Facing a Natural Disaster with Your Pets

03/27/2012

News reports suggest that both the instances and severity of natural disasters are on the rise. While many companion news pieces have focused on helping people prepare for the arrival and impact of natural disasters, less attention has been spent helping people successfully negotiate them with their companion animals. Unfortunately, imminent disasters often lack adequate fore warnings, leaving people panicked and surprised; fortunately, however, prior preparation greatly increases the likelihood that both owners and their pets can successfully withstand a natural disaster.

In many occurrences, such as hurricanes, fires, floods, and tornadoes, owners are forced to evacuate their homes; these absences can range in severity from a few hours to permanent evacuation. Because of this, experts routinely warn against leaving pets behind, as there is no way to accurately know when owners will be able to return for them. The estimated time authorities give owners before they can return home is often miscalculated, leaving pets alone for days instead of hours. Bringing pets along is arguably the most important thing owners can do to ensure their pets’ survival.

While evacuating with pets goes a long way toward their survival, there are a number of things owners should bring along for their pets to help secure their safety. Emergency items should ideally be located near an exit and preferably in a sturdy, waterproof container; they should include sterile bottled water, food (at least three days’ worth), bowls, crates, carriers, litter, leashes, collars with identifying tags, any required medications, information on feeding schedules, behavioral problems, and medical conditions, veterinary records (particularly proof of rabies vaccination), current pictures and/or descriptions of any distinguishing features, a veterinary first aid kit and, if possible, spare bedding or toys to help ease pets’ stress.

Veterinary records, pictures, and pet descriptions are important because they help prove ownership should owners and pets become separated; moreover, if emergency housing is necessary (e.g., hotels, veterinarians, or boarding facilities), proof of vaccinations will almost certainly be required to help reduce the spread of communicable diseases among the animals. Experts also warn that the aforementioned places that house animals fill up quickly; owners will do well to have contingency plans, such as family and friends, that can take animals in the case of evacuation.  Owners should also make agreements with trusted people, preferably neighbors due to proximity, to evacuate their pets in case owners are not home at the time of the disaster.

It is also advisable that owners acclimate their pets to evacuation procedures in order to make the process less frenzied than it is already likely to be. For instance, periodically putting pets in their carriers or crates will make pets more comfortable with them and less resistant to going inside them if and when the time comes. Evacuation practice drills are useful for both owners and pets.

Unfortunately, encounters with natural disasters are nearly impossible to avoid. Preparing for emergencies helps empower owners to successfully manage them. While planning for them will not minimize the forces of nature, it will greatly increase owners’ and pets’ chances for survival.

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