Whenever bad weather strikes, you can usually find a lot of information on how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. But what about the furry, feathered or scaled members of your family?
Whether you face flooding or a hurricane is headed your way, severe weather can create unique and complex challenges if you’re a pet owner.
Here’s what you need to know to help you keep the non-human members of your household safe during a weather emergency:
Identifying Your Pet
No matter what kind of pets you own, you should have a way to identify them if they become lost, especially if they’re likely to be housed with other animals before you’re reunited.
An increasingly common tool is the electronic microchip insert, which can be implanted into many pet varieties. The microchip is about the size of a grain of rice and is placed just beneath your pet’s skin. If your pet becomes lost, the animal shelter or vet clinic who find them will be able to scan the chip for your contact information.
But even if you microchip your pet, remember that most people will not have access to a chip scanner. Therefore, you should also make sure that your terrestrial pet has a collar or tag I.D. so that anyone who finds your pet will be able to contact you. Additionally, take pictures of you with your pet so that you have some proof of ownership, just in case any confusion arises during the weather event.
Building an Emergency Kit
Just as you’d create an emergency kit to help you or your human family in a pinch, create a kit that contains everything you might need to meet your animal’s special needs. Keep your pet’s emergency kit in a portable, waterproof container, in case you encounter any flooding. Here are some items you might want to store in your kit, culled from a combination of Human Society guidelines and Red Cross suggestions:
- Enough food and water for at least five days for each pet. Note that, when stressed out, animals (like humans) tend to drink more water than usual. To make sure you have enough clean water, estimate how much your pet drinks on a regular day, then multiply that number by three—use that for your daily estimation of water usage. It’ll be good to have extra, as you might also need the water to wash your pets or keep them cool.
- Any medications that your pet needs, as well as all medical records.
- Hygiene supplies, such as a litter box, litter, scoop, garbage bags, newspaper or wee-wee pads.
- Traditional first-aid gear such as gauze, cling bandages, materials for a splint, small scissors and tweezers, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, cotton swabs, sterile eye drops, etc.
- Sturdy leashes, harnesses and carriers. The carrier should be big enough for your pet to stand, turn around and lie down in, since they may be stuck in the carrier for hours at a time.
- Blankets or towels for bedding or warmth.
- Extra toys. These familiar items can help to soothe your pet during a distressing situation.
- Written details about your pets’ feeding schedules, medical conditions and behavioral issues, and the contact information for your veterinarian. This could be helpful if you are temporarily separated from your pet.
A pet first aid book might not be a bad idea either, just in case your pet becomes unexpectedly ill or injured while you shelter in place or in transit. Alternatively, you can download the Red Cross mobile app (as long as you’re confident that you’ll be able to charge your phone’s battery).
Sheltering at Home
If you have multiple pets, even if they usually get along, anxiety caused by an emergency situation could trigger more aggressive behavior. Therefore, plan to keep your pets separate during an emergency. If you do not have separate rooms in which you can safely house them, you may want to crate each pet for the duration of the weather event. This goes for cats, dogs, and other small pets–each should have its own space.
If it’s not safe for you to shelter in place, it won’t be safe for your pet, either. Take your pets with you or plan to board them someplace safe, as many emergency shelters can’t accommodate pets for health and safety reasons.
Call ahead to your nearest shelter and ask about its pet policy. The same goes for hotels and other types of accommodation; they may make special exceptions during an emergency, but ask before you arrive. The last thing you need is to show up at a shelter only to be turned away or told to abandon your four-legged loved ones.
If you’re transporting your pet in your car, you’ll want to bring whatever you need to ensure their comfort during the ride, starting with a properly sized carrier for smaller animals like dogs, cats, birds, and reptiles. Remember to equip your pet carriers with blankets, newspapers or other materials to create bedding.
If your pet can’t stay with you, try to make arrangements with relatives or friends who live outside the evacuation area, and transport your pet early. If you wait for the official evacuation call, it may be too late to move them safely due to weather conditions, traffic or animal distress.
Sometimes, officials will advise you to abandon your pet if the situation has escalated to the level of mandatory evacuation. Don’t risk having to do that. Move your pet to a safe location well in advance of an anticipated weather emergency.
Informing Emergency Responders
In the unfortunate event that your pet becomes trapped inside your home and needs to be rescued, you’ll need to bring this to the attention of the emergency responders. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) gives out free window decals that indicate the kinds and number of pets you have, to alert rescue personnel that the animal members of your family are still inside.
There are some species-specific needs that you should be aware of during an emergency situation. In addition, we strongly recommend that you talk to your vet about your pet’s particular needs during an emergency.
If you have to confine your dog in cramped shared quarters during a weather emergency, you will want to be prepared with a collar, leash and muzzle. In addition to keeping your dog safely by your side, these items will help ensure that no one is injured if your dog becomes anxious or restless during severe weather.
A collar, leash and muzzle are good items to have on hand if you have a cat as well, but these animals have more particular bathroom habits to be concerned with as well. When transporting or sheltering with a cat, be sure you have a litter box, fresh litter, a litter scoop and a garbage back to collect the cat’s waste products. This is important to eliminate unpleasant smells in your shared space, and to lower the chance that your cat will relieve itself in other areas.
Other Small Mammals
Evacuate bunnies, ferrets, guinea pigs and other small furry critters as you would a cat. Transport the animal in its crate, and bring sufficient food and water to last at least five days.
Fish & Amphibians
These pets are uniquely challenging because they live in water and, thus, are not easily transportable. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that you place fish and aquatic amphibians in airtight bags or ventilated plastic containers filled at least a third of the way with water from their tank (to minimize the stress caused by moving).
When your pets are in such makeshift housing, however, you must consistently monitor the air and water temperature, as well as the humidity and lighting. You might also consider bringing a battery-powered air pump and/or an ammonia-eliminating product with you to help maintain the appropriate water chemistry. If all else fails, you can try to manually aerate your makeshift fish tank, if you’re storing your aquatic friends in a Tupperware or other hard container rather than a plastic bag.
Some amphibians are semi-aquatic or terrestrial, so placing a wet paper towel or clean moss in their containers should suffice for a temporary stay.
Do your best to feed your fish or amphibian on its regular schedule.
In the absence of a proper reptile carrier, you can place your reptile in a pillow case or other cloth sack for transport; snakes are normally safer in knotted-off pillowcases. Because reptiles have unique temperature and environmental needs, RedRover suggests that the equipment in your reptile emergency kit should include portable thermometers, hygrometers, substrates, hides, supplemental lighting and more.
You should keep a careful eye on your reptile’s eating habits as feeding during an emergency could cause added stress for your pet. As with fish and amphibians, try to maintain your reptile’s regular feeding schedule. For some reptiles that typically eat fresh produce, baby food and canned fruit and veggies can be good substitutes in an emergency situation when you can’t find anything fresh. Just be sure to read the ingredient list and avoid anything with added salt or sugar.
If your pet typically eats live prey, research whether frozen prey might do the trick while you’re on the go. If so, you might be able to use an ice chest or cool packs to store frozen prey items for a while.
In case your pet stops eating because of the stress of the emergency, you might be able to use an appetite stimulant such as Reptaid. Because reptiles are particularly sensitive to chemicals ingested or absorbed through their skin, be sure to bring liquid soap and disinfectant for washing crates, carriers and food and water dishes.
Take special care when transporting birds during a weather emergency in order to minimize agitation. When moving a bird, place it in a covered cage or carrier, and return it to its normal cage as soon as possible. If you don’t have a transportable cage, a clear plastic container, such as a Tupperware or Rubbermaid, can do the trick. For reference, a parakeet requires at least a roughly shoebox-sized container.
Make sure that it is properly ventilated so that your bird doesn’t overheat. You can use paper towels at the bottom of the cage or container as lining.
In particular, be very careful if you are moving your bird in cold weather. Make sure you warm your car prior to transport, and if necessary, place a heating pad or warm water bottle, along with a thermometer, under their cage to keep their temperature up.
Obviously, you can’t keep large animals, like horses or livestock, with you in a basement or at a hotel. Therefore, you’ll need to prepare in advance to transport them outside the evacuation zone. Whether your plan is to move them to another property, send them to relatives or friends out of the area or use a boarding stable, it is important to secure these arrangements ahead of time.
Plan your evacuation route ahead of time as well, and make sure you have one or two backup routes in case of traffic or damage to the roadways. Also make sure that you have the proper transport vehicles available, as well as any handlers you may need to ensure a safe journey. It’s all about preparation, especially with large animals that are not easily movable.
Our pets are an important and beloved part of our families, so we need to consider their needs should a disaster strike. With the right preparation, you can help ensure that your pet will weather the storm.
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