Thursday, June 28, 2012

Disaster Preparedness for Pets

There is nothing scarier than facing a natural disaster and having only minutes to evacuate your home. Unfortunately, most people believe that nothing like that will ever happen to them because they don't live in "one of those areas" that may be at risk. But the truth is that disasters can happen any time, anywhere, and without warning. Fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, attacks, all these can happen and can mean big trouble for you if you have pets. One of the topics I cover in all of my dog training courses is Disaster Preparedness for Pets. After Hurricane Katrina and the California wild fires, unprepared pet owners either lost or became separated from their pets while trying to save their own lives. It is estimated that after Katrina alone an estimated 50,000 animals were left behind. Many were rescued and reunited with their owners, but many either perished or ended up in shelters or foster homes. During a disaster, the last thing you want to worry about is what you are going to do with your pet, and then have to scramble to get all of their necessities together. Dog food and leashes don't always come at the top of your priority list when you are running around your home to secure clothes, medications and valuables. So here I have compiled a list and a guide that every pet owner should read and have ready before a disaster ever happens! You know what they say... better be safe than sorry!

Q: Why should we make arrangements ahead of time?
A: Several reasons include:
  • The municipal response may be a few minutes to a few days reaching you during and after a disaster.
  • Damage to streets and bridges may prevent rescue teams and equipment from reaching you in time.
  •  Federal response will usually take 48- 72 hours to activate after requested.

1.) Authorize emergency treatment. The next time you visit your veterinarian's office ask to sign your pet's chart to pre-authorize emergency treatment.  Time may become crucial if your pet is critically injured so having permission to treat your pet in an emergency is vital if you cannot be reached for authorization. When you pre-authorize treatment, you give the vet the authority to perform life-saving procedures, including surgery, without having to wait for your consent. Ask to get a photocopy of this authorization to keep with your pet records and make sure your vet has all of your current emergency contact information as well as a trusted friend or family member who can give authorization if you cannot be reached.
2.) Microchip your pet. -       Having multiple forms of identification will help rescue teams or good samaritans reunite you with your pet if it is found. Microchipping has come a long way since it first debuted, and the cost has dropped dramatically. I have seen microchipping clinics charge as low as $10! Before you get your pet chipped, you want to find out if there is an annual subscription fee to use their service or if it is a one-time charge. When you get your pet microchipped, it doesn't matter if your dog's ID tags fall off because they have a permanent chip that is the size of a grain of rice embedded just underneath their skin that carries an ID code. If you find a pet without tags, you can take it to a veterinary clinic or an animal shelter to be scanned. If the pet is chipped, the microchip company will be alerted and the owners will be notified that their pet has been found. Microchipping your pet is a fail-safe way to ensure that if your pet is ever lost, it has a way to be returned to you.
3.) Keep your pet current on its vaccinations. In a worst case scenario, let's say your pet does get left behind and ends up having to fend for itself on the streets. In a disaster situation of the worst kind, water and electricity are cut off and stagnant pools of water can form which are full of bacteria. Risk of disease or running into wild animals or unvaccinated strays is much, much higher than when your pet is in the safety of their own home. Canine Bordatella aka "kennel cough", can also run rampant in a disaster setting if your pet ends up being evacuated to a shelter. Diseases such as parvo can also be fatal in young animals and animals who are immuno-compromised. It is critical to keep your dog up-to-date on its vaccinations and to be vigilant in keeping your pet de-wormed if it spends a lot of time out doors or around other dogs. Also be sure your pet is spayed/neutered!
4.) Train and socialize your dog! Dogs that are untrained are hard to manage in a situation where there is a lot of chaos. Some dogs may become fearful and break loose of their leashes and run away. Dogs that are trained in basic obedience and who are socialized with other dogs and people are much better able to deal with change and remain calm in high-stress situations. Also, a trained dog is much more likely to approach a friendly stranger who may be trying to rescue him than a dog who is aggressive or fearful of others. 
5.) Keep copies of your pet's records. When assembling your first aid kit (I will cover that later), always make sure to keep photocopies of your pet's records sealed in a plastic bag. Also be sure to keep current photos of your pet with your records should you have to make lost and found flyers or go searching for them at a shelter. Include all vaccination/health records, medication lists, and rabies certificates.
6.) Have an evacuation plan. If you are given an evacuation warning, do you know what to do or where to go? Probably not. As a family you should sit down and decide on a location together. This location should be somewhere close to home that everyone is familiar with and knows how to get to. In a disaster situation cell phone towers may not be operational so you should discuss when to know to go there. Have a back-up location if your original location is too close to the danger area. 
7.) Decide where your pets will go and who will care for them if you are unable to do so. Decide now on an emergency contact person who you can notify if you need to leave your animals behind. Make sure this person is someone you trust who also has copies of your pet's records, a key to you home and your family's evacuation plan. Your vet should also have this person's emergency contact information. Make a copy of your family's plan and keep it posted on your refrigerator at all times. Update it yearly as needed. If you do not have a designated friend to watch over your pets, have the contact information of local pet-friendly hotels and motels, boarding facilities, animal shelters or your veterinarian handy. Call ahead of time to find out what their emergency disaster policies are such as where/when to take your pets in, any fees, calling ahead, etc.
7.) Make an emergency kit. You will want to assemble an emergency kit that can be grabbed quickly should you only have minutes to evacuate your home. If your dog is small, you can put your emergency kit into a crate that will accommodate your dog's size. Remember, in a disaster, your dog could be spending days or weeks in his crate, so get one big enough for him to get up and move around in. If you have a large size dog and cannot accommodate a crate that big, look for a collapsable one or one made out of canvas that can be stowed flat and just use a duffel bag for your kit. Put your emergency crate or duffel bag in your garage and check it yearly to change out any expired food or medications (I usually do it when its day-light savings time so I remember or I put an alert in my calendar). Items that should be included in your kit will be covered below.
*Bonus Tip: -       Be familiar with all chemicals in your household and how to treat them in case of ingestion or contamination.*

Items to Include in your FIRST AID Kit:
  • Adhesive Tape
  • Antibacterial Ointments
  • Blankets
  • Blunt tipped scissors
  • Cotton balls/pads
  • Cotton swabs (long handled Q-tips)
  • Diarrhea medicine (for pets)
  • Digital Rectal Thermometer
  • Eyebrow tweezers
  • First aid book for pets (Click here- this one is GREAT!)
  • Gauze & Gauze Pads
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Instant cold/hot packs
  • Medicine Droppers
  • Muzzles
  • Non-stick paper tape and waterproof tape
  • Plastic storage bags and containers
  • Razor blade (for snake bites)
  • Rubber tubing or cloth for tourniquet
  • Self-adhesive bandage
  • Sterile Wound Wash
  • Visine Lubricating Eye Drops (add extra for dogs with eyes that bulge out, ex. Boston Terrier, Pug, etc)
  • Vaseline
  • Window Decals (see photo on Right)

Items to Include in your EMERGENCY Kit:
-       Use a crate or sturdy bag to hold all of your equipment (put ID tag on these). Label these with your information, your pets’ information and your pets’ photo.
-       Collar and leash (yard stake is recommended also).
-       1-week supply of non-perishable food and water. Mark the expiration dates on your calendar so you know when to replace them.
-       Food and water bowls.
-       Towels and/or blankets.
-       Copies of all veterinary records in sealed waterproof container.
-       Minimum 1-week supply of pet’s medications (if any).
-       Pet First Aid kit (and know how to use it) and latex gloves (see item list below).
-       Photos and description of your pet in case you become separated.
-       Manual can opener.
-       Familiar toys.
-       Litter box and litter.
-       Sanitary items including: Paper towels, puppy pads, poop bags and pet-safe cage disinfectant.

**There are a lot of good emergency packs available online as well for purchase. Click Here **

Remember: Do NOT give ANY medications to pets unless you have a veterinarian’s approval. Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Ibuprofin are toxic to pets! There are many medications available specifically for pets that you can buy from your pet supply store.

Animal Poison Hotline & Poison Control for Pets
(800)548-2423 or 900/680-0000
                                                      (both numbers charge a fee.)

So You Are Faced With A Disaster- Now What?
1.) When you have advance warning that a disaster is going to strike:
  • Cut off your utilities, especially gas lines to prevent home hazards.
  • Get your pets and family members into the house.
  • Review your disaster plan.
  • Gather your emergency supply kits.
  • Check on your neighbors.
  • If directed to evacuate- DO go with your pets.

2.) If Disaster Strikes
  • Remain calm and patient, follow your disaster plan.
  • Check for injuries.
  • Listen to your battery-powered radio for news and instructions.
  • Check for damage in your home: use flashlights, shut off any damaged utilities, and clean up spilled fluids.
  • Remember to: Secure your pets, call your family contact, check on your neighbor, and follow official emergency instructions. 

3.) After the Disaster
  • For the good of your family and pets, stabilize a routine. This helps keep everyone calm and focused.
  • Conserve resources.
  • Communicate with family and friends when appropriate.
  • Evaluate the short-term situation.
  • Plan for the long-term. Ration supplies if needed.
  • Volunteer to help others.

If You Have to Evacuate
-       Evacuate early and take your pet to stay with your pre-arranged family member or friend if they cannot be with you.
-       Take your pet to your pre-arranged shelter, boarding facility, veterinary office, or pet friendly hotel if you need to. Find out their disaster protocol and make sure they have all of your emergency contact information.

Minimizing Stress
-       Keep pet in a calm and quiet place. Do not give your pet anything to eat or drink until they calm down.
-       Cover cage with a blanket or towel. Too much stimuli increases stress.
-       Calming sprays or anti-anxiety medications may help.

If Your Pet is Injured
-       Try to keep your pet calm and still until you assess the injury.
-       Refer to your first aid kit in your emergency kit.
-       If your pet is bleeding, apply firm pressure to the wound with a towel or your hand.
-       If your pet has a broken limb, you can make a splint out of tape or sticky gauze and any flat, stiff material such as a board or rolled up magazine.
-       Pets may become fearful and aggressive when injured so muzzle your pet with a face muzzle or a leash to prevent injury to yourself.
-       Seek veterinary attention IMMEDIATELY.
-       If your pet is choking, open their mouth, pull the tongue forward and remove the item if possible. Lift pet by hind legs- item should dislodge. Or wrap arms around abdomen and compress.

If Your Pet Becomes Lost
-       Know your pet’s favorite hiding spots or spots they would most likely seek shelter. But only search for your pet when it is safe to do so. Rescue officials will tell you that the situation is clear.
-       Use the photos in your emergency kit to post signs.
-       Visit (don’t call) shelters, boarding facilities and veterinary clinics (including emergency clinics) to look for your pet. They may have too many pets in their care to be able to identify your pet from a photo or description on the phone, or they may just not have the time. Follow their lost pet protocol.

Animals in Shock
-       Keep pet warm by wrapping a blanket around its body. Use your own body for additional warmth. This is critical!
-       Elevate the animals’ rear end with a blanket if its back is not injured.
-       Seek veterinary attention immediately.
-       If pet is not breathing, administer CPR.

The ABC’s of CPR- No Pulse? No Breath?
Airway: Check to see that the animal’s airway is clear. If not, tilt head slightly back, pull tongue forward and remove foreign object.
Breathing: Check to see if the animal is breathing. If not, hold muzzle closed on large dogs and seal your mouth around the animal’s nose. On small animals your mouth will cover both the animal’s nose and mouth. Give 4-5 breaths then check to see if the animal is breathing on its own. If the breathing is shallow or there is no breathing, continue rescue breathing until you reach a vet or for a maximum of 20 minutes. (Small dogs = 20-30 breaths/min. Big dogs = 20 breaths/min.
Circulation: Check to see if there is a pulse or heartbeat. If not, perform chest compressions. Small animal =  lay animal on its right side and sit facing the animal’s chest. Place your palm over the ribs where they meet the elbow and your other hand underneath. Compress chest ½ to 1 inch in a ratio of 5 compressions for each breath. Check for a pulse. MED – LARGE dogs = Kneel over dog with dogs back towards you. Cup your hands over each other and compress where the elbow meets the chest. Compress 1-3 inches in a ratio of 5 compressions per breath. GIANT dogs = same as large dogs but do 10 compressions per breath.

After Hurricane Katrina it became apparent that household pets play an important role in disaster relief planning. I’m happy to report that thanks to the Humane Society of the United States, a law called the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Safety (PETS) Act was passed in 2010 that requires pets and service animals to be included in state and federal evacuation plans. But we cannot rely on the government alone to ensure our pets’ safety in a disaster- that part is up to us and the more we do in advance, the better off you and your pets are if a disaster should strike. I hope that this post was helpful to you and that you are inspired to get started on your own disaster plan. Feel free to message me if you have any further questions or need help choosing products to include in your emergency kit. Thank you! :)

*Please share this post with your friends- the more people know about disaster preparedness the easier it will be on the victims and their pets if one should ever happen.

Links for further reading 

For Pet Owners
For Veterinary Practices (give one to your vet!)




Mammato, Bobbie, DVM, MPH. Pet First Aid. The American National Red Cross and Humane Society of the United States, 1997.

Photo Credits


  1. valuables the most valuable thing i have is my pets they would be first and formost on my mind. my house and its contents would have to fend for its self, they can be replaced my pets can not.

  2. I couldn't agree more! My pets are my kids! ;-)