From North to South and East coast to West coast, in the past couple of years, I cannot remember this many natural disasters occurring. There has been record flooding and damage from hurricanes, devastating wild fires, and dangerous tornadoes touching down. My question for you is this: Are you prepared? I, personally, was right in the middle of one of the worst hurricanes on record and seeing the devastation first hand was eye opening.
You see all the heart-wrenching pictures and videos. There were many animals trapped, terrified, abandoned and now homeless. While nothing could make me leave my pets, I have been thinking about how we can be better prepared for all kinds of emergencies from the micro like a house fire to the macro like a tornado.
Generally speaking, based on your geography you probably know the kinds of natural disasters you might face in addition to “common” emergencies like house fires. So, plan to those. If you’re in the Midwest and need a tornado plan, figure out where you’ll go and scope the space. If you’re on the shore, what’s your hurricane-evacuation route and where are there pet-friendly shelters or hotels along the way? Living through a natural disaster is going to bring enough stress and anxiety but having a plan for our pets could eliminate another source of stress and anxiety.
Plan for a fire
Can you reliably call your pets to come and get them leashed or crated to make a quick escape? Again, this is a place we’re lacking with the cats. I've watched people on the news mourn their cats because they couldn’t find them when they needed to escape. It’s so utterly heartbreaking, and it made me realize I have the same problem! So, in addition to hurricane prep, I’m also adding a layer of disaster/emergency/fire preparedness for my cat. Cat's can be trained. It may not be as easy as training a dog but it can be done.
While my cat has historically slept in the bed with me, I have started putting him in our spare bedroom at night. This might seem harsh to leave him in the room all night by himself but I know exactly where he is at. Most cats will naturally run and hide if they encounter a situation that makes them uncomfortable (i.e. fire alarm sounding). I keep his crate in the closet in that room as well. If I need to grab him at a moments notice, this allows me to do just that. I am happy to forego him sleeping in the bed with me for the chance to save his life if that time comes.
Build an emergency kit
In a life-threatening emergency, do you have the items you need to keep you and your pets safe? Imagine if you only had a couple minutes to flee. Do you know what you need to grab and where it’s stored? Depending on the area you live, your emergency kit may be different than mine. Below is not a complete list of items I have. I just wanted to name a few to give you an idea of what you may need to include in your kit.
This is (yet another) place we’re unprepared. In Texas, we had our hurricane stuff organized and ready to go (so I thought). After experiencing Hurricane Harvey, I realized how unprepared I was to evacuate with my pets. Since that time, I have taken steps to resolve this. For myself and my wife, I have a bin with items that are irreplaceable. I have a bin that is packed with first aid supplies, flashlights, batteries, jugs of water, etc. These bins are easy to just throw in the back of our vehicle in minutes. I also took the time to scan all of our photos and put them on an external hard drive along with other important documents.
My dog and cat have their own bin with supplies. I have portable food dishes, extra leash and collar with ID tags on each, bedding and blankets, disposable trash bags for pet waste. Most importantly I have a first aid kit. There are a number places you can purchase first aid kits that are already assembled. I highly recommend you purchasing one. Now what good does it do to have a first aid kit but not know how to perform first aid on your pet? In your area you can likely find classes that cover first aid for animals. You are the health advocate for your pet so be prepared. Lastly, I encourage you to make a list of pet friendly hotels or have a list of pet boarding facilities in the area you may evacuate to.
It is impossible for me to list every single thing you need to do to be prepared so I am just going to focus on a few of the main ones in this section. In addition to having an emergency kit ready and having a plan to if you needed to leave your home, is your pet up to date on all their vaccinations and internal/external parasite preventions? This is something that is commonly overlooked. If you will be needing to bring your pet to a boarding facility or perhaps a pet friendly hotel, most will require your pet to be current on all their vaccinations. If a natural disaster is happening in your area, there is a chance Veterinary Hospital will not be open so make sure you aren't trying to scramble around to get this taken care of before you leave.
We have talked a lot about what to do before and during the emergency, but what do you do after? For us, after Hurricane Harvey, when we returned home there was a large amount of debris in our yard from the flooding and high winds. Be aware of things that could be harmful: sharp objects that could be stepped on, down power lines, fence posts with exposed nails, contaminated water sources, etc. Keep a close eye on your pet's behavior. They do not understand what is happening and why their home environment has changed. Pets can become aggressive and experience anxiety.
Published by Dr. Mason Romero, DVM