Animals And Emergencies

General Emergencies

What if you cannot make it home because of bad weather, or you are suddenly hospitalized? Do you have a plan of action for the care of your animal companions? Just as parents do for their children, our animal friends need some extra thought should we be unable to care for them.

If possible, arrange with a trusted friend or neighbour to step in and care for your pets if you are suddenly unable to do so. Make sure they have a list of where the food is located, what you normally feed, any medications that need to be given, and where the food and water bowls are. List any special instructions such as how to lift the lid of the mouse’s cage, or what kind of litter to put down for the rabbit, where the leash/muzzle/harness is for the dog, and whether  the cat is supposed to be let outside. Make sure they know your routine and details so when an emergency happens you will take comfort knowing your fur babies are in good hands.

Heat Waves:

There shouldn’t be a need to remind people of this but every year pets succumb to heat stroke. Do Not Leave Your Pet In The Car, even if you leave the car running with the A/C on.  Also, limit exercise on hot days to only mornings and evenings. Pets are susceptible to skin cancer just as people are so keep them out of the direct sun during the heat of the day. Animals with short noses can have breathing problems in the heat and humidity. Asphalt gets very hot and can burn an animal’s paws. Humidity can dehydrate an animal, making it hard for them to cool themselves.

It is up to you to protect your pet from heat exposure so walk them on the grass when possible, keep them out of the sun during the hottest parts of the day, and make sure they have access to plenty of shade and cool water during the day. You can add ice cubes to the water, and if you have a dog, a small wading pool in the shade can provide some welcome relief from the heat.

Watch your pets for signs of heat stroke: heavy panting, glazed eyes, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst, lethargy, fever, dizziness, lack of coordination, profuse salivations, vomiting, a deep red/purple tongue, seizure, unconsciousness. If you see any of these signs get your pet into the shade, or an air-conditioned area, quickly, and apply ice packs or cold towels to head, neck, chest, and feet. If you don’t have ice packs, run cool, not cold, water over the pet and let them drink small amounts of cool water or lick ice cubes. Then take your pet to a vet to be checked out.

During heat waves the power may go out due to overloaded/overheated circuits. If you must leave your home because you don’t have any electricity, do not leave your pets behind. If it is too hot/unsafe for you to be home, it is also unsafe for your pet. Take them with you to a shelter or motel that allows pets, or to friends and family who can give you and your fur babies a cool shelter until the power comes back on.

If you opt to stay home while the power is out, keep the doors and windows open but cover them with shades to keep the sunlight out. Especially cover the glass part. Dark paper taped to the window can work in this instance. Be sure to provide lots of water for your pets, and stay in the shade. NOTE: Dog houses can become little furnaces of heat. Do not put your dog in a dog house. If you don’t have any shady trees, hang a bed sheet, blanket, or tarp to create shade.

Major Emergencies

Should a tornado, flood, fire, or other disaster strike, do you have an emergency plan for your animal companions? The following are suggestions on things you should do to keep your pets safe.

Before An Emergency Happens:

Just as it’s wise to have an emergency kit for your family, it is also wise to have one for your pets. The kit should include: a harness, collar and leash if you have a dog, a carrier for smaller animals, bottled water, food and water bowls, dry and tinned food, a copy of your pet’s medical information and any medications they are on, litter and a litter tray for cats, rabbits, and guinea pigs. Also a good idea is to have photos of your pet in case they get lost, and some towels, blankets, and toys to keep them occupied, a manual can opener for the tinned food, a flashlight and batteries. All this can be stored inside the pet carrier, a duffle bag or plastic tub with a tight fitting lid that can be easily accessed in an emergency.

Plan the possible destinations you can go to in the event of evacuation. You should have a list of emergency shelters that accept animals, or motels/hotels that will, during an emergency, allow you to bring your animal companions. Perhaps you can travel to family or friends who will be willing to accept your pets too. Preparing for this possibility before you need it will make things so much easier when an emergency happens.

Arrange with a friend or neighbour to check on, and if necessary remove, your animal companion should you be unable to get home when disaster strikes. Leave them a written list of instructions on where to locate things and on care, as well as phone numbers where you can be reached, and for the vet.

An Emergency Happens And You Must Evacuate:

If you are to evacuate your home, do not leave your pets behind. If it is not safe for you to stay home, it is not safe for your pets to stay. There is no way to know how long you may be away or what will happen to your home while you are away. Pets left behind may become injured if there is damage to your home, or drown if the house is flooded. They may become malnourished and dehydrated.  Turning your pet loose outside will not help it to survive as the animal will have no idea where to go, and will be at the mercy of the environment and displaced wild animals.

Evacuate early. Don’t leave things until the last minute. Often when people are forced by officials to evacuate they are told they can’t take their pets. Give yourself time to get you and your animal companions to safety.  Also remember, when animals hear high winds, loud noises, smell smoke, or hear people yelling, they panic too and are harder to get into their carriers or to get leashed. Their first instinct is to hide, and that means you may not be able to find them when everything happens. Be prepared!

For smaller pets such as small dogs, cats, rabbits, gerbils, guinea pigs etc, you should have a carrier with a secure door. Depending on the pet, keep suitable bedding in the cage and let your pet get used to going in and out of the carrier. This is especially useful with dogs, cats, and large rabbits that can become panicked during a disaster and might resist going into a strange carrier. Smaller animals like gerbils and guinea pigs are easily popped into a carrier. Even mice should have a secure carrier that will keep them safe if you must evacuate. For large animals like dogs, they should be leashed and wearing a harness. Fish can be put into an extra large ziplock freeze bag with a long straw for oxygen. Insert the straw into the bag with water from the fish tank and the fish, zip the bag almost closed up to the long straw. If you have a small plastic food cooler, the bag can be propped up and held in place with towels. For whatever pet you have, take time before a disaster hits to check what sort of evacuation carriers might work for your pet. It bears repeating: Be Prepared!

Remember to bring your Pet Emergency Kit.

PETA offers emergency window stickers and advises that you place them near your front and back doors, and on side windows. In the event of a weather emergency, fire, or other evacuation reason, rescuers will know that animals are in the home. NOTE: If you evacuate with your animals, write EVACUATED, on the stickers, or remove them so rescuers won’t waste time checking for pets.

If you are forced by authorities to leave your animal companions behind, do not turn them loose. They will not be prepared to survive on their own out in the elements. There are untold dangers during a storm and your pets will be terrified and have no safe shelter. If there is absolutely no way to take them, at least leave them with a two week supply of dry food, and water, on an upper floor of the house. Fill every bowl, pan, container, basin, sink, and even tub, with water. If the toilet bowl is free of chemical disinfectant, leave the lid up on that as well.

To avoid this eventuality, it bears repeating: Leave early! Don’t wait until the last minute to evacuate and risk having to leave your fur babies behind all alone at the mercy of the storm/disaster.

If you are unable to get back to your house when an emergency happens, contact a reliable friend or neighbour to check on the pets and get them out of the house. This is where prior written instructions will come in very handy.

An Emergency Happens And You Opt To Remain In Your Home:

If you cannot evacuate, or decide to remain in your home, it is wise to find an area where you and your pets can wait out the storm, preferably an interior room without windows such as a bathroom, or a basement (in the event of a tornado and if there is no possibility of flooding).  Put small pets into their carriers to keep them from hiding in small unsafe spaces. If there are windows in the room, tape them or tape cardboard over them to prevent shattered glass from spraying the room.

Bring your pets indoors, and remain inside to wait out the storm. Keep larger animals under your control and smaller animals in their carriers. This way, if you must evacuate immediately, you won’t have to search for them. Keep your emergency kit with you as well.

Make sure you tape shut any pet doors, open fireplaces, and vents with plastic sheeting.

Remember to have your battery powered lights and radio with you and the pets. Follow the directions given for your area.

After The Disaster:

Do not let your pets run loose. There could be downed electrical wires, broken glass, shards of metal and wood strewn around the area. Your animal companions will be disoriented and can easily get lost. Keep dogs on their leash and smaller pets in their carriers as you assess the damages. It is safer for them and easier for you to locate them if/when you must leave.

As frightening as it is for you during a disaster, it is just as frightening for your pets. They may be more wary of sounds and smells, and in their fear they can act out. Try to keep to your routine and be patient and soothing to your animal friends as they need some extra TLC.

Another issue to keep in mind is stray animals and wild animals also affected by the disaster/storm. These creatures may be displaced, frightened, and wandering about looking for a place of safety and refuge. Be aware and keep your pets safe from them.

If you take precautions before a disaster happens you will be better prepared to handle issues that arise.

© Tallulah, 2013



About Tallulah

Writer, Photographer, Artist. Animal Welfare Advocate. Wildlife and Environmental Advocate.
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