En español | The relentless string of hurricanes, wildfires, floods and other natural disasters, not to mention COVID-19, is prompting people to pack go bags and create emergency plans. But such catastrophes also put pets in danger.
Dogs, cats and other pets need a plan, too.
"Preparedness across the board is really critical,” says Tim Rickey, vice president of the ASPCA National Field Response, the team at the nonprofit humane organization that responds to disaster situations. “If you have an older animal or an animal with high anxiety or some other medical conditions, you have to be a little bit more thoughtful and plan ahead for that so that you are able to evacuate with the right resources and supplies and take those animals into the right type of environment.”
Emergency preparedness for pets takes many forms. Here's what animal care groups, veterinarians and pet owners recommend as a first line of defense.
Create a pet go bag
Pack an emergency kit or backpack with ample food, water and treats for a week or more. Don't forget collapsible feeding and water bowls and a can opener if needed, along with medications and first aid supplies. These may include bandages and silver sulfadiazine cream for wounds and burns.
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Include copies of your pet's key medical and vaccination records, so that anyone treating the animal is aware of special needs and drug contraindications. “If you have to evacuate during a disaster, vet clinics are not likely to be open, and if you're moving to another region there's going to be some delay before that prescription can be refilled,” Rickey says.
Along those lines, make sure vaccinations are current, even for indoor cats, since they can get loose during a storm, advises Lauren Vaughan, a West Hollywood, California, veterinarian.
Vaughan also recommends having a printed photo of the animal on hand, should your phone battery go dead without a way to charge it. Include a photo you are in, too, as added proof that you are the pet's owner.
Bring a portable litter box, pee pads and poop bags as well. An extra collar, harness or leash may also come in handy. You'll also want to bring the animal's bedding, carrier and crate. And to reduce the pet's inevitable stress during the tumult, pack his or her favorite toy.
Choose a designated caregiver
Pick a close relative or trusted friend who can care for your animal should you become incapacitated or die. Many pet parents put their desire in writing.
"We have specified in a ‘letter of wishes’ that goes with our will what's to happen with our cats and the money that is to go with them for their care,” says Glynis Gibson, 57, an animal advocate and owner of a Chicago public relations firm.
Research pet-friendly travel
Never leave a pet behind. Ahead of an impending natural disaster, find hotels along your evacuation route that are welcoming to pets. The ASPCA recommends checking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website regularly for travel restrictions and quarantine requirements.
Choose a safe room at home
If you have to hunker down at home during a hurricane or tornado, choose a room, if possible, without windows, glass or objects likely to fly around, perhaps a basement, bathroom or walk-in closet. Choose higher ground in a flood. Keep a crate in this safe room.
Put a “save our pet” alert sticker on your door
This alerts firefighters and first responders you have animals in the house.
Tag and microchip your pet
Your animal should snugly wear a collar, harness and ID tag with your up-to-date contact information. “Collars come off and tags come off of collars,” says Cathy Brooks, owner of the Hydrant Club in Las Vegas, which she describes as an educational facility that helps dogs have better relationships with their humans. Brooks favors collars that have a phone number embroidered on them or have a metal bracket affixed with the data. Make sure the collar and tag are worn indoors, should you have to leave in a hurry.
Experts highly recommend microchipping Fido or Fluffy. Microchips are about the size of a grain of rice and are implanted by a vet under the skin in the shoulder area. The procedure is safe and can be inexpensive. Microchips contain a number or code unique to your pet, linked to information about you and the animal in a secure database through the company or organization where you register the microchip. Registration may come with an annual fee or may be free. Shelters and vets have special scanners to read the microchip, which can help you reunite with a lost pet. Make sure the information is kept current.
Though pet insurance isn't necessarily cheap, it can save you hundreds or even many thousands of dollars if your pet requires urgent medical care. The decision to treat a severe injury doesn't have to come down to money.
Reinforce recall training
You can't explain natural disasters or the need to evacuate to a dog or cat, which is why veterinarian Vaughan says she's passionate about “recall” training methods if your pet gets loose. Using treats and positive reinforcement, the idea is to ensure that your pet will come to you when you summon him or her. Such training may even include recordings of alarm sounds or emergency vehicles.
If your pet is lost
Despite the best precautions, pets can go missing in the midst of a disaster. Reach out to shelters, veterinary offices and Facebook groups for lost animals. “Social media becomes a really powerful tool,” Brooks says. The hopeful result is a happily-ever-after reunion.