The best way to protect your family from the effects of a disaster is to have a disaster plan. If you are a pet owner, that plan must include your pets. Being prepared can save their lives. Different disasters require different responses. However, whether the disaster is a hurricane or a hazardous spill, you may have to evacuate your home.
Planning and preparation will enable you to evacuate with your pets quickly and safely. But bear in mind that animals react different under stress. Outside your home and in the car, keep dogs securely leashed. Transport cats in carriers. Don't leave animals unattended anywhere they can run off. The most trustworthy pets may panic, hide, or try to escape, bite or scratch. When you return home, give your pets time to settle back into their routines. Consult your veterinarian if any behavior problems persist.
If you must evacuate, do not leave your animals behind. Evacuate them to a prearranged safe location if they cannot stay with you during the evacuation period. If there is a possibility that disaster may strike while you are out of the house, there are precautions you can take to increase your pets' chances of survival, but they are not a substitute for evacuation with your pets.
Before A Disaster
1) Locate Safe Places to Take Your Pets
Red Cross disaster shelters cannot accept pets because of the health and safety regulations. Service animals that assist people with disabilities are the only animals allowed in Red Cross shelters. It may be impossible to find shelter for your animals in the midst of a disaster, so plan ahead. Do not wait until disaster strikes to do your research:
- Contact hotels / motels outside your immediate area to see if they accept pets or will accept them in an emergency. Keep the list in your evacuation kit.
- Ask friends or relatives outside your area if they could shelter your animals.
- Prepare a list of veterinarians or boarding facilities who could shelter animals in an emergency. Include 24-hour phone numbers in your evacuation kit.
- Ask local animal shelters if they provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets in a disaster. As these facilities may already be overburdened, this should be a last resort.
- You may not be home when the evacuation order comes. Find a trusted neighbor or friend that would be willing to take your pets and meet you at a prearranged location. This person should be comfortable with your pets, know where your animals are likely to be, know where your pet disaster supplies kit is kept, and have a key to your home.
2) Assemble a Portable Pet Supplies Kit
Whether you're away from home for a day or a week, you will need essential supplies. Keep items in an accessible place and store them in sturdy containers that can be carried easily (duffel bags, covered trash containers, etc.). Your pet disaster supplies kit should include: water, food, leashes and collars with ID tags, veterinary records, first aid kit, and medications. Make sure pet identification tags are up to date and securely fastened to your pet's collar.
3) Know What To Do As A Disaster Approaches
Often, warnings are issued hours, even days, in advance. At the first hint of disaster, act to protect your pets.
- Call ahead to confirm emergency shelter arrangements for you and your pets.
- Check to be sure your pet disaster supplies are ready to take at a moment's notice.
- Bring all pets into the house so you won't have to search for them if you have to leave in a hurry.
- Make sure all dogs and cats are wearing collars and securely fastened, up to date identification. Attach the phone number and address of your temporary shelter, or a friend or relative outside the disaster area. You can buy temporary tags or put tape on the back of your pet's ID tag, adding information with an pen.
Birds & Other Pets
Birds should be transported in a secure travel carrier. In cold weather, wrap a blanket around the carrier. In warm weather, carry a plant mister to mist the bird's feathers periodically. Do not put water inside the carrier during transport. Provide a few slices of fresh fruits and vegetables with high water content. Have a photo for identification and leg bands. If the carrier does not have a perch, line it with paper towels and change them frequently. Try to keep the carrier in a quiet area. Do not let the birds out of the carrier.
Snakes can be transported in pillowcases, but must be transferred to more secure housing once at the evacuation site. If they require frequent feedings, carry food with you. Take a water bowl large enough for soaking as well as a heating pad. Care of house lizards should be the same as care of birds. Pocket pets (hamsters, gerbils, etc.) should be transported in secure carriers suitable for maintaining the animals while sheltered. Take bedding materials, food bowls, and water bottles.
During a Disaster
- Bring your pets inside immediately.
- Have newspapers on hand for sanitary purposes. Feed the animals moist or canned food so they will need less water to drink.
- Animals have instincts about severe weather changes and will often isolate themselves if they are afraid. Bringing them inside early can stop them from running away. Never leave a pet outside or tied up during a storm.
- Separate dogs and cats. Even if your dogs and cats normally get along, the anxiety of an emergency situation can cause pets to act irrationally. Keep small pets away from cats and dogs.
- In an emergency, you may have to take your birds with you. Talk with your veterinarian or local pet store about special food dispensers that regulate the amount of food a bird is given. Make sure that the bird is caged and the cage is covered by a thin cloth or sheet to provide security and filtered light.
After a Disaster
- If after a disaster you have to leave town, take your pets with you. Pets are unlikely to survive on their own.
- In the first few days after the disaster, leash your pets when they go outside. Always maintain close contact. Familiar scents and landmarks may be altered and your pet may become confused and lost. Also, snakes and other dangerous animals may be brought into the area with flood areas. Downed power lines are also a hazard.
- The behavior of your pets may change after an emergency. Normally quiet and friendly pets may become aggressive or defensive. Watch animals closely. Leash dogs and place them in a fenced yard with access to shelter and water.