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.


4 Replies to “Hurricane safety for your pet – preparing your pet for a natural disaster”

  1. Wow, thanks so much for sharing! Watching from these storms from afar all I could think about was the poor defense less animals! Broke my heart !

    XO Sahra

  2. Pet safety during a disaster is essential, but often overlooked when we are preparing our family. Thank you for writing this article on how to prepare our pets for a natural disaster. I hope a lot of people see this and take action. Our 4 legged friends are just as much a part of our family and need to be prepared as well!

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