Pet Disaster Preparedness
The past month has reminded many of us that weather-related disasters are real and can happen anywhere along the coast. Remember 2003 and hurricane Isabelle? Weather is a fact of life, but being prepared for an emergency is a choice. Resolve this month to put together a plan for an emergency – whether it be related to meteorological events or another disaster / event. Do not assume that your location precludes you from having to leave your residence: gas leaks, fires, power outages, and other reasons can necessitate an immediate emergency. We live in the city in smaller quarters, so storing two weeks’ worth of water is usually not practical, but there are simple steps that can be taken by any city-dweller.
Prepare an Evacuation Plan
If you need to leave, where will you go? Discuss with friends and relatives in nearby and more distant places if you can place your animals with them for temporary shelter. Having a destination location will greatly ease the burden upon you in an emergency. Many times it is not possible to reach more distant places, so also check with your local emergency management / disaster government website regarding local pet sheltering. In the District of Columbia consult: https://hsema.dc.gov/
Have a Pet Carrier at the Ready
You should have one clean carrier per pet readily accessible. This is not necessary for larger dogs, but may be useful should your residence have the space. Being buried in the back of a closet or in an attic crawl space does not qualify as readily accessible. Rule of thumb: be able to access it from anywhere in the house within one minute.
Place a copy of your pets’ most recent vaccine history in a plastic bag taped to the top of the carrier or in a side pouch. Do this after each annual vet visit. Should your pet need to be sheltered, having this information makes life much easier. A paper copy is ideal as it can be used numerous times, even when the power is out.
Be certain the carrier is labelled with your contact information and that of a trusted friend / relative.
Have a Spare Leash and Basket Muzzle at the Ready
Always have two dog leashes, with one of them in a dedicated place. When you need to evacuate quickly, you should not have to look for a dog leash. It is also useful to have your contact information on the leash – either via embroidery or a tag. This information should also be on your dog’s collar.
Why a basket muzzle you ask? Here’s the reality – many times in a disaster pets will be sheltered, but not in the same area as humans. The disaster organization sets up a de facto kennel operation and when checking into the shelter, many times you will be standing on a long line with many other pet owners. Dogs may become agitated and stressed. Should your pup show any aggression, there may be new problems to tackle. Basket muzzles allow a dog to drink, eat small treats and breathe normally.
Microchip Your Pet
In times of duress, pets may become separated from their people. Collars may fall off or, in the case of an indoor housecat, there may not be a collar at all. Pet microchips – about the size of a large grain of rice and implanted under the skin between the shoulders – provide rescue teams a reliable method of reconnecting pets with owners. Always be sure the information in the chip database is unto date and correct. We routinely place microchips – it is quick and easy and can be done most any day.
Spare food containers
Near your pets’ main food supply, keep a waterproof container that can hold a week’s worth of food. In an emergency this enables you to quickly grab food and go. Have a small collapsable water dish within the container, as well. Maintain severe gallons of bottled water near the food container, too. It is important to remember that when pets are sheltered in an emergency, the shelter staff may not have your particular food in stock. Frequently sheltered pets are supplied with a main brand dry food to feed every pet of that species.
If your pet is on a chronic medication, or is known to receive a periodic medication, it is advisable to always have a two week supply of the medication at home. This depends upon if the medication is stable to last for two weeks. Your veterinarian will appreciate you not calling at the end of the day needing a refill after you have run out of medication. This is some advice for humans, as well.
What to do if You Need to Evacuate
At the outset of many evacuations, many assume the need to leave will be brief, but soon find out that they will not be able to return home for an extended period of time. If an evacuation order is issues, don’t delay. The sooner you leave, in general, the better the outcome and the more resources available to you. The last thing you want to do is increase your chance of becoming a disaster victim yourself. Always take your pets with you if safe to do so. Going back to retrieve them may not be possible once you have left your residence.
Place pets in carriers, fill the food container / bring the food bag and canned foods, grab any medications and essential supplies, leash pets, and then leave your residence.
We at District Vet are always happy to discuss emergency preparedness with you. We also have this article and further information a dtistrictvet.com/disaster. Please remember that an hour of planning may translate to saving your best friends in time of disaster.
The above information has been adapted from the American Veterinary Medical Association’s “Saving the whole family” campaign.
Dan Teich, DVM
(c) District Veterinary Hospital 2017