone panics. Gas stations and grocery stores all over Florida were stripped clean within days of the initial forecast for Irma. Highways were congested as all the gas and water in the state fled along with it’s people and pets.

The phones at our veterinary clinic were ringing off the hook as people scrambled to get sedatives and sobbed to our receptionists that they didn’t know what else they needed for their pets. Very few people had a plan in place, or even a sound idea of what they needed to do to prepare their pets for the storm. We did our best to council and console people, and luckily for our community, Irma did minimal damage and (as far as we know) all of our patients and clients made it through just fine.

Still, it was a wake-up call for many, including me. I realized how poorly prepared most people were for a natural disaster. As their veterinarian, I felt it was my responsibility to educate them on how to adequately prepare their pets in the event of another hurricane or other natural disaster. So, I decided to create this easy guide for pet parents. Print it out and keep it with your "hurricane kit" so you can check the items off as you prepare.

Remember, the safest place for your pet during a disaster is WITH YOU. If you are adequately prepared ahead of time, there should be no reason for you to have to leave them behind. If you are out of town during a disaster, always try to have a back-up friend or family member that you trust with their care, that is ready to assist you if needed. It is in the best interest of your pet to take them with you if you decide to leave, or find a shelter that allows pets.

If you don't already follow me on Facebook, that is a great place to catch any updates or information I want to share with you. I did share a great infographic on how to prepare you and your pet in case you needed to evacuate, or if you were planning on staying home throughout the storm. Check out this post with some great websites that can help you find a pet-friendly hotel or keep your pet calm during the storm or traveling. The ASPCA has a great article on disaster preparedness for your pet, you can read that here if interested.

Hurricane season is from June 1 to November 30. Near the end of May, you should start preparing a "hurricane kit" for yourself and your pets to have ready in case a storm heads our way. The kit should contain all of the items listed below, and should be portable and easily accessible for you to grab and go, or keep with you in a safe place if you should decide to stay. Your kit should also contain all of the things you will need for your non-furry family to keep you safe in the event of a disaster (candles, flashlights, batteries, medications, ice, gas, etc...)

Here is a list of things you should keep in your "disaster kit", along with some tips to keep your pet safe:

    • MICROCHIPPING. If your pet is not microchipped, I recommend you get it done BEFORE a natural disaster is impending. This service is widely available, and incredibly affordable. If your pet does have a microchip, it's very important to check that the information on the registration is up to date. Some microchip companies require annual registration fees to keep the information up to date. So you may think you are protected, when actually the information is not accessible, so you will not be reunited with your pet. When in doubt, bring your pet to a veterinarian or shelter to be scanned, and they can call the company and get the information you need to get your pet up to date. If you know your pet's microchip number, you can call the company yourself to see if you need to update any information. This is so important, as the chip itself is useless if there is no information attached to the number!
    • COLLAR AND ID TAGS. Make sure your pet is wearing their collar with UPDATED ID tags with your phone number on them. Even if they have a microchip, an ID tag is the easiest way for someone to ID your pet and attempt to get them back to you. A microchip requires a scanner to obtain the number, but an ID tag has the information immediately available. You should have both a microchip AND ID tags on your pet, as collars and tags can easily fall off or be taken off.
  • RECORDS. Call your veterinarian to request a copy of your pet's most up-to-date medical records, especially vaccination records. Even if you are not evacuating, it's important to have these on hand. Check with your veterinarian to see if they offer an online portal system, such as ePetHealth, where you can retrieve your pet's pertinent medical records right onto your smartphone, tablet or computer from anywhere.  If you need to stay in a hotel or shelter, most of them require your pet be up to date on vaccinations, so it's a good idea to keep your pet up to date so you aren't scrambling to get it done in the days before a storm hits.
    • FOOD. Make sure you have enough FOOD to feed all of your pets for 2 weeks. You may not be able to leave your home or shelter for days/weeks following a storm, depending on how severe the damage is. Also, as we learned with Irma, most stores across the state may be closed for an unforeseen amount of time before and after a storm. It's a good idea to stock up on anything you may need BEFORE the panic sets in around town, as we learned with gas and water around the state. This is especially important if your pet is on a prescription or special needs diet.
    • WATER. Don't forget about your pet when you are stocking up on water for your family. Remember that tap water may not be drinkable in the days or weeks following a storm. If you don't want to give them your bottled water stores, fill the bath tub or plastic bins with tap water before the storm hits so you have adequate water for all of your pets during and after the storm.
    • MEDICATIONS. This one is so, so important. Make sure you stock up on any medications your pet requires. Get at least a month's worth to have with you. You may not be able to get a refill if you get stuck out of town, or if your veterinary office suffers devastating damage and they are unable to communicate with you or return to work.
    • SEDATIVES/TRANQUILIZERS. Especially if your pet has known storm or travel phobia/anxiety, you want to stock up on medications to make them feel as comfortable as possible during the storm or while travelling. The type of medication used can vary depending on your pet's anxiety or triggers, and should be discussed with your veterinarian well in advance. It's also a good idea to test out the dosage to see how well it works beforehand, so you can discuss any dosage adjustments with your veterinarian before you get into a crisis (over or under dosing) during the storm, when no one may be available to answer your questions.
  • EMERGENCY HELP. It's a good idea to call around to local emergency clinics to see who is staying open and who will be closed during and after the storm in case your pet requires emergency medical care. It's also important to ask them what they will do in case of power outage, as some clinics will be forced to close if they don't have back-up power. You should always keep these phone numbers close at hand anyway, in case of emergency. We always hope you won't require these services, but it's very important to know who/where they are ahead of time so you aren't panicking when you do need them.
    • LEASHES. You want to keep your pets on a leash any time you go outside just before, during and after the storm. If your pet gets spooked by a flash of lightning, a clap of thunder, a gust of wind or a falling tree, they can take off. Dogs (and especially cats) have been known to jump fences and get lost when they are frightened, even if their owner is outside with them. Keep them on a leash, and keep them close. Outdoor cats should be brought inside until it is safe to let them back out after the storm.
    • TOYS. It's a good idea to have a stash of new toys to keep your pet's interest while they (you) are cooped up during the storm, or travelling to escape it.
    • TREATS. It's also a good idea to have some of your pet's favorite treats available to keep them happy and engaged during a stressful time. Don't overdo it though, as too many treats can cause digestive upset, and the last thing you want while cooped up with your pet is to cause diarrhea or vomiting!
    • POTTY AREA. You may not be able to (or want to) go outside during or after the storm, so it's a good idea to have an area dedicated to your pet's potty needs. Some people use puppy pads, others have gone so far as to place sod (grass) in a baby pool so their pet has a nice grassy spot to relieve themselves.
    • POST-STORM CHECK-UP. If your pet/s experienced anxiety, held their urine for a long time, had major behavioral problems/changes, started sneezing/coughing/weepy eyes or noses, or doesn't want to eat during or after the storm, get them checked out as soon as possible. Especially if they had anxiety during the storm, now is the time to talk with your veterinarian about it so you can be prepared the next time even a thunderstorm rolls through. A traumatic event such as a hurricane can leave pets with storm anxiety for the rest of their lives, even if they didn't have anxiety before the hurricane. Don't wait to talk about this with your vet, as you may forget about it until the next storm approaches.

No matter where you live, or what natural disasters your region may face, a "disaster kit" is a great idea (for humans and pets alike) to have on hand. Being prepared for the worst can decrease your (and your pets) stress levels in the event of a disaster, and allow you to think more clearly about what you need to do to stay safe.


Ten useful websites for pet owners

Ten useful websites for pet owners

*This post contains affiliate links.

Having a pet can be a daunting task. There is so much information available at our fingertips, it can all be a bit overwhelming. Even as a veterinarian, it’s easy to experience information overload when I type pet-related phrases into a Google search bar.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of 10 useful websites for pet owners to keep on hand. Add them to your favorites, bookmark them, print out their useful articles for your less-technically inclined relatives. They’ve been “vetted” (see what I did there?) and found to be excellent and accurate resources for curious and caring pet owners.

  • Companion Animal Parasite Council (parasite information)
    • This website is an excellent resource for information about the common parasites dogs and cats can carry. This is important information to know, as some of these parasites can infect humans and cause devastating injuries. This site also has parasite prevalence in your area, so you can see how common a certain parasite is in your particular corner of the country.
  • ASPCA Animal Poison Control
    • This is one to bookmark. Not only is there tons of information about potential toxins in and around your home, but there is a 24-hour phone number you can call (yes, just like human poison control) in case your pet has ingested or come into contact with something on the toxic list.  There is a small fee associated with the phone call, but they have a full veterinary staff available to answer any questions you have and help you help (and potentially save the life of) your furry family members.

  • Dog Food Advisor
    • This is a great place to start your search for a good dog food. There are so many brands out there now, and it’s hard to know who to trust when everyone has a different opinion about what makes a particular brand of food a “good” one. This site has reviewed hundreds of brands of dog food, and given each of them a rating based on some important information about the food. If you are one to do heavy research on your own, this is a great place to start. Of course, you should always double check your research with your veterinarian!
  • Balance It
    • This is a WONDERFUL resource for owners who want to cook for their pets. This site has tons of recipes for balanced dog or cat foods, so you can feed your pet a home-cooked diet without doing them the disservice of leaving out key nutrients they need to thrive.
  • CAPC flea/tick/heartworm medication comparisons
    • This table is awesome. There are now SO MANY flea/tick/heartworm medications on the market now, and, even as a veterinarian, it can be hard to remember what they all cover. This table does all the work for you! It breaks down all of the products into easy to understand categories of what the medication protects against and what route it is given, along with more detailed information for those that just love to do research.
  • Veterinary Partner
    • This site is a wonderful resource for any general “google searches” you might have. The site is powered by VIN (Veterinary Information Network), which is a vast veterinary online community that many veterinarians utilize to learn or share information about veterinary medicine. Veterinary Partner is their client education site, dedicated to providing up-to-date and accurate information with a massive library of articles and other resources. From behavior, to nutrition, to specific disease processes, this site will have all the information you need!
  • Pet Place
    • Similar to Veterinary Partner, this site is a great place to find articles and accurate, veterinarian-approved content regarding tons of veterinary-related information. It’s also a fun site to peruse and learn stuff you didn’t even know you were wondering about.
  • International Cat Care
    • If you love cats, this is a great resource for you! It is, as the name implies, cat specific, so it has tons of useful information about this complicated, intelligent and wonderful species of animal.
    • If you love to travel with your pets, this site is fantastic! From a large list of pet-friendly hotels and restaurants, to things to do with your pet, and even veterinarians in the area (although this section could use some work), this site is jam-packed with useful information for well-traveled pets and their owners! You can browse by city, and narrow your search by category (hotels, restaurants, activities, events, services, etc…) From their website:
      • “View pictures of each pet friendly hotel, bed and breakfast, vacation rental, campground, and apartment in town. You can also get the scoop on their pet policies, read reviews of other guests with dogs, and check prices and availability online. Or, call 877-411-FIDO to speak with a pet travel expert. There are no booking fees either way!”
  • Dr. Sophia Yin blog
    • Dr. Sophia Yin was a veterinarian and pioneer in the field of animal behavior, specifically as it applies to veterinary medicine and pet training. Her website and blog are an EXCELLENT resource for any animal behavior or training questions you might have. Most (good) veterinarians implement some form of her low stress handling techniques while handling animals in the hospital setting.



Promises from your vet

Promises from your vet

*This post contains affiliate links.

The field of veterinary medicine has changed drastically in recent decades. Costs of education and practicing have skyrocketed, while prices for services have remained nearly unchanged. We are expected to practice at the same quality of medicine as our MD counterparts, but to charge only a very small portion of what human medicine charges. Our drug costs are the same. Our equipment costs are the same. Our education costs are the same. Yet, understandably, we can not charge the same. Still, we, as veterinarians are belittled and berated almost daily with people who insist we are “in it for the money”. I can assure you, we are not.

I knew, at the time of applying for veterinary school (already in a boat-load of school debt from undergrad), that I would never get “rich” in this field. I knew I’d be in immeasurable debt, probably for the rest of my life. Most of us understand this when we apply. Yet, we apply anyway. We give up the next several years of our lives to late nights studying, pouring over books and committing massive amounts of complex information to memory. Why? Our reasons for becoming a veterinarian may differ, but I can promise you that none of us got into it for the money.

The point of this article is not to complain about our clients, debt load or career choice. We knew (for the most part) what we were getting ourselves into. The point here is to share some of the inner workings of this field that we love, including the unspoken promises we make as veterinarians to our clients and patients every day.

1.  I promise, we care. We care more than you know. Difficult cases keep us up at night. We fall asleep thinking about them, toss and turn all night, fretting about how we handled something, did we miss something, should we have done anything differently? They are constantly on our minds, an obvious distraction from our daily lives. Yes, I promise, we care.

2. I promise, we do try to treat your pets like they are our own. It takes a great deal of patience on our part to remain calm and gentle when a fractious cat is trying to claw our eyes out during a nail trim, or a dog is trying to bite at our faces during a blood draw. We very much appreciate a warning if your pet has bitten or scratched veterinary staff in the past. It does not mean we will be rough with your pet, it means we know that we need to be extra cautious and keep not only our own safety, but the safety of your pet in mind as we examine and treat your precious cargo. Our end goal is to have our staff, clients and patients as happy and healthy as possible at the end of your visit. We wouldn’t be in this field if we didn’t have an inherent love of animals.

3. I promise, we have your pet’s best interest at heart. If your pets could speak, our jobs would be so much easier. They could tell us where it hurts, what symptoms they’ve been experiencing, and if a certain therapy is working. In a way, they can speak, but (cliché as it may sound), only to those who know how to listen. We’ve been extensively trained to read the body language and very subtle cues your pet may be giving during an exam. As we examine your pet and seem to be chatting with you, we are very aware of what your pet is “saying”. We are your pets’ voice. If we recommend a certain diagnostic test, it’s not the “bottom line” we’re thinking of, it’s your pet. It’s our duty to present you, the client, with the diagnostics and treatment options available to you and your pet. It’s your responsibility to take the education we provide and make an informed choice based on your budget and feelings of what is best for your pet.

4.  I promise, your time is important to us. Sometimes, we run over in a room that is scheduled before you because an annual examination of an animal reveals a suspicious lump, and we end up having a very serious discussion with an incredibly worried family. Sometimes, we have emergencies that walk in and need triage before we can address more stable (albeit scheduled) patients. Sometimes we’re helping a family say goodbye to their pet and they need more time than expected.  I promise, it’s not because we don’t think your time is valuable. We know it is.

5. I promise, we’ll try to find a plan that works for you and your pet. We are all very aware of budgetary constraints, and it’s very helpful if you clue us in to these restraints at the beginning of the conversation, rather than after a service has been provided. I can’t even count the number of clients that come in, listen to our plan, say “do whatever you have to”, then have no money to pay after we’ve saved their pet’s life. You have these lovely folks to thank when we ask for a certain percentage of the estimate up front, before services are provided.

6. I promise, if we don’t know what’s wrong with your pet or how to fix it, we’ll offer to send you to someone that might. Part of our responsibility as doctors is to know our own limitations, and offer referral to a designated specialist if we feel it is necessary. We also respect your decision to seek a second opinion. Sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to review a problem and find a reasonable solution.

7. I promise, we take it personally. Each negative review, every case we see that doesn’t turn out the way we hoped, every negative comment from clients. They all cut deep, and leave a lasting impression. Please, just take some time and think about the effects of what you say before the words leave your mouth (or keyboard). Of course, this should apply to all aspects of your life, not just veterinary medicine.

8. I promise, we’re not in it for the money. I know, we’ve already covered this one. But, it’s really important, and really true. Just try to keep this one in mind when we are explaining the different options available to you and your pet. If we offer you a test or a service, it’s not because we’re trying to “upsell” you. It’s because we feel, in our medical opinion, that the test or treatment will be helpful to your pet. It’s our job to explain the benefits and risks of each medical decision. It’s your job to use the information provided, and make the final decision for your pet.

We really are here to help you. We will work with you (within reason) to find a plan within your budget to help you and your pet. We care immensely about the well-being of our patients, and will do our very best to provide the highest quality of medicine available to us.  My sincere hope is that this article helps bridge the communication gap between pet owners and veterinary staff. Help us help you. I promise, it will be worth it.