If 2017 taught us anything here in America, it’s that natural disasters can strike suddenly and unpredictably. This past year, hurricanes caused more damage throughout the Southern USA than in any other year in history – including the year Hurricane Katrina hit. Entire areas were left without power or safe running water for weeks, plunging areas into the dark ages and creating serious risks for both pets and their human parents.
This year’s disasters were a stark reminder that natural disasters can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Although many of us discuss emergency preparedness, fewer people know exactly what to do or how to stay safe with pets after the fact. From important information on waterborne pathogens to alleviating anxiety, we hope these tips will help you stay safe if an event occurs.
Locate & Confirm All Pets
Once you confirm your own immediate safety, you should attempt to confirm the safety of each of your pets. This includes dogs, cats, birds, and even fish.
Take a headcount, and if you can’t find a pet, be aware that fear may cause them to hide in, under, or around furnishings and buildings. If pets are running loose, leash them and try to take control of the situation so you can get organized.
NOTE: Microchipped pets stand a significantly higher chance of being reuniting with their owner than non-microchipped pets. Be well-prepared and consider microchipping your pet before disaster strikes!
Seek Safety & (Pet-Friendly) Shelter
Once you have everyone accounted for, it’s time to follow your emergency plan. If you’re heading to a shelter, bundle everyone into crates or cages and load them carefully into your vehicle. Don’t head out without a plan – find out local conditions, turn on the radio and get directions to your local shelter, or at least make a rough plan for where you plan to go.
If you’re sheltering in, arrange your pets in whatever way works best for you depending on the situation. In hurricanes and tornados, it’s generally best to remain in the basement and away from windows. In a flood, you may be safest upstairs. It’s okay to keep pets crated; sometimes that’s safer in high-anxiety situations.
Check for Bodily Injuries
Check each of your pets over for injuries and/or illness. Pay close attention to sore paws and areas that may have been directly exposed to injury or contaminants. Treat any minor injuries with basic pet first aid. If one of your pets is seriously injured, and you cannot get to a vet immediately, remain calm and do your best to stabilize them until you can.
Clean Off Debris or Substances
If your pet was exposed to debris or contaminants, it’s important to wash them off and get them clean as quickly as is reasonable. Flood waters, for example, can soak into a dog or cat’s fur and lead to deadly bacterial illnesses. Balance your need to preserve water with your best attempts to remove any problem substances – sometimes even a dry towel is enough.
Use Flameless Candles or Lights
Many homeowners are tempted to use candles when the power is out, but this can be extremely dangerous with anxious pets in the home. A dog who knocks into a table while running, tipping it and the kerosene lantern above it over, may start a house fire from which you cannot escape.
Instead, use flameless candles (LED lights work best because they last for days on a single battery), battery-powered lanterns, or even hand-crank lanterns. If they fall or become broken, the worst that can happen is they stop working.
Monitor Pets for Stress Symptoms
Pets almost always show signs of anxiety and/or stress after natural disasters (and often before). Animals are generally much more attuned to weather than we are, and that may reflect in strange behavioral changes, quirks, anxiety, and/or even aggression. Be on the lookout for these reactions, especially in multi-pet homes.
Use a Thundershirt for Anxiety
Keep a thundershirt on hand in your emergency preparedness kit – this is an invaluable tool for anxious dogs and cats post-disaster. Like a sweater, your pet wears it around their torso, but the thundershirt “hugs” the pet slightly, comforting them. Unfortunately, thundershirts don’t always work for every pet – it’s best to try one on before a disaster hits.
Keep Pets Leashed When Outside
After a disaster, pets will still need to to toilet. If you can safely go outside, feel free to do so, but keep your pets leashed at all times. It takes very little to spook a dog or cat into running away, and post-disaster environments can be very dangerous. Furthermore, you can’t always discount the risk of another loose animal attacking your pet.
Test for Contaminated Food & Water
Keep in mind that puddles, pools, and even your own tap water may be contaminated after a disaster. Perishables also quickly turn after a power loss – including canned wet or fresh foods in the refrigerator. Stock your emergency kit with canned food, kibble, and fresh water for situations like these. Additionally, don’t let Fido drink out of the toilet or puddles – both can lead to diseases like canine coccidiosis or other infections.
Grab Vet Records During Evacuation
If you do need to evacuate, try to take vet records with you. Having a record of your pet’s vaccinations, and in some cases, medications or conditions, will help to ensure that you don’t run to problems at shelters. It also ensures that emergency vets can treat or prescribe him medication if it becomes necessary.
Deworm, Deflea & De-Pest
Lastly, don’t forget the importance of deworming, defleaing, and de-pesting. Ideally, you should treat your pet for these issues year-round; this is the best way to be prepared. That said, post-disaster environments can significantly raise the risk for pets (especially worms, which can breed in water sources or puddles). Even if you do treat your pet, it may still be wise to treat at occasional intervals using a daily medication like Capstar until you reach safety or recover. Ask your vet if you aren’t sure!