Disaster Preparedness for Your Pets
When the call comes to get out, have you prepared to take your pets with you? Natural disaster is a risk no matter where you’ve made your home in northern California: flooding in the valley, fire in the hills and an earthquake anytime.
There is growing recognition that our pets, such as cats and dogs, are considered members of the family and need to be included in a disaster preparedness program. After you’ve reviewed the numerous guidelines available to keep the humans in your family safe, consider these practical suggestions to protect the furry members of your family.
Microchip: The risk of getting separated from your dog or cat during a crisis is high. All it takes is an open car door and a cat that can’t be found, or a dog that slips its collar and runs. Taking the time to implant a small microchip, about the size of a grain of rice, into the pet’s scruff can make the difference between reuniting with your pet, or not.
One common misconception about microchips is that anyone with a microchip scanner will have your personal information. This is not true! When an animal with a microchip is scanned a unique number of 10-15 digits appears on the scanner screen. The number is reported to the microchip database, where the number and contact information can be matched. The microchip databases will only release contact information to certain organizations such as shelters, which will reconnect you with your pet. This is why it’s so important to periodically check your pet’s microchip contact information in the database. The information is only as good as the last time you updated it.
Current Photos: The latest selfie pic with your cat, showing off its gorgeous eyes, is great for posting on social media but not so great for finding them in the chaos after a disaster. Take a few quick pictures in good lighting of your pet from each side, including the front. If there are any unique distinguishing marks, take pictures of those too. Keep the pictures in a safe location that will be accessible if you are away from home, such as an online Cloud storage or a social media account.
Pack a Go-bag: A bag with your essentials is ready to go, but what do your pets need? Pack important paperwork, including a copy of the latest vaccines, rabies certificate, proof of license and copy of their microchip number.
If your pets are on any long-term medications that are not perishable, discuss with your veterinarian about including an extra week’s supply in the bag. You may also want to discuss whether it is appropriate to include any oral sedatives in the bag that might help your pet feel less stressed during and after an evacuation.
Include an extra collar and leash for each dog and a water bowl. For cats, a good safety precaution is to keep collapsed cardboard carriers for each cat in your vehicle or underneath your go bag. Cats are safest when they are contained. They can easily escape from your arms and be difficult to retrieve in a stressful situation. In an emergency, pillowcases can be used to transport a cat to a vehicle or other contained location if a carrier is not available.
Remember that items such as pet food are often easy to obtain once you are in a safe place. For this reason I suggest not keeping food in the go-bag because it takes up unnecessary space, weight and is a pest risk. However, if your pet is on a special diet because of a medical condition, consider packing a can of the appropriate food with a can opener.
Preparation and Training: Remember, there are likely many animal lovers who will be in your same situation and it may be crowded at shelter locations. Under stress, dogs and cats can behave unpredictably. The priority to is to keep all animals and humans safe. Keeping pets on leash and in carriers and kennels is the best way to ensure there are no accidents. All dogs should be able to wear a secure collar or harness if needed. Adjust these tight enough so a dog cannot back or twist its way out. Kennel training your dog will significantly lessen their stress if they need to be boarded or kept in a kennel at a shelter.
Not all recommendations may be appropriate for your specific situation, and it’s important to always follow first-responder’s instructions. Remember, you can’t keep your pets safe if you don’t first keep yourself safe. If your situation is complicated, with multiple animals and complex needs, consider evacuating or asking for help earlier than mandated. With thoughtful preparation and a plan in place, pet owners will greatly increase the chances that all family members, both human and furry, will escape whatever Mother Nature has in store next.
Melinda Newton, DVM, is a veterinary practitioner and freelance writer located in northern California. Dr. Newton works with AnimalSave in Grass Valley in their spay and neuter clinic and assists with other community outreach activities. To schedule an appointment for your dog, cat or rabbit call AnimalSave at (530) 477-1706.
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