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No one wants to think about when disaster might strike, especially now with the current global crisis. We may not get hurricanes out here in Minnesota, but tornadoes, earthquakes, and other natural or man-made disasters can surprise us. You may not have a disaster plan in place, but now is the time to start thinking about one. June is #PetPreparedness Month and in honor of that, this week’s blog post is about how to prepare a disaster kit for your pets and have a disaster plan ready. I hope you never have to use it, but if you do, you’ll be glad it’s there.

Disaster Planning

It’s not easy or fun to think about worst case scenarios but having a disaster plan can make the difference in keeping your pet safe. Here are some things to think about when making your disaster plan:

  • Know your region’s native disasters:

    • Is your region prone to hurricanes or tornadoes? What about blizzards, wildfires, or earthquakes? Identifying the common natural disasters in your region can help you create a specific disaster plan for your pets and your family.
    • It’s also a good idea to become familiar with local evacuation routes.
  • Write out a pet evacuation plan:

    • Create a pet evacuation checklist that includes everything that you need to bring or have with you and everything that needs to be done to safely evacuate your pet
    • Have plans in place both for when you need to stay put and when you need to get away. If you are staying home know which rooms provide the safest haven (no windows, no flying debris). Remember, if it isn’t safe for you to stay, it isn’t safe for your pets.
    • Identify pet-friendly evacuation shelters in advance so you are ready if and when the time comes to quickly evacuate. If there are no pet-friendly shelters in your area, consider other options such as your vet’s office, local animal shelters, pet-friendly hotels (either in your location or on your evacuation route), local boarding facilities, or a trusted friend or relative’s house.
    • Include all necessary contact information for shelters, veterinary offices, boarding facilities, and hotels in the pet disaster kit.
    • Be sure to have multiple options outlined in your plan. This way you don’t waste time searching for a plan B if necessary.
    • Although your pets may be more comfortable together, keep in mind they may need to be housed separately due to space or supply constraints
    • If you are unable to keep your pet with you, have a plan in place with your veterinarian to help keep your pet as safe as possible in your absence.
    • In the case of sudden emergencies (such as a house fire), place a waterproof “Pets inside” sticker on entry points (front and back doors) listing how many pets are living in your home. Emergency responders will then know to keep an eye out for your pets.
  • Create a buddy system:

    • You will also need a plan if disaster hits while you are away from home. You should identify temporary housing for your pet. Prepare for this by asking a trusted neighbor, friend, or relative if they’re willing to check in on your pet. You can create a buddy system but agreeing to do the same for their pets.
    • Be sure to add their name to your contact list in your disaster kit. And make sure to tell your buddy where your pet disaster kit is located in your home.
    • Designate specific locations, both in your neighborhood and farther away, where you will meet in the case of an emergency.
    • You may also want to consider choosing “designated caregivers” who will take your pet in (or who live nearby and can go to your pet daily) both temporarily and permanently if something should happen to you.
  • Microchip your pet:

    • Make sure you keep the contact and address information up to date in a reliable recovery database. Include contact information for an emergency contact out of the area as well.
  • Practice evacuating:

    • Make sure to get your pet comfortable with their carrier or crate ahead of time. This way, being confined does not create additional stress and your pet will be less likely to attempt to escape their carrier.
    • Practice getting your pets into crates or the car with their kit. This way your pets will be more comfortable if you truly need to evacuate in an emergency.
    • Know where your pet may hide if he or she is stressed or scared. Have a plan for getting your pet out of their hiding space quickly and safely if necessary.
    • For emergencies in which you stay at home, practice gathering and containing all of your pets and yourself in the designated safe room.
  • Know who to contact:

    • For information on evacuation planning, contact your local emergency management office, animal shelter, or animal control to get advice and information.
    • The Humane Society can help with locating shelters near you that can take in pets.
    • Use the FEMA app or NOAA radio to keep track of developing events or situations.
    • Check out this website to see if your state has a pet disaster plan or law.
  • For tips on what to do with large animals and livestock click here.

    • Be sure to have an evacuation plan for large animals as well and include identification, vaccination/medical records, and contact information with each animal.
  • Watch this video from FEMA for more information:

Disaster Kit

It’s important to have a disaster kit prepared for your pets in case of emergency or evacuation. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) this is what you should include:

  • Documents:

    • Photocopies of vet records including rabies certificate, prescriptions for any medicines, medical history/summary, vaccinations, most recent heart worm test for dogs and FeLV/FIV for cats
    • Photocopies of registration, proof of ownership/adoption records
    • Microchip information
    • Your contact information, your veterinarian’s contact information, and addresses and phone numbers for emergency contacts and family/friends/location where you will be staying
    • Pet description (breed, sex, color, weight) and recent photos of pets, sometimes a selfie with your pet helps to prove ownership
    • Waterproof container for all of the documents
    • The CDC has a good document that contains much of this necessary information here: Boarding Document
  • Water, Food, Medications:

    • 2 week supply of food for each pet stored in waterproof containers
    • 2 week supply of water for each pet
    • 2 week supply of any medications if applicable
    • 1 month supply of flea & tick and heart worm prevention
    • No-spill food and water dishes
    • Manual can opener if applicable
    • Feeding instructions for each pet
    • Medication instructions for each pet
    • If your pet has anxiety, reactivity, or sensitivity be sure to include information on their typical behavior and triggers and how to interact safely with your pet
  • Other Supplies:

    • Collar with ID, leash, and harness
    • Toys
    • Waste bags or piddle pads
    • Litter and litter box for cats
    • Pet carrier with bedding, blankets, or towel (be sure to write your pet’s name, your name, and your contact information on each carrier)
    • Cleaning supplies for accidents (paper towels, plastic bags, disinfectant)
    • Pet life jacket
    • Pet paw protectors/boots
    • Grooming items/nail clippers
    • Basket muzzle if applicable (make sure your pet is accustomed to this ahead of time)
    • Pet first aid kit and first aid book. For information on what to include in a first aid kit click here.
    • Flashlight with extra batteries

Be sure to keep your Pet Emergency Kit up to date.

Whenever you get new annual vaccination records from your veterinarian, check the kit and add updated contact information, photos, and perishables (food and medications) if necessary. Write the date on your perishables to make sure you know when you last replaced them.

The Aftermath

Your pet’s behavior may change after a disaster or evacuation. They may become aggressive, defensive, or skittish. Be aware of their well being and environment in order to protect them from hazards and protect others from negative reactions.

  • Keep your pet under your control at all times.

    • Fences, gates, or barriers may have been damaged and will not contain your pet.
  • Disorientation is common.

    • Your pet may be disoriented, especially if the disaster has affected the scent markers they use to determine “home.”
  • Watch for hazards.

    • Be aware of nose and paw level hazards including chemical spills, debris, exposed wiring, or other substances that may not seem harmful to humans.
  • Prepare for an adjustment period.

    • Give your pet time to adjust to his or her new surroundings and environment while keeping a close eye on his/her behaviors. Keep them in a secure space until they readjust. Try to re-establish a normal schedule as quickly as possible.
  • If any problem behaviors persist, contact your veterinarian.