Pet Disaster Emergency Preparedness

By Denise Fleck, Sunny Dog Ink, Taken from World Pet Sitters Magazine

You hope you will never experience a fire destroying your home, yet you plan ahead-install fire alarms and smoke detectors and purchase insurance.  You certainly hope never to be involved in a car accident, but you have airbags and wear a seat belt[and should safely restrain your pets as well]. Being prepared makes sense as we can minimize potential injury to those we love.  However, most people are not prepared for a major disaster. “Be Prepared” works for the Scouts, and it’s a motto we should carry into our adult lives.  Planning ahead is the best way to keep yourself and your animal kids and clients safe.

As professional pet sitters, you may be called upon to be prepared for your clients as well as for your own furry family, so encourage them to initiate the same steps below that you will be doing at home and realize… YOU just might be that person they call to help evacuate their pet.  Regardless, you are your clients’ animal go-to-person and could be expected to know where they can evacuate to, what animal ERs and shelters are open as well as basic first aid skills. As you so often do, you may alleviate human stress as well as become a guardian angel to some lucky canine or feline you were prepared to help!


1.  Place a Pet Alert Sticker near your front door recording how many and what type of animals live there.  If you aren’t home should tragedy strike, trained professionals will know to seek out and help your pets.

2. Designate a Pre-Arranged Meeting Place for your family and identify several Places That Can Take Your Pets.  Red Cross Shelters do not permit pets, but other organizations are working hard to train communities to set-up temporary animal shelters.  Yet, in an emergency situation, it could still be days before these facilities are in place.  Making arrangements ahead of time with out of town friends and relatives is your best bet, but have a Plan B.  Susan Keyes, President of the Southern California Animal Response Team says, “Long-term housing and care for pets is the area we have found people to be least prepared.”  Check with pet day care and boarding facilities as well as your veterinarian to see if they will accommodate during a disaster.  Pet sitters… If you have a safe place at home, this is another way you could be prepared to help others, but also compile a list of hotels where pets are welcome and set aside one credit card just for emergency use. It’s also a good idea to have cash [in bills smaller than 20’s] easily accessible, as ATM Machines may not be working.

3. Stash the following for each pet in an easy-to-carry backpack or crate [that way you’ll have the carrier to evacuate in];

  • A three-day to two-week supply of food stored in an airtight container and a manual can opener if needed; water [ for medium to large dogs, one gallon a day]; medication. Remember to exchange these items regularly so they are fresh when needed.
  • A water-proof container with vaccination and micro-chipping records and photos of your pet with your family as proof of ownership.
  • Treats, toys, bedding, food and water dishes; collars/harnesses and leashes; litter, scoop and boxes for kitties; specialty items for pocket pets, birds, reptiles and amphibians; disinfectant for cleaning crates, paper towels, flashlight with batteries, zip ties, garbage bags and a well-stocked, up-to-date Pet First Aid Kit, and don’t wait until you need it.  Dig through and make sure you know how to use all the contents on your pets.


Where to Put it All

Even with the best-laid plans, life happens, so consider storing your goods in several locations in the event they are not retrieveable when the ground shakes, the flames rise or the mud slides. Positioning items close to an outside wall in your home will allow easier access should  building collapse and you need to rummage through rubble to get to your supplies. Also, stowing duplicate items in your car is a good idea.

Don’t Forget the Two-Legged Family Members.

Also remember to keep a stash of food and other items for the humans including a battery or solar-powered radio, rubber-soled shoes and a flashlight near your bed so that you can help your pets and stay safe!

Pet Safety Tips for Specific Natural Disasters

Hurricanes.  The one good thing to be said about hurricanes is that they are predictable.  The National Hurricane Center tracks weather patterns and notes possible disturbances long before they pose a threat. It’s imperative that you monitor your local news channels and once a Hurricane Watch is issued, realize you have 24-36 hours before it hits, so do the following:

1.  Keep pets indoors and easily accessible should you need to suddenly pack them up and leave.  Cats can sense impending doom and often hide, so get them into a carrier early.

2.  Stay tuned to news stations for evacuation routes and make sure you completely understand the plan.

3.  Have at least one week’s food, water and any medications stored for your pets and prep your house for the storm [board-up-windows, stow away items that can blow away such as patio furniture, secure gates, etc.]

4.  A Hurricane Warning is issued when the storm is 24 hours away or less.  Complete all preparations before the rains and high winds arrive, and stay in your home only if it is safe.  If you evacuate, take Fido and Fluffy with you.

Wildfires.  Once underway, wildfires can consume thousands of acres and blow in changing directions.  For this reason, you should plan several escape routes for you an your pets in the event the flames block your path.

1.  Create a “fire break” around your home by clearing away vegetation, especially dead brush, about 30 feet from all structures.

2.  Use fabric, rope or leather leashes and collars.  Nylon ones melt when heated and can badly burn your pet.

3.  Take all animals with you.  Monitor your pets for burns and smoke inhalation.  Knowing how to perform Rescue Breathing and CPCR could save your pets life!

Earthquakes. Unlike most natural disasters, there is no advanced warning for an earthquake, allowing no time for last-minute precautions.  In addition to covering the three “At the Very Least” steps above:

1.  Never position dog runs, crates or enclosures underneath objects that could fall during a tremor.

2.  Add a pair of bolt cutters to your disaster kit in case damaged cages or fencing need opening.

3.  Know where to turn off the gas to your house, barn or kennels.

4.  Include your pets in the family earthquake drill and make sure all family members know how to handle them and realize that a frightened pet may bite or scratch.

5.  If you board your pet, make sure the facility knows of your earthquake preparedness plans.

6.  Should an earthquake occur, confine your pets.  Dogs that escape sometimes return at mealtime, but there are no guarantees!  Be prepared to handle cute and burned paws, know how to splint broken bones and stop bleeding in humans and animals alike.  In other words, take a Pet First-Aid Class before you wish you had and refresh your skills every few years!

Floods. Floods can affect any part of the world and can even be confined to only your home or apartment building.  Every year through, hundreds of thousands of people are forced to evacuate due to rising water.  Slowly rising water is usually due to rivers, streams or even a pipe leak in your home. Flash floods however can hit quickly caused by heavy rain or melting snow as well as failure of a dam or reservoir.

1.  Map out several evacuation routes for yourself and your four-legged family; don’t rely on only one which may be in the path of the floodwater.  Head for the nearest high ground with your pets, and it is always better to err on the side of caution and evacuate early.  If it is a false alarm, you and your family have practiced a meaningful drill instead of the real thing.

2. Never leave any animal behind or certainly don’t tie up an animal if floor waters threaten.  You cannot anticipate how high water may rise, so even birds enclosed on high perches could perish.

3. Remember that danger of disease can be an issue after a flood.  Keep pets away from standing water.  Have a good fresh supply of water on hand for everyone [1/2 gallon per day for small dogs; 1 gallon for larger animals] as even tap water may not be safe if contaminated water has entered the drinking supply.

Tornadoes.  Although tornadoes happen with little to no warning, steps can be taken to keep animals safe.  Depending on whether you live in Tornado Alley [Texas north to Southern Minnesota], the Gulf States or Southern Plains, Tornadoes peak between March and July.  In addition to following tips about ID tags/microchips, food & supplies, photos of you pets and knowing where to search should they become lost during a disaster, heed the following:

1.  Right now, practice bringing pets to your “safe” location.  Animals become frightened and hide during extreme weather, so leash dogs, crate cats and take them calmly to the basement, windowless closet or other shelter deemed safe.  Practice will make the real thing less stressful.

2.  As soon as a Tornado Watch [meaning conditions are right] is issued, crate felines and get dogs indoors to quicken the pace should you need to suddenly move to your safe location.

3.  Once a Watch is posted, move all caged critters [rabbits, birds, reptiles and pocket pets] to a basement or room without windows.  Aquariums/terrariums that cannot be easily moved should be slid under a desk or table or even covered with a large soft mattress to protect finned or gilled family members.

4.  When a Watch is issued, take horses to the sturdiest outbuilding.  Make sure each is identified with a halter and name/contact info spray painted on its left side.

5.  Stay tuned to radio broadcasts to determine when it’s safe to emerge.

Bone Up On Pet First Aid Skills Most Needed During Emergencies

To stop bleeding, apply direct pressure with clean gauze before bandaging.  Add elevation and compression on a pressure point [ major artery in the limbs or tail] to assist clotting if needed.

Gently flush burns with cool [not ice] water.  If blisters or charring are preset, cover with a non-stick bandage to prevent infection and quickly get to your veterinarian.

For digestive upsets, stop the food but keep fresh water coming.  Administer 1 teaspoon per 10-15lbs. body weight of Mylanta [other brands may have too much salicylic acid for pets].  Diarrhea and constipation may be alleviated with 1 Tablespoon of dehydrated pumpkin or puree for small pets and up to 3 Tablespoons for large pooches.

For heatstroke [body temperature 104F or higher] cool skin [paws, belly, pits and groin] with lukewarm to cool water.  Do not immerse pet up to his neck as your cause hypothermia.  Get prompt medical attention.  Always provide shade and fresh water and NEVER leave your pet in a parked car!

Examine your house from your pet’s perspective getting down on all fours. Anything on the floor can end up inside your pet! If you suspect poisoning, call your veterinarian or Poison Control {ASPCA [888]426-4435].  You will be advised to dilute the poison [caustic substances] or induce vomiting by administering one tablespoon of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide per 10-15 lbs. of the animal’s weight and then get quickly to your veterinarian or Emergency Animal Hospital.

For choking incidents, use your fingers to remove any visible obstruction, but look at what you’re doing- do not grab an item without seeing how it is situated inside your pet’s mouth. If you can’t retrieve it or your pet won’t let you, a modified version of the Heimlich Maneuver may be necessary.  This can best be learned in a Pet First Aid Class. Stand behind animal and place your arms around his waist keeping his head down.  Close your hand making a fist and place your fist in the soft part of the stomach just behind the last rib [use just a couple fingers for smaller pets].  Grasp the fist with your other hand and compress the abdomen by pushing up in a quick and rapid manner similar to the Heimlich Technique commonly performed on humans.  If the pet goes unconscious, lay him on his side and compress lungs b squeezing with the heel of your hand [or a few fingers] on the side of his chest to dislodge object.  For smaller pets, the flat tip of several fingers replace your fist.

CPCR-Yes!  There’s now a second “C” for “Cerebral” meaning an emphasis on getting blood and oxygen to the animal patient’s brain-can keep pets alive on the way to the animal hospital.  Breathe into your pet’s nostrils[only if he is not breathing at all] and compress his chest [only if he does not have a pulse] with the heel of your hand or several fingers-alternating two breaths to 30 compressions. These techniques are best learned in a class providing hands-o practice.

Preparing for the worst may just prevent the worst from happening!