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Hurricane 2020: A veterinarian on protecting pets from the storm and virus | Column

Dr. Cathy Meeks says pets should practice social distancing, too. Here’s how to get them ready for the pandemic and hurricane season.
Dr. Cathy Meeks is the regional vice president of medicine at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital.
Dr. Cathy Meeks is the regional vice president of medicine at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital. [ BluePearl ]
Published Jun. 1, 2020

The risk of a hurricane looms amid the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is important to have emergency response plans that include our pets.

Whether updating your pet disaster kit or planning a pet-friendly evacuation route, taking these steps can help protect your furry family members if a disaster strikes.

Related: Hurricane 2020: Seven things to know about a hurricane season like no other

1. Build an emergency response kit for your pet. Like us, pets have five basic needs for survival: oxygen, water, food, shelter and sleep. During a hurricane, your pet’s basic needs should continuously be met, so make sure your pet’s emergency kit is up to date and all vaccinations, medical records and medications are current.

Dr. Cathy Meeks is the Regional Vice President of Medicine at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital.
Dr. Cathy Meeks is the Regional Vice President of Medicine at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital. [ BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital ]

What to include in your emergency kit:

  • A 30-day supply of pet food, clean drinking water, medication and food/water bowls. If you obtain your pet’s food from your veterinarian, call ahead to check on supply availability. Also, plan to bring a small, insulated travel cooler for any medications that need to be refrigerated.
  • Hard and digital copies of medical records and registration. In the event of a natural disaster, most evacuation shelters will require your pet’s county registration and medical records to ensure vaccinations are current. In the event of a power outage, you will want to have a hard copy of your pet’s records on hand, but it is also helpful to have a digital copy readily available. Seal all hard-copy documents in a plastic bag for added protection.
  • Because veterinary care is an essential service, many veterinary clinics are still open. Many BluePearl hospitals are operating on a curbside check-in and drop-off basis (meaning only the pet is allowed inside) and are not accepting hard copies of medical records to reduce risk of virus spread. It is recommended that pet owners relay information to veterinary teams over the phone and send records electronically.
  • A second leash and collar.
  • A crate or pet carrier. If loose in the car, pets can injure themselves, be a distraction to the driver, or act as a projectile to human occupants in an accident. Keep pets in a crate or carrier while driving, and anchor it to the vehicle using a seat belt or other secure means. When you arrive at your destination, open the carrier and examine your pet. If anything seems wrong, immediately take them to a veterinarian.
  • Pet litter and litter box (if appropriate).
  • Favorite treats, toys and bedding. Your pet’s favorite treats and familiar toys and bedding may help reduce their anxiety and stress during an evacuation.
  • First aid kit tailored to your pet’s emergency medical needs. Key items you’ll want to include in your kit include various sized bandages, gauze, cotton balls or swabs, scissors, tweezers, nail clippers, antiseptic wipes, pet-safe antibiotic ointment, latex gloves, thermometer, towels, blankets, and/or cloths. You may want to add additional items to the kit if your pet has specific medical needs. For example, if your pet’s eyes are prone to irritation, you will want to be prepared with eye wash or drops.
  • Special care instructions. Write down your pet’s pill schedule, dietary restrictions, and instructions for feeding and medications in the event you need support caring for your pet during a disaster.
  • Extra cleaning supplies. Be sure to wash crates and crate handles regularly.
Related: A hurricane during the pandemic would be bad. The economic crisis will make things worse.

2. Make sure your pet’s wearing a securely fitted collar or harness with up-to-date identification tags. Evacuating can cause chaos, which in turn leads to many lost cats and dogs. To help ensure a safe return home, and to enable quick identification if your pet were to become lost, make sure your pet’s collar is secure and ID tags show the proper information prior to evacuating. Talk with your veterinarian about microchipping (a permanent form of identification) and registering them in a recovery database.

3. Plan your evacuation route. When mapping out your evacuation route, be sure to research pet-friendly rest stops, so you can allow your pet to stretch, eliminate and hydrate. On long road trips, it is easy for pets to become dehydrated. Bring a portable bowl and stop often to let your pet drink and go to the bathroom. In addition to pet-friendly rest stops, map out emergency veterinary hospitals along your evacuation route. In addition to maintaining normal hours at most locations, BluePearl, Banfield, and VCA, alongside many other veterinary practices, are currently offering telehealth options. Call ahead to learn more about these options. Also, prepare both digital and hardcopy lists of the hospital phone numbers and addresses. What to include on your list:

  • Your primary veterinarian’s phone number.
  • Phone numbers and addresses of emergency veterinary hospitals (make sure they are 24/7) along the travel route.
  • The Poison Control Hotline: (888) 426-4435 (fees may apply).

4. Research your destination to make sure it is pet friendly. Whether you are heading to an evacuation shelter or a hotel, make sure it is pet friendly and find out what documents are required to bring your pet. Most Tampa Bay Area counties have pet-friendly shelters; however, space is limited, and some require pet owners to pre-register pets. Shelters should be last resort, so, if possible, have your pet stay with family or friends in non-evacuation zones, or arrange boarding with a local veterinarian or pet groomer.

If you must stay in a pet-friendly shelter, here are a few things to consider:

  • Pet owners are usually required to supply vaccination history and prove their pet is licensed/registered with the county.
  • Pet food is generally not provided, so bring your own.
  • Pets are usually expected to be crated or leashed at all times.
  • Most pet-friendly shelters will only accept dogs and cats.
  • Space is often limited, and some require pre-registration of pets.
  • Pets are often housed separately from people.
  • Access to your pet may be limited, and you may need to schedule time to feed, bathe and walk your pet.

5. Follow health official recommendations. During the pandemic, it is advised to keep pets away from people infected with COVID-19 and to confine pets of infected people. While the largest known transmission risk at this time is between people, not between pets or from people to pets, it is always smart to practice good hand and respiratory hygiene — especially before and after interacting with pets. As an emerging disease event, it remains important that pet owners follow current COVID-19 health official recommendations and stay apprised of the latest information from reputable sources such as the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, the World Organization for Animal Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hurricanes may be forecasted hours or even days before making landfall, which gives pet owners limited time to put their emergency plans into action. Following these tips before a disaster strikes can help ensure your pet stays healthy and safe this hurricane season.

Dr. Cathy Meeks is the regional vice president of medicine at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital.

Tampa Bay Pet Shelters


Lecanto High School, 3810 W Educational Path, Lecanto


D.S. Parrott Middle School, 19220 Youth Drive, Brooksville


Barrington Middle School, 5925 Village Center Drive, Lithia

Durant High School, 4748 Cougar Path, Plant City

Shields Middle School, 3908 19th Ave. NE, Tampa 33573

Sickles High School, 7950 W Gunn Highway, Tampa 33626

Smith Middle School, 14303 Citrus Pointe Drive, Tampa 33625

Steinbrenner High School, 5575 W Lutz Lake Fern Road, Tampa 33558

Turkey Creek Elementary, 5005 S Turkey Creek Road, Plant City 33567

Turner/Bartels Middle School, 9020 Imperial Oak Blvd., Tampa 33647

Wharton High School, 20150 Bruce B Downs Blvd., Tampa 33647


Palm Harbor University High School, 1900 Omaha St., Palm Harbor

Gibbs High School, 850 34th St. S, St. Petersburg


Pasco County did not release a list of hurricane shelters. If the county orders an evacuation, the list of open shelters and their locations will be made available at and shared via social media and media outlets. Call Pasco County Customer Service at (727) 847-2411 if you need help.

Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at

PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Protect your home, business, documents and photos

BUILD YOUR KIT: The gear you need to stay safe from the storm — and COVID-19

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job

NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter

Lessons from Hurricane Michael

What the Panhandle’s top emergency officials learned from Michael

‘We’re not going to give up.’ What a school superintendent learned from Michael

What Tampa Bay school leaders fear most from a storm

Tampa Bay’s top cops fear for those who stay behind