Disaster Preparedness for Animals with Special Health Needs


According to FEMA, animals left behind in disasters can become a risk for emergency responders, and be at risk themselves of health complications, getting lost, injured, or killed. That's why family preparedness plans need to account for the four-legged and winged members of the household.  Extra steps are necessary when your pet has special health needs.  

Dr. Kelli Ferris, Assistant Professor at North Carolina College of Veterinary Medicine and Director of the Community-Campus Partnership, says that pet owners can take a few easy steps now to make sure the proper plans are in place should a disaster force them to quickly flee their home.

When creating a pet emergency kit, think about the contents you need based upon your dog’s health. Does your dog have a chronic health problem? What monthly preventatives does your dog take? Does your dog require a special diet? All of these questions are important to ask so that if you need to leave suddenly, your pets have everything they need.

Dr. Ferris says, “When creating your ‘Go Bag,’ fill it with what you can and keep a list in the bag of what needs to be added if you need to evacuate. This way, you don’t need to think, just fill the bag and be ready to leave in a short amount of time.” Dr. Ferris recommends having all of your pet supplies in a dedicated location, rather than strewn all over the house. This will make packing the “Go Bag” quicker, easier, and less stressful because there won’t be a need to find anything. Don’t forget to include some of the often-over-looked basics in your “Go Bag:” can opener, paper towels, plastic bags, and pee pads. To maximize space, if you have more than one dog, consider supplies that can be shared and have small water bowls in your “Go Bag” that can be filled one cup at a time to prevent waste.

If your pet has a chronic health problem, keep in mind the supplies and medical equipment that are not replaceable.  If your pet requires medication that needs to be refrigerated, invest in a cooler and ice packs specifically for that purpose, and be sure the ice packs are in the freezer, ready to go. Another option is a cooler that can be plugged into a car’s charging station. While these are a bit more expensive, the cooler doubles as a refrigerator and reduces the need for having access to ice or for freezing ice packs. Have copies of your pets’ rabies certificate and tags, as well as medical records. Some veterinarians are willing to write open-ended prescriptions that can be filled at a pharmacy or vet clinic so that pets with chronic illnesses have access to their medications if an emergency should exhaust the normal supply kept on hand.

Always have plenty of dog food on hand. Dr. Ferris says, “Never let your supply of dog food run really low. This way, even if there is a minor emergency that would make leaving your home dangerous, you’ll have plenty of food for about a week.” A good idea is to freeze dry dog food in Ziploc bags and rotate through this occasionally in order to have fresh food available. This concept can also be applied to gallon jugs of spring water – keep some on hand and cycle through them occasionally, replacing them with fresh water.

The logistics of transportation and destination are two big considerations when creating your pet-friendly disaster preparedness plan. Dr. Ferris says, “Having a carrier for each pet is ideal. The pets may be crated for long periods of time and it’s best if each has its own space.” Dr. Ferris continues, “Don’t overlook the logistics of an evacuation. If you have several pets, their supplies, plus family members and other household goods, would everything fit into your vehicle?” While it may not work for everyone, Ferris suggests a trailer for transporting the supplies, while family members and pets ride in the vehicle. Another concern is destination. Not all shelters accept pets. And not all hotels are pet-friendly. FEMA offers a website with information during a disaster on evacuation centers that are pet-friendly. Ferris suggests having phone numbers of emergency vets, clinics and boarding kennels in your “Go Bag” as well.

Having a disaster preparedness plan in place for you and your pets makes good common sense. Taking a few minutes now to formalize your plan, gather supplies, and think through the logistics will save time in an emergency and will keep your four-legged and two-legged family members safe and secure.

Check out our article on assembling a simple, 20 piece canine first aid kit.

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