Accidents give no warning before they happen. But luckily with natural disasters, we have a little more time to prepare before they hit. And forewarned is always forearmed.
Regardless of where you are in the world, natural disasters are a very real possibility that threaten the rhythm of day to day life. Whether it’s floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, or bushfires, every region faces its own threats.
Managing the fallout to an impending natural disaster becomes significantly more complicated if you’ve made arrangements for yourselves, only to find that you’ve neglected to consider your pet’s needs. When Hurricane Katrina hit mainland USA, it left more than 15,500 pets needing rescue, an estimated 80-85% of whom were never reunited with their owners.
Our pets, whether dogs or cats or even birds, require a different set of supplies and preparations. Luckily, most of these are simple to find and organize. Disaster warning systems have also become more developed over the last few years. So once you have your ducks in a row, you and your pet can become A-aware and P-prepared for any disaster that may strike.
1. Preliminary Preparation
Your first line of defence against a potential disaster situation is deceptively simple. It includes your baseline safety measures for your pet, that aren’t even directly associated to disaster response or management, but indirectly help your pet have a better defence in these cases.
The first of these being, make sure that your pet is up to date on his/her vaccinations. Not only is this important on a day to day basis for your pet’s health, but also aimed particularly at disaster response.
The aftermath of natural disasters is often accompanied by outbreaks of unusual diseases because of the drastic changes in the local environment, and sudden environmental upheavals, like in floods, for example. These include unprecedented occurrences of insect borne diseases like Lyme Disease, West Nile Virus infections, or others like Leptospirosis, or even Rabies.
The best thing you can do is make sure that your pet has received all their vaccinations and boosters. This will make sure that they are not left facing an already traumatic situation with a weakened immune system, on top of everything else.
This also comes in handy if you have to look for emergency accommodation for your pet somewhere. Most pet motels or shelters require you to have proof of your pet being fully vaccinated, before they allow your pet to be housed there. In case you end up needing to use such a facility, you will need to show your pet’s vaccination records.
Pet ID is the next big requirement. It’s a very good idea to make sure that your pet has a valid and up to date identification tag on their collar. This is improved further if the tag is waterproof or engraved, and firmly attached to your pet’s collar. This will be a failsafe in the off chance that you get separated from your pet.
Of course, the safest and most secure way to ensure that your pet remains connected to you is microchipping. Talk to your vet about getting a microchip implanted into your pet. It’s a relatively painless procedure that allows you to keep track of your pet’s whereabouts at all times.
And if implanting a microchip doesn’t sit right with you, there are always digital pet ID tags as backup. Digital pet ID tags assign your pet a unique identification number that is linked to their account. In case your pet gets lost, he or she can be traced back to you by anyone with a smartphone. All they need to do is scan the ID tag and it will show your contact information.
This also has the added advantage that you can keep updating the info on the tag with your most recent address and numbers, as well as your pet’s health records, etc. all linked to their account and ID. So if you haven’t tagged your pet yet, it’s highly recommended that you do so with any of the options above.
2. Checking the Checklist
Like any other form of preparation, good preparation begins with a disaster preparedness checklist for pets. But what should be on the list?
First off, you need to ensure that you are equipped for emergency food, water, and shelter. These will also be the mainstay of your emergency kit, discussed in detail later. So let’s focus on the other things you’ll need:
- Dry food and treats
- Travel friendly food and water dishes (pro tip: look for spill-proof travel-sized dishes that will minimize the clean up involved)
- Small but roomy crates, with comfort items inside, such as pillows and blankets
- Extra leash, halter, muzzle.
- A copy of your pet’s immunization records
- A copy of your contact details
- Microchip or Pet ID tag details
- Small light source, like a small torch or glow stick
- A can opener (trust us, this you will need)
- A stock of basic medications that your pet may need. This includes backup stock of any medications your pet is currently on.
- Backup supply of preventive medications like flea and tick medication, heartworm preventive medication, etc.
- First aid kit for pets (see below)
- Toys that your pet loves or loves to hate. Keeping your pets distracted and emotionally involved is a major help during strenuous disaster situations
- Extra litter, old newspapers to help clean up accidents, basic cleaning supplies, disinfectant, etc.
- Photocopies of your pet’s vaccination records, your contact information, as well as your pet’s medical records, if significant. A copy of his registration or adoption certificate will also be handy, should the situation arise.
A personalised checklist of all the items you need will be your biggest help while tackling disaster management for your pets. You can also use online options like these and further personalise the columns, to have an easy list that you can tick off (pun intended) as you need.
3. Everything On Hand- The Ultimate Dog Emergency Survival Kit
As far as disaster prevention for dogs and cats is concerned, a well equipped emergency kit is man’s best friends’ best friend.
A well stocked emergency dog kit will be your store of all the food, water, shelter, and medication needs for your pooches. This should normally include:
- At least two weeks’ worth of food per pet that you own. This should ideally be dry food. It holds for longer and there’s less fuss involved, both in feeding and in cleaning up.
- At least two weeks’ supply of clean water. If you can’t store large amounts, any potable water will do for a short period of time.
- Feeding instructions for your pet, should he have any special requirements, such as being fed upright, for dogs with gastric sphincter problems. This is to ensure that your pet does not get mismanaged, in case you get separated from each other.
- A two week supply of any medications your dog regularly needs
- A back up supply of any symptomatic medication you give your dog as required, such as antidiarrheals, etc.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to get your dog used to being in his travel crate every now and then. Naturally you don’t have to confine your dog in it for days, but just get him used to the idea of sleeping in his crate now and then. Lining it with blankets, soft rugs, or small cushions will help with this.
Putting small toys in there will also familiarise them with the idea of relaxing inside. This holds especially true for cats, who don’t take kindly to being confined in unfamiliar environments and start panicking. If they’re used to the area already, it helps massively when you have to put them in there in case of a natural disaster.
And lastly, a good pet first aid kit will come to your rescue, should anything go wrong. This should be stocked with:
- Anti-diarrheal tablets or dispersible medication
- anti-flea and tick shampoos
- Basic bandaging material, like soft gauze, absorbent sterile cotton, plasters, paper tape, medicated plasters, tweezers and pincers, bandage scissors, saline solution, glucose sachets, and electrolyte replacement solutions or sachets. The advantage of buying sachets is that since they are dry, they keep for much longer than ready to drink electrolyte solutions.
- Disinfectants, both wound and area disinfectants.
4. Focus : Dogs
Dogs are creatures of habit. This becomes more pertinent to disaster management with dogs because we can train them to respond in certain ways, well before a crisis situation arises.
Naturally, there’s no way to simulate an earthquake or flood. But there are things you can do in advance.
Train your dog to be equally comfortable when in a muzzle, in a halter, or on a leash. Additionally, the better your dog is trained to verbal commands, the lesser the time he will require to obey even in a high pressure situation.
Statistics show that the largest proportion of animal deaths occur in the first 24-48 hours immediately after a natural disaster. This is because in the chaos that ensues, pets either get lost or are separated from their owners.
The best way to ensure your dog’s safety is to make sure that he stays by your side. This means making sure he stays to heel, whether on a leash, or off it. And this will require some intensive training well before disaster strikes.
And if the disaster has already struck, try to maintain a close routine for your dog. This means feeding him at fixed times, letting him out of the crate for short walks at reasonable intervals, allowing him small bathroom breaks, depending on how mobile you are and how accessible your surroundings are. A short playtime is also very beneficial.
This also helps add a sense of calmness to your dog’s immediate experience. Dogs are extremely sensitive and can get easily overwhelmed by the sudden influx of information that they are exposed to in the middle of rescue efforts or rehabilitation centers. Even if they are safe at home with you, storms are not easy for dogs to weather. This is why you have to be their calm during the storm, or the flood, or the fire, as the case may be.
5. Hurricane Hounds
Dogs and loud storms don’t mix well. Most animals instinctively know when a storm is coming. This is why cats often get very nervous and agitated and hide in basements, or even run away from home. Dogs also display similar behaviour.
One of the best things you can do for your dog is to confine them in a cage or their crate for the duration of the storm. Naturally, this only applies if your home is in a safe zone in the storm. Otherwise, locking your dog into a cage when your home itself is in danger, is nothing short of a death sentence.
Regular tornado drills go a long way in familiarising your pets with the concept of staying in the basement or in your storm shelter. If you repeat the drills with them once every couple of months, this helps them follow your instructions when a real storm has hit. And if you have neighbours or family nearby whom you can coordinate with, even better! Your dog will basically treat the entire experience like a play date, which is infinitely better than the traumatic situation a hurricane can be.
6. Shelter Vs. Seeking Safer Places
One of the most basic rules of pet hurricane preparedness is knowing the threat you’re going up against. What is the seriousness of the threat you are facing? Are you in the path of a spot of bad weather, a storm, or an entire twister?
It is absolutely essential for you to know what level of a disaster is expected. Storm watches and government issued warnings will help you orient yourself. And based on the information, you can initiate a response.
In case of smaller storms, you are naturally safest at home. Making sure all the windows and doors are secured and that there is no way for your pets to sneak out in a panic, will keep you safe enough.
For places that are regularly hit by hurricanes or twisters, storm shelters and underground bunkers are a smart option to have on hand – only if evacuation has not been recommended already.
If these are not an option, choose a room in your house that has no windows. You can use this as a practice storm shelter. Bathrooms and laundry rooms are an excellent choice in this regard.
If you have been advised to evacuate, do it as quickly as possible. The maximum number of pets left behind in disasters are those who could not be evacuated in last minute evacuations. Evacuating with pets is not easy when unplanned. If you have a plan in place and execute it on time, it will literally mean the difference between life and death for your beloved pet.
Another useful option is to consider an emergency caregiver. Although the idea is hard to resign yourself to, but sometimes the best thing you can do for your pet is to make sure that they are far away from where any harm could come to them.
This includes animal shelters, veterinary clinics that temporarily house pets, pet motels, or a loved one, family member, or friend, who is not in the same locale as you, and can take your pet in until when it’s safe for him to come back to you.
It’s a very good idea to familiarise yourself with such facilities in your town or city. Websites like the ASPCA help in locating local animal shelters. Having a list of places that take animals in emergencies comes in unbelievably handy, if chances are that you will be temporarily displaced yourself. Most hotels and motels do not allow pets, unless they are service animals and have a certificate.
7. What About Afterwards?
Emergency preparedness for pets extends to what happens after the disaster has receded as well. After you have received the all clear from the authorities, your pet must be slowly reintroduced into his former environment.
This means restricting their movement till after your neighborhood has been designated a safe zone again. Letting them out of their crates for short periods of time will help them acclimatize to movement slowly.
Similarly, do not let your pets go outdoors till every threat has been removed. This includes debris, scrap, or any remaining flood waters. The time after a disaster has hit is usually when the maximum possibility of diseases spreading exists. Therefore, limit your pets’ excursions, and your own.
This also includes reintroducing them to their previous feeding schedule slowly. You can switch them over to their old food in portions, so that no sudden dietary changes hit them unexpectedly.
Try to maintain a routine for them. This helps them stay calm and not be caught off guard by too many new adjustments.
But above all, make sure you give them plenty of cuddles, and plenty of love. Because the one irreplaceable item on your pet’s disaster survival checklist that will get them through the trauma of a natural disaster, is your love, support, and affection.