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Hurricane Season is Here: Are your pets prepared?

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The arrival of June 1st means that hurricane season is upon us. For pet owners who live along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, this is a good time to give some thought to hurricane preparedness. And even for those pet owners who live outside these areas, many of the same preparedness tips apply to other natural disasters, such as floods, tornados, and wildfires.

Katrina: Lessons learned

Amid the terrible human suffering caused by Hurricane Katrina, the heart-wrenching images of lost and abandoned pets also stand out as a vivid reminder of that calamity. In Katrina’s wake came recognition that when disaster strikes, pet owners need to have a plan in place not only for themselves and their human family members, but also for their pets.

Since Katrina, animal welfare groups as well as local, state, and federal disaster management agencies, have worked conscientiously to develop specific recommendations to enable pet owners to include their pets when it comes to disaster preparation.

Don’t wait for disaster to strike: Plan now

Hurricane preparation requires advance planning. The first question you will have to face if your home is in a hurricane’s path is whether to ride it out at home or to seek shelter further away from the storm. That decision will depend on your particular location and circumstances and the recommendations of local disaster control officials.
But whether you choose to stay or to evacuate, there are some basic preparations that you should make for the care of your pet, in addition to the preparations you make for yourself and your family.

The first step is to put together a Pet Preparedness Kit containing the special items your pet will need when an emergency strikes, just as you would for your own family. Those items should include:

  • Water: three days of water, specifically for your pet, in addition to what you need for yourself and your family.
  • Food: a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Medicines: all medications -- clearly labeled with name, strength (number of milligrams) and dosage frequency-- that your pet takes on a regular basis, as well as any others that may be required
  • Medical records: these should be an extra set kept in a watertight container.
  • A photograph of your pet, preferably together with you: if you should become separated during the storm, this will help you to locate your pet and to document ownership.
  • Identification tags: these should be up-to-date and should be securely attached to your pet’s collar and should contain your current address and/or phone number. Now might be a good time to think about implanting a microchip in advance of a disaster.  
  • Pet first aid kit: ask your veterinarian about what supplies will best address your pet’s emergency medical needs; the basics include cotton bandage rolls, bandage tape and scissors, antibiotic ointment, flea and tick prevention, rubbing alcohol, and a pet first aid booklet.
  • Pet crate or carrier: this should be one that your pet has become familiar and comfortable with before emergency strikes. A carrier will be an essential item if you are forced to evacuate. And even if you choose to ride out the storm at home, your pet may feel more comfortable being in a familiar enclosure.
  • Leash or harness: under the stress of an evacuation, the last thing in the world you want is for your dog to run off.
  • Sanitation supplies: pet litter and litter box, if appropriate; paper towels, plastic trash bags.
  • Brushes, combs, and other grooming supplies: these will help make your pet feel calmer and more at home.
  • Toys and other familiar items, such as special treats and bedding, will help to reduce stress for your pet.

If you ride it out

If you decide to ride out the storm at home, there are a number of steps that you can take to make your pets safer and more at ease:

  • Keep your pets with you in their carriers in the safest area of your home. If a pet is left unsecured and your home is damaged, the pet may escape, become disoriented, and wander off.
  • Keep your pets’ food and water where they are easily available.
  • Separate dogs and cats; even those who get along well under normal circumstances may not tolerate each other under the stress of an emergency.
  • Provide your pets with reassurance and affection; the calmer you are, the calmer they will be.

Shelter from the storm: Not so fast!

Familiarize yourself with the location of the public shelters nearest you in case you decide to evacuate. As a hurricane approaches, shelters fill up quickly. Call in advance to check on the availability of space.

If you seek shelter in a Red Cross or other officially designated Hurricane Shelter, don’t assume that you will be able to take your pets with you. Remember this: most public shelters will not accept pets! The time to locate pet-friendly shelters or other lodgings is well before you have to leave. Fortunately, that information is readily available from a number of sources. (See sidebar)

If you are fortunate enough to locate a pet-friendly shelter with space available, make sure you have proper identification for your pet, proof of rabies vaccination, and the other items in your Pet Preparedness Kit. Even those shelters that do accept pets will require that you bring these items with you.

Have your plan in place

Remember that when it comes to hurricane preparedness, advance planning is key. The time to plan is NOW, long before danger is near!

Credit: Reviewed by Amy Attas, VMD
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