With the state expected to face another active hurricane year, officials are urging Floridians to begin their planning now. For many, this includes preparing homes, stocking up on essential supplies, practicing generator safety and planning for an evacuation. While most know how to keep their families safe and comfortable during an extreme weather event (and more specifically, an evacuation), many are unsure of what they should do to protect their furry companions.
Leaving pets out of an evacuation plan not only poses risks for pets and their owners but also for first responders who may venture into dangerous areas or situations to retrieve a family dog or cat. Pets left behind during a hurricane — even if in a high-level, “safe” place — can become injured, lost or worse, so it is always best to bring them along.
Here is what you should do to prepare your pet.
Include your pet in your emergency plan
Pets have their own unique needs, and they impact where you and your family may be able to stay if you need to evacuate your home. It is important to know that pets may not be allowed in certain shelters unless they are service animals, and if they are accepted, space may be limited and pre-registration may be required. In fact, many national disaster evacuation centers like the Red Cross do not accept any pets or animals.
Make sure you designate pet-friendly shelters, or pet-friendly hotels, as well as 24/7 emergency veterinary hospitals along your evacuation routes. Also, if your final destination is an out-of-town friend’s or relative’s home, make sure they are comfortable with you bringing Fido or Fifi along. They may have their own pets that are not welcoming to strangers — two- or four-legged. Lastly, ensure that your pet is up to date on all vaccinations. Pet-friendly shelters will only accommodate animals that are current on vaccines.
Pro tip: In the case of a true emergency evacuation where Fido is regrettably left at home, create a buddy system that will get him or her out of there safely. This can be a trusted neighbor or friend who can enter your home to evacuate your pets if necessary. You may also want to fill out and post a pet emergency sticker on your front door to indicate to officials that a pet may be left inside.
Prepare a disaster kit
Like humans, pets need essential items to live — food, water, shelter. But beyond these things, there are ways pet owners can ensure a pet is not only healthy but also safe and comfortable during a natural disaster.
As a general rule, do not wait to gather your hurricane essentials. Create a pet disaster kit in advance to ensure a swift and efficient evacuation for you and your loved ones.
Here is what you will want to include in your kit:
- A pet collar with current contact information. Ensure your pet’s collar is secure and that they will not be able to shimmy out of it in an emergency.
- A pet carrier for each of your pets. Make sure to write the pet’s name, as well as your contact information, on the carrier to ensure it is returned to you should it become lost.
- Food and water for at least two to three weeks for each pet. It is always wise to assume there will be a shortage of clean drinking water during a disaster, so plan to bring your own for your furry companion. Also, if your pet is on a special prescription diet, make sure you bring ample amounts of their food. Some veterinarians do not have prescription diets well-stocked, so you may want to order these items in advance.
- Collapsible water and food bowls.
- For cats: a litter box and litter.
- Medications for at least two to three weeks.
- Medical records. These should include all necessary vaccinations for rabies and other diseases, as well as a detailed medical history. In the case of another person tending to your pet, they will need to know if your pet has certain medical conditions and any key details regarding the timing and dosage of the medication.
- Leashes or harnesses (at least two).
- Microchip number (if applicable). This information should be included in your pet’s medical records and on their carrier. If your pet is not microchipped, consider having it done. Microchipping is one of the best ways to ensure that your pet is returned to you if they become lost. Also, make sure the microchip is registered with the manufacturer, and keep your contact information up to date with the microchip company.
- Your and your primary veterinarian’s contact information. Keep this on your pet’s crate and include it in their medical records.
Evacuating can be stressful for you and your pet. Familiarizing them with the process will help desensitize them to the situation. Here are a few ways to acclimatize your pet to high-stress situations like an evacuation:
- Leave the crate out and make sure it is in a comfortable place. You may want to set a blanket and a few of their favorite toys inside.
- Practice transporting your pet. Bring your pet with you on short errand runs or to see family or friends. This will help them adjust to being in the car.
- Know your pets’ hiding spots. Frightened animals may exhibit behavior changes and hide in hard-to-reach places. During hurricane season, you may want to block off these places, which may include underneath couches and beds or above cabinets.
- Consider practicing catching your pet. Remember: You will need to move them quickly out of harm’s way in an emergency evacuation, so practice the skills you will need for when that time comes.
- Inform the family. Make sure every member of the household knows what to take, where to find pets, and where to meet in an emergency.
While we hope this hurricane season does not call for evacuations, it is necessary to plan ahead. Keep you and your family safe this season by including your pet in your emergency plans, and make sure to locate 24/7 veterinarian hospitals along your route in case of a medical emergency.
James Barr is the chief medical officer of BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital.
Find a pet-friendly hotel
Search bringfido.com online or call 877‑411‑3436.
Search dogfriendly.com online or call 888-281-5170.
Search pet-friendly-hotels.net or call 866-966-3046.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s pet emergency kit checklist: cdc.gov/cpr/readywrigley/documents/pet_emergency_kit_checklist.pdf
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