Written by Lauren Pugliese, DVM
Most of you reading this article plan ahead in case of emergency or disaster. This involves preparing for a short or somewhat longer term collapse of access to normal health care systems, resources, and access to day to day life necessities or potentially needing evacuation from your home. The very prepared have probably considered a plan for all of their family members and hopefully their pets, too. This article aims to address how to plan ahead to include your furry family members. There are different recommendations if you own farm animals and I recommend you develop a plan for them if that situation applies to you. The recommendations in this article will focus on how to prepare your cat or dog for an emergency situation.
The first thing to remember and consider is that your pet will not understand what’s happening; they will not want to leave their safe territory, they will not understand your urgency, and they will not understand that this means leaving the food bowl. Yes, the basic survival instinct is very strong and they will probably be aware of an impending meteorological disturbance in the weather far prior to any person or weather report. That aside, if you share a bond with your pet and would like to ensure their safety and well being, including them in your plan is a necessity. This includes having supplies, lodging that accepts pets, and consideration for transportation.
When animals are frightened, they will hide someplace they feel safe. This can be magnified if your pet suffers from a storm phobia and may result in destructive behavior. Someplace safe is often a hard to find location where they feel secure and surrounded. Under the bed, in a closet, under a piece of furniture, or even odder selections of locations may be chosen (e.g. boxes, rafters, empty luggage). If you have a cat, this is the place the cat goes when company comes. If you have a dog, this locale is probably less subtle and may be hiding with you, in his/her crate, or on the furniture. Recognizing and knowing where to find your pet can save valuable time if you need to evacuate. Watch and note where this place may be and you can identify a few locations your scared pet may be hiding.
Once you have located your pet, put a leash on it, ensuring that it also has collars and identifying tags. Other options for identification include microchips and tattoos. Both cats and dogs can wear harnesses. These provide good options for restraint and identification because they are harder to slip out of than collars. Pillow cases are also a great, easy place to put cats. Cats can be placed inside a pillow case and transported that way, or once their limbs are confined, easily placed within a carrier. Anyone who has put a cat in a carrier will appreciate this technique in an emergency. Crate training can help your dog easily go to his/her safe place when an emergency hits as well as providing a safe means of transport if you are traveling by vehicle.
Similar to emergency planning with children, identify and develop a plan. This includes knowing what hotels accept pets. There are often fees associated with this. Many of the major hotel chains accept pets as guests, but not every individual hotel has to abide by that policy. In researching this, I found the www.petswelcome.com website that can help you identify pet friendly lodging in your area. In general, I have had good luck with La Quinta, Motel 6, and the Marriott chains. In addition, there may be locally established public protocols for evacuation that include provisions for your pet. If you are in an area where inclement weather frequently leads to evacuation, contact your local government to find out what the plan is for pets. Often, a temporary shelter situation will be set up for them nearby. Fairgrounds and animal shelters may also be used as these are already set up for accommodating animals in a disaster situation.
It is important to bring paperwork documenting your pet’s health information. Most importantly is Rabies vaccination information. This is a legal requirement for companion animals as it is a disease that can be transmitted between animals and humans. It is important to have a current picture of you with your pet in case you get separated, it will be easier to identify your pet, share the photo with others, and prove it is your pet. Finding Rover is an app for smart phones that uses facial recognition to help reunite lost pets with their owners (www.findingrover.com). I’ve never tried it but it is a brilliant concept that uses a picture of your pet and a picture of you to help reunite you both if separated; if someone finds your pet, they take a picture and it will link it back to you!
You will also want a written copy of your pet’s medications, food, health history, or any other special things you may need to remember. The American Red Cross has a Pet First Aid app for this (www.redcross.org/mobile-apps/pet-first-aid-app). It is amazing how easy it is to forget medication names, or dog food brand, when you are stressed!
Make sure you have a leash or leashes easily available. This may be invaluable in an emergency to help control your scared animal, keep him/her with you, and prevent them from dangerous situations by controlling where he/she goes. Basic obedience (sit, stay, leave it, come) are also valuable life-saving skills all dogs should know.
Many dogs can carry their own supplies and a pet bug out bag can be made. Keep in mind the size of your pet and the amount he/she can carry. A list for suggested contents can be found below. Most dogs will carry a pack but it may take some practice. Your pet can practice wearing the pack in the house and then on short walks. This will also allow you to adjust the size, weight, or fitting if necessary so it is comfortable in a more long term situation.
There are some evacuation situations in which you may have to leave your pet behind. Please consider this as a last resort. Leaving your pet in your home is safer than turning them loose to let them fend for themselves. Many animals will be gathered up and if space is limited in shelters, may be euthanized if clear identification or a way to locate you isn’t available. While it is suboptimal, your pet may be safest in your home if he/she can’t come with you. However, you have to prepare for this as well. Leave access to food, open the bags, or have an automatic feeder that can be filled for several days. More importantly, having a fresh source of drinking water is key. Animals can survive for many days without food, but not very long without water. You can have no flip bowls, a large water jug type watering bowl with a reservoir tank, leave a faucet dripping, the toilet seat up, or fill a bathtub. This should be more than enough water for several days for a dog or cat. Clearly post the pets whom may be left behind with signs as well as how to contact you. Emergency personnel can then aid in reconnecting you. The FEMA website has recommendations for this.
If you are able to take your animals with you, here is a list of recommended supplies for them to carry. All of the items below will help make sure that your pets stay safe, comfortable, and under your control in an emergency.
- Leash, harness, or Pillow case (for cats)
- Copy of medical records
- Rabies vaccine history
- Pet identification
- Water tight PVC tube inside crate with paperwork inside
- Microchip information
- Collar with tags
- Blanket or bed
- Collar made of paracord
- Pet back pack
- Pictures of pet
- Clean up products
- Water purification tablets
- Glow sticks
- First aid kit