“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
– Groucho Marx
Your pet, whether a newt, hamster, dog, or horse, is considered part of the family, so you should make emergency preparedness plans to accommodate them.
Planning for and taking care of your animals in the event of an emergency doesn’t have to be difficult, and your efforts can even mean the difference between life and death. By heeding the following recommendations, you will be preparing yourself and your furry friends for success.
- Know Your Risk: Depending on where you live, your likelihood of getting through a natural disaster untouched varies. Earthquakes, floods, landslides, and wildfires are more common in the Pacific Northwest, while tsunamis, hurricanes, and tornados occur more often in other areas of the United States. FEMA has various tools to help you understand the risks in your area, which can help give you a better idea of how to prepare.
- Stay Current: Probably the most important thing to do to prepare is to stay current on your pet’s healthcare. Take your animals into your vet at least once a year to keep their vaccinations and rabies tags up-to-date. Talk to your vet about spaying and neutering your animal so that unwanted pregnancies don’t occur during a natural disaster. Also, make sure that your pet’s ID tag is current with your contact information should you become separated.
- Documentation: You should keep certain pet documentation in a sealed, waterproof bag that you can grab quickly should you need to evacuate or move to another area of the house. Include your pet’s photo ID, medication, shot records, and emergency contact information for you and trusted extended family or friends. Make sure that all of your contacts understand how to care for your pet should the need arise.
- Supplies: Just like for human family members, you should have at least three days’ worth of food and water for each pet. Make sure to pack an extra bowl and can opener if your pet eats wet food, and rotate your storage regularly to be sure it hasn’t expired. Additional supplies include a carrier or crate, extra leashes or harnesses, extra bedding, waste clean-up supplies, first aid supplies, medication, and familiar toys. Animals can get very stressed in emergency situations, so having items that smell like home can help them feel calmer.
- Dogs and cats: If you can kennel or crate your dog or cat during an emergency, it may be best to do so. Be sure to include favorite toys and bedding in the crate to lend comfort during a disorienting ordeal. Drape a large towel over the crate to help them feel more secure.
- Birds: Be sure to transport your birds in a secure cage and keep their ID tags on their ankles. Pack a catch net, extra towels, a cage cover, cage liners, and daily food and water.
- Reptiles: Reptiles and amphibians require different things, but be sure to pack extra water, heating lights or pads, a pillowcase, a secure cage, and daily food pertinent to your animal.
- Small animals: Pack extra bedding, sanitizing chemicals, food, salt licks, extra water, and a hidebox for your small animals.
- Horses: For horses, make sure to keep your trailers well-maintained so that you can leave if you need to. Practice getting your horse loaded quickly and be sure that they are halter trained. Whenever possible, socialize your horse before an emergency so that they don’t get jumpy when they encounter new places and people.
- Shelter Plan: If you need to be evacuated from your home, you may have to find alternative accommodations for your pets. Before an emergency, create a list of a few pet-friendly hotels in your area or a boarding house that is out of harm’s way. If those two options aren’t available to you, make sure to find a few suitable family members to care for your animals in the short term.
- Talk to Your Neighbors: You might not be home when the disaster hits, so talk with your neighbors about helping your animals if you’re not around. Only give keys and detailed instructions to trusted neighbors or friends, and make sure to keep them updated with any new medicals needs for your animal.
- Keep Calm: The number one thing for you to do during an emergency is to keep calm. Animals are very perceptive, so by staying composed, you will help them stay calm as well. Move about your emergency procedures quickly, and keep your animals near you at all times. Transport your animals to higher or lower ground depending on your circumstance, but do not tranquilize your pet if you can avoid it. Tranquilizers can make them lethargic and unable to respond appropriately in an emergency.
- Evacuate if Necessary: This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s worth repeating: if your local government issued an evacuation decree, get out of there as quickly as possible. Do not attempt to wait out the storm with your animals, and never leave your animals behind. Grab your pre-assembled emergency kit, and head to your predetermined emergency destination.
- Think Safety: As much as possible, do not let your animals walk through any water that came as a result of the emergency, and especially, do not let them drink it. During natural disasters, water can become contaminated with chemicals and biohazardous materials that are harmful to animals and humans. Always keep your animals on a leash when walking around outside, and steer them away from standing water or debris.
- Be Aware: Animals who have experienced a traumatic event such as a natural disaster often become aggressive or depressed. Give your animal time to adjust to the new situation, and if you are able to return back home, work slowly to reorient your pet to its surroundings. Only use fresh water, and avoid any food (canned or otherwise) that has come in contact with floodwater or other contaminants.
You can’t control natural disasters, but you can control how you prepare, and your careful planning can help your animals ride out the storm in safety.