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Prepare Your Pets for a Natural Disaster

In addition to the heartbreaking stories of human tragedy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, there are thousands of stories of pets lost, abandoned or otherwise left to fend for themselves. The American Veterinary Medical Association publishes a brochure titled Saving the Whole Family, that details what to do to save your pets in the event of a natural disaster.

Talk to your MVMA veterinarian if you have any questions about the items below.

Don't Wait Until It Is Too Late

It is best to be overly cautious during a disaster warning. Preparing ahead of time and acting quickly is the best way to keep you and your family, including your animals, out of danger.

  • Set up an appointment to talk to your veterinarian about planning for your animals during disasters.

  • Assemble an animal evacuation kit.

  • Familiarize yourself with each type of disaster that your area could be affected by, including a hazardous materials spill.

  • Develop an evacuation plan for all of your animals.

  • Keep written directions to your home near your telephone. This will help you tell emergency responders how to get to your home if you are in a state of panic and in need of rescue, or if a person unfamiliar with your area is the only person in your home during a disaster.

  • Identify alternate sources of food and water. Some local food and water sources may be disrupted or contaminated for extended periods of time following a disaster.

  • Keep all vehicles well maintained and full of gas.

  • Keep emergency cash on hand.

In Case You Are Not At Home

Place stickers on your doors to notify neighbors, fire fighters, police and other rescue personnel that
animals are on your property and where to find your evacuation supplies. Provide a list near your evacuation supplies of the number, type, and location of your animals, noting favorite hiding spots, in order to save precious rescue time.

To facilitate a successful rescue, provide muzzles, handling gloves, catchnets, and animal restraints where rescue personnel can find them. Keep in mind that animals may become fractious when frightened.

Designate a willing neighbor to tend to your animals in the event that a disaster occurs when you are not at home. This person should have a key to your home, be familiar with your animals, know your evacuation procedures, and know where your evacuation supplies are kept.

Identification

Having identification on your animals, including rabies and license tags, will help reunite you in the event that you are separated. Identification should provide your name, home address, a phone number where
you can be reached, and an out-of-state phone number of someone that you will be in contact with during or soon after the disaster/evacuation. If possible, include your veterinarian’s name, location, and phone number.

Consider having your pets permanently identified using identification transponders (microchips) implanted under the skin by your veterinarian. Most shelters, veterinarians and rescue organizations have the equipment to read the information off of these microchips, and the microchip cannot become lost or rendered illegible like a collar and identification tag can.

Transportation and Housing

Have a leash, collar, and/or harness for each pet. Have a collapsible cage or airline-approved carrier for each pet, including proper bedding, for transportation or housing purposes. Familiarize your animals with evacuation procedures and cages/carriers. Take the cage/carrier out several times a year and put dog or cat treats inside with blankets and toys. By doing this, you will reinforce positive feelings associated with the animal carrier.

For housing purposes, cat carriers should be large enough to hold a small litter pan and two small dishes and still allow your cat enough room to lie down comfortably or stand to use the litter pan. Dog kennels or collapsible cages should be large enough to hold two nonspill bowls and still allow enough room for your dog to stand and turn around. For added assurance, clearly label each carrier with your identification and contact information.

Avoid transporting any pet outside of a carrier. Even the most well-behaved and loyal pet may become frightened during an emergency and try to run away or get in your way while you are driving. Also, the likelihood of serious injury in an automobile collision is much higher for unrestrained pets than those in carriers or restraint harnesses. Restraint harnesses should be considered for pets that are too large to fit into a carrier. Pets not being transported in a carrier should have a sturdy leash attached to a collar or harness at all times.

Veterinary Records

Make photocopies of important veterinary documents to store in the evacuation kit. Important documents to include are vaccination records, a list of any known medical conditions or allergies that your pet has and a list of medications or a photocopy of the drug labels for any medications that your pet is taking.

What to Do When the Evacuation Order is Given

Evacuate your family, including your animals, as early as possible. By leaving early,
you will decrease the chance of becoming victims of the disaster.

  1. Bring your dogs, cats, and other small animals indoors.

  2. Make sure all animals have collars and some form of identification securely fastened.

  3. Place all small pets, including cats and small dogs, inside individual transportable carriers. When stressed, animals that normally get along may become aggressive towards each other.

  4. Secure leashes on all large dogs.

  5. Load your larger animal cages/carriers into your vehicle. These will serve as temporary housing for your animals if needed.

  6. Load the animal evacuation kit and supplies into your vehicle.

  7. Call your prearranged animal evacuation site to confirm availability of space.

  8. Implement your equine/livestock evacuation plan.

  9. Evacuate with your animals–ASAP!

After the Disaster

  • Survey the area inside and outside your home to identify sharp objects, dangerous materials, dangerous wildlife, contaminated water, downed power lines, or other hazards.

  • Familiar scents and landmarks may have changed, and this can confuse your animals.

  • Release cats, dogs, and other small animals indoors only. They could encounter dangerous wildlife and debris if they are allowed outside unsupervised and unrestrained.

  • Release birds and reptiles only if necessary and only when they are calm and in an enclosed room.

  • Reintroduce food in small servings, gradually working up to full portions if animals have been without food for a prolonged period of time.

  • Allow uninterrupted rest/sleep for all animals to recover from the trauma and stress.

  • Physically check animal control and animal shelters DAILY for lost animals.

  • Post lost animal notices and notify local veterinarians and your neighbors of any lost animals (visit www.missingpet.net for lost and found animals).

For more information on how to prepare including detailed checklists, download Saving the Whole Family from the American Veterinary Medical Association.

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© 2014 Maryland Veterinary Medical Association

Maryland Veterinary Medical Association l PO Box 5407 l Annapolis, MD 21403
phone: 410-268-1311 l fax: 410-268-1322

e-mail: MVMA@KeyAssnMgt.com