Are you prepared to save your pets if disaster strikes?

Greetings from China, where I was invited to give some conferences about surgery.
Cat carriers

September is National Disaster Preparedness Month. The goal is to raise awareness about the importance of planning for your safety BEFORE disaster strikes.

The purpose of this blog is not to discuss what people are supposed to do with themselves.
Since my focus is your pets, let’s go over some information (which is COPYRIGHTED by the way) on how to be prepared for the worst, even though we always hope for the best.

Are you prepared if disaster strikes?

From Katrina-style hurricanes to wild fires, from floods to tornadoes, from blizzards to extreme heat, from earthquakes to mud slides, from tsunamis to active volcanoes, virtually any area of the country can be affected by some kind of natural disaster.

Think that disasters, man-made or natural, only happen to others? It truly can happen to anyone.

  • In 1998, a tornado hit peaceful Lyons, PA, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. Lyons is a whole 22 miles from Allentown, PA!
  • Some years ago, when I lived in beautiful Cincinnati, OH, my whole neighborhood was evacuated within a few hours because of a toxic leak (styrene) from a train. Obviously, a toxic leak from a train or a truck could happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere.
  • Flooding can affect anyone who lives near a body of water (or not, as California readers know).

You could be told to leave your home “for a short time”, only to find the situation keeps you away from your home for days to weeks.

Would you know exactly what to do with your pet(s)? Do you have a plan you can implement within minutes? Do you have a checklist so you don’t forget anything, even when we are stressed out of your mind? After all, you’ll be running for your life – and your pets’ lives. Being prepared is the first step to ensure that your pet survives.

Familiarize yourself with the types of disasters that could likely affect your area. Then develop an evacuation plan for your animals. Also, know the exact location of several emergency veterinary clinics, and have their phone numbers on speed dial.

In case you are not at home at the time of a disaster, you could place stickers on windows to notify neighbors or emergency personnel that animals are on your property and where they can find your evacuation supplies. Include a list with the number, type and location of all your animals. Have leashes and carriers nearby and easy to find. Also, having carrier-trained pets is a good idea. You don’t want to have a huge argument with a stubborn not-declawed kitty or a cranky Rottie in the middle of an evacuation!

If you have a friend or neighbor that you trust and is willing to help, let them know where they can find a key to your property and pre-arrange with them to take care of your animals in case you cannot get back home for some time. This is another reason to have supplies ready and easy to find.

Keep in mind that your pets may smell danger well before you, and may hide in usual or completely new spots.

Make sure that all your animals have proper identification. In addition to rabies and ID tags, microchipping is becoming a popular form of animal identification. After hurricane Rita, there were reports of 3,000 stranded pets DAILY. Many of these pets were never matched with their owner. By the way, a microchip is just half the story: please make sure your pet is registered through an identification program. If you have moved, make sure you notify the organization in charge of your particular chip.

An animal carrier and an evacuation kit are the two most important things to have ready in advance. Place your evacuation kit near the carrier or cage and keep the items in it fresh. This allows for fast action. In case of an evacuation, all you would need to do is put your pet(s) in the carrier(s) and grab the kit. A back pack is ideal to free up your hands.

When an evacuation order is issued, what steps should you take?

  • Bring all pets inside
  • Make absolutely sure they all have their ID tags on
  • Get all pets into their carriers
  • Grab your evacuation kit
  • Get everyone into the car
  • Leave as soon as possible with your pets in the car
  • Along the way, call your pre-arranged evacuation site
  • Let family, friends and neighbors know where you are going

When you return home, what should you do?

  • Look around both inside and out for dangerous objects, animals, or chemicals
  • Let your pets have access to the indoor areas only until you can evaluate the outside areas for safety.
  • Don’t let animals gorge themselves with food or water
  • Return to a normal routine slowly
  • Let your pets rest and sleep
  • If your pets are lost, call shelters and vet clinics daily and visit lost pet web sites often
  • If there has been any injury or exposure to questionable substances, call your vet for a health exam

As we have seen in several recent disasters, some people refuse to evacuate without their pets. Leaving your home with your family and pets in an emergency is the right thing to do, but it takes pre-planning. You could save your pet’s life.

Plan now so that you can act fast when minutes count.

Remember, it is very easy to procrastinate with all these things. This is just like fire insurance: You really need it, and at the same you sure hope you never have to use it. The same can be said about disaster preparedness. You owe it to your pet(s).

Until next time,

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling veterinary surgeon in Pennsylvania & New Jersey. An award-winning author, he loves to share his adventures in practice along with information about vet medicine and surgery that can really help your pets. Dr. Zeltzman specializes in orthopedic, neurologic, cancer, and soft tissue surgeries for dogs, cats, and small exotics. By working with local family vets, he offers the best surgical care, safest anesthesia, and utmost pain management to all his patients. Sign up to get an email when he updates his blog, and follow him on Facebook, too!