Hurricane season is here, which means it is time for coastal residents to begin preparing for the possibility of evacuating or sheltering in place with family and furry companions.
Though this years’ evacuation plans may look a little different with many shelter locations and guidelines changing due to COVID-19, there are a few rules that always remain the same when it comes to pet safety amid a hurricane.
As a general rule, what is good for you is good for your pet. If you are evacuating, be sure to take your pet with you to prevent them from becoming lost, injured, or worse. If you are sheltering in place, you will want to provide the same essential items that you would provide for yourself or family — those are water, food, shelter, and comfort.
To reduce the chances of injury or harm to your pet this hurricane season, follow these expert tips.
Create an emergency preparedness kit for your pet
Whether evacuating or sheltering in place, you will want to include these items in your kit:
- A crate or carrier large enough for your pet to stand up and turn around in.
- Up-to-date pet records, including vaccinations, microchip, county registration, owner and family veterinarian information, and a photo of the owner and pet together. Securely place these items in a waterproof packet.
- Food and water supply for a minimum seven days, along with bowls. During stressful times, pets may become dehydrated, leading to serious urinary tract issues. Make sure your pet is frequently drinking water to avoid a trip to the pet hospital.
- A leash, collar, and muzzle (if needed). Pets should have a tag on their collar with their name, and owner’s name and phone number.
- Pet medications with refill (at minimum enough medication for seven days) and directions on dosing. This will come in handy if another person needs to step in to care for your pet.
- Familiar toys or blankets to put in their crate or a kennel.
Plan a “pet friendly” emergency evacuation route
Follow local public health or emergency management officials about updated plans, such as shelter or road closures and openings.
Keep in mind your normal shelter location may be different this year due to COVID-19. Find out if your disaster shelter or your chosen destination will accept pets.
If the final destination is a friend or family member’s home, ensure they are comfortable with you bringing along your pet, especially if there will be other pets in the house. If additional accommodations are needed for your pet, contact nearby veterinary clinics, boarding facilities, or pet-friendly hotels.
Most will require reservations. Identify accommodations, along with 24/7 emergency pet hospitals, on your evacuation route and outside your evacuation zone. Write these addresses and phone numbers down on paper and secure it in a safe, water-resistant place in case you lose cell phone power or service.
Know shelter guidelines
Pet-friendly shelters should be seen as a last resort. However, if you must go to a shelter, there are some important things to consider.
You will need to provide up-to-date vaccination records and your pet’s county registration. Also, make sure your pet is current on heartworm, flea, and tick preventatives. Typically, shelters are only equipped to handle dogs and cats. If you have a reptile, bird, guinea pig or pet other than a dog or cat, you will likely need to make additional plans for them.
Keep in mind that cats and dogs are usually housed in a separate area from people at disaster shelters. You also will have limited access to your pet, but will be allotted time each day to feed, clean and walk them.
Shelters have limited space available, so call ahead to secure a kennel. Hillsborough County’s pet friendly shelters are located throughout the county.
Check the Stay Safe page for the current status of shelters and for additional shelters that may be designated as pet friendly.
Practice evacuating with your pet
Because your pet may behave differently during a scary and stressful situation, it is smart to practice handling your pet ahead of time. It is important to know where they might hide in moments of chaos.
You may want to practice catching your pet, using treats, toys, or a blanket, if needed — anything to quickly get them out of harm’s way. You can also train your pet to feel comfortable in their carrier or crate by making it a cozy and safe place for them to relax at home.
Have other members of your household practice evacuating with your pet, too, to ensure everyone knows what to pack, where to find the pet, and where to meet.
Be just as prepared to shelter in place
If sheltering at home with your pet, make sure the room chosen is pet friendly. Select a room that is safe, preferably an interior room with very few windows.
Be sure to remove any toxic chemicals and plants and hide any exposed wires. Vents and crevasses beneath heavy furniture may become “safe spots” for skittish cats and small dogs, so make sure to close small areas off. This will allow you to quickly grab them, if you need to evacuate.
Keep lit candles out of pets’ reach, and frequently check on them until the event is over.
Microchip your pet
If your pet becomes lost during an emergency, you will have increased odds of them being returned to you if they are microchipped.
Unlike a collar which can break, fall off, or be removed, a microchip is a small, undetectable electronic chip that is implanted under your pet’s skin. Placement is no more painful than a typical injection and can be performed during a routine veterinary office visit. Microchips are one of the most reliable ways veterinarians and animal shelters can obtain pet owner contact information as well as vital information about a pet’s medical conditions.
Remember, as the owner, are responsible for the care and well-being of your pet. Having emergency preparedness plans in place for both two- and four- legged members of the family will help ensure everyone stays safe this hurricane season.
Dr. James Barr is the chief medical officer of BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital.
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2021 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
IT’S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Seven hurricane myths that need to go away
BACK-UP YOUR DATA: Protect your data, documents and photos
BUILD YOUR HURRICANE KIT: Gear up — and mask up — before the storm hits
PROTECT YOUR PETS: Here’s how to keep your pets as safe as you
NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter