Don’t Forget Fido
Dealing With Your Pets During a Hurricane*
My dog Roo always travels with me during hurricane evacuations. As we enter the heart of hurricane season and Tropical Storm Florence looks like it may impact the United States as Hurricane Florence, it is time to start thinking about hurricane preparations. Unfortunately, during all the preparations and anxiety that surrounds a hurricane, many forget about the family pet until it’s too late. However, it’s imperative that you make advance preparations to evacuate your family and your pets in any situation. In the event of a disaster, proper preparation will pay off with the safety of your family and pets. There are steps that you can take to be better prepared to care for your pets in a hurricane.
The single most important thing you can do to protect your pets if you evacuate is to take them with you. If it’s not safe for you to stay in the disaster area, it’s not safe for your pets. Animals left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Animals left inside your home can escape through storm-damaged areas, such as broken windows. Animals turned loose to fend for themselves are likely to become victims of exposure, starvation, predators, contaminated food or water, or accidents. Leaving dogs tied or chained outside in a disaster is a death sentence.
A good rule of thumb is to start with your veterinarian, ensuring that your pet’s vaccinations are up to date. You can also ask them if they will be boarding pets in the event of an evacuation, or if they might suggest a place that will be accepting animals. Most emergency shelters will not accept pets. Knowing that you have a safe place for your pet will lift a large burden from your shoulders. Never leave your pet alone at home, or in a vehicle, if you evacuate.
Pet Hurricane Kit (the Basics)
Just like people, pets should each have their own hurricane kit as well. The following items are a necessity in any pet’s hurricane preparation kit:
- Pet carrier: The carrier should be large enough that your pet can comfortably turn around and lay down. In the event that an evacuation is called, cage space may be limited and your pet may be restricted to his carrier.
- Blanket or bed: This should fit on the bottom of your pet’s carrier without blocking air vents. Not only providing a comfortable surface for your pet to lay down, a pet blanket or bed can also help prevent your pet from slipping or falling when their carrier is moved.
- Medical records and medicines: It is essential have your pet’s vaccination record (shots need to be up to date). Many shelters will not allow pets to stay if they do not have proof of vaccinations available. Additionally, if your pet needs any type of medication, ensure that you take this along and that you have marked the bottle distinctly with your pet’s and your name.
- Food: You should always make sure that your pet has enough dry food to last her several days and that it is stored in an air-tight container. Wet food is not recommended unless you can provide it in single serving containers, due to the fact that refrigeration may not be available. Remember to include a food bowl and a can-opener if you use canned food.
- Water: It is very important to supply your pet with a minimum of a week’s supply of water. Some veterinarians recommend storing water drawn from your own tap, that your pet is used to drinking at home as water can vary from area to area, and a sudden change in food or water can lead to bowel disruption and unnecessary stress. Remember to include a water bowl.
- Collars, Leashes and I.D. Tags: Ensure that your pet has a well-fitting collar or leash and each has a tag with owner identification. Many owners are now having pets micro-chipped. For more information about micro-chipping, contact your veterinarian
- Photograph: Keep a current picture of you with your pet. This is essential in case you get separated from your pet.
- Toys & Treats: Toys and treats will help you pet relax under the stress and anxiety of a disaster situation.
First Aid Kit:
It’s also recommended that you have a pet first aid kit ready to take with you in case of emergency evacuation. Here are some items you might want to include:
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Rubber Gloves
- Rolled Gauze
- Gauze Pads
- Medical Conform Tape
- Antibiotic Ointment
- Saline Solution
- Baby Wipes
Because evacuation shelters generally don’t accept pets, except for service animals, you must plan ahead to ensure that your family and pets will have a safe place to stay. Animals brought to a pet shelter must have the following:
- Proper identification collar and rabies tag
- Proper identification on all belongings
- A carrier or cage
- An ample supply of food, water and food bowls
- Any necessary medications
- Specific care instructions
- Newspapers or trash bags for clean-up.
Protecting Your Pets
Caring for Fish, Birds and Other Small Animals During a Hurricane
If you have aquarium fish, it will be nearly impossible to take them along with you if you have to evacuate for a hurricane. The only exception is if you have a betta fish. In this case, you may be able to transport your betta in a Tupperware container with holes in the top to permit oxygen. If you have to evacuate your home, here are a few guidelines from marine pet experts that might help your aquarium fish survive.
- Unplug any heaters or hang-on-back filters.
- Remove enough water so that it just covers the fish.
- Remove any large rocks or fixtures to avoid crushing your fish.
- You can buy a battery-operated air pump at a pet store or through mail-order for as little as $8.99.
- Move the tank to the floor in a protected area such as under the dining room or coffee table or in the laundry room, basement, or bathroom—a place with no windows. You may need to remove some of the water or gravel to make the tank light enough to lift.
- If your tank is too big to move, you can place your fish in plastic bags (double-bagged) filled with water and insert them into a sturdy bucket.
- DO NOT OVERFEED YOUR FISH. Feed your fish their usual amount before you evacuate. It is better for your fish to be underfed than overfed during an emergency. According to Aquarium Fish International, most fish can last over a week without food.
- When you return home, refill your tank with fresh, declorinated water and plug in all your pumps and heaters.
- If you are still left without electricity, you can aerate your water manually. You can do so by using battery operated air pumps, by using an egg beater (away from the fish), or by scooping out some of the water and allowing it to fall back once every hour.
If you are evacuating during a hurricane, it is best to take your bird with you if at all possible. Below are some pointers on how to care for your bird during a hurricane.
- Transport your bird in a secure travel cage. Do not put water inside the cage.
- If the weather is hot, carry a spray water bottle or plant mister and periodically spray water on your bird’s feathers.
- Allow your bird to eat slices of fruits and vegetables with high water content.
- If your carrier does not have a perch, line the carrier with paper towels and change them frequently.
- Keep the cage in a quiet area at all times.
- NEVER LET THE BIRD OUT OF ITS CAGE.
- Leg band or microchip your bird in case of separation.
- Always carry a photo of your bird for identification.
- Bring along any medication, food, toys, newspaper/paper towels, and cleaning supplies.
Hamsters, Gerbils, Ferrets, and other small animals
- Transport these small animals in cages or carriers suitable for maintaining them in case you must evacuate.
- Keep animals in their cage at all times. Animals may panic during a disaster situation and act abnormally or run away.
- Take your pets along with you if you can.
- Don’t forget to bring food, water, water bottles, bedding, toys, medication, and other supplies.
- Clean out the cage frequently.
- According to the Broward County emergency officials a pillowcase makes an excellent transport carrier for reptiles, especially snakes.
- Immediately transfer your pet to a more secure carrier when you arrive where you are staying.
- Bring adequate food, a water bowl and a heating pad.
- When transporting house lizards, use the same care instructions as birds.
Caring for your Large Animals During a Hurricane
If you have a horse, donkey, mule, or other large animal, consider registering it with your county’s Large Animal Disaster Planning Committee. Most coastal counties should have such a committee in case a hurricane strikes. The LADC uses a Geographic Information System (GIS) to see all registered horses on a computerized map. This will allow LADC to assist in returning lost animals to their owners after a hurricane or emergency situation.
Protecting your Large Animal
In the event of a hurricane, there are a few suggestions to protecting your large animal. Some suggest keeping the animal in a large barn or stable. Before doing so, it is important that you check the sturdiness of the building. How sturdy and wind-resistant are the roof, windows, doors, and walls? How well is the building tied to its foundation?
It is also important that you make sure that pasture fences are in good condition. The Broward County, Florida Extension Education Division recommends using board fences nailed to the posts on the inside. When horses push or lean against this type of fence, the nails are pushed further into the post, securing the rails even more1. Barbed wire fences can injure your large animal. Also, chain link and horse wire fences can collect debris and fall down during a hurricane. According to guidelines suggested by Lee County, Florida, the safest place for large animals to weather a storm is in a large pasture with both low areas that provide shelter during a storm and higher areas that will not flood after the storm2.
County animal safety officials also recommend closing barn and stall doors, opening all interior pasture gates, putting ID on all animals and turning large animals out. While the animal may suffer injuries from debris, the chances of survival are much better than if the animal were housed in a barn.
They note that one of the leading causes of large animal deaths following a hurricane is a collapsed barn. Where you store your large animal may depend on the storm category. In a category I or II storm, your animal may be more secure in a barn or stable.
In a severe category 3 or 4 hurricane, large animals will probably be safer outside as long as they have ¼- ½ acre per animal to move around, strong fences that will not collect debris, and no overhead power lines. It is recommended that you leave at least one to two weeks of feed or hay. It is also important to have 15-20 gallons of water per large animal. Feed should be stored in waterproof containers and hay bales should be covered with a tarp and kept on high ground to avoid flooding. If you have a horse, it should be wearing a leather halter. This makes catching your horse easier should it get away, but will allow the horse to break free if it gets caught on something. As with dogs and other small animals, it is important to properly identify your large animal. The Broward County LADC recommends at least three forms of identification*:
- Spray paint your area code and telephone number on the side of the horse in a contrasting color. Use acrylic paint, which will wear off in 1-2 weeks.
- Attach a fetlock band or mare band to your horse with your name, address and telephone number in permanent ink.
- Place the horse’s identification information on a waterproof luggage tag and braid it into the mane or tail, close to the base.
- Attach pertinent information to the halter. Secure tightly in a plastic bag and affix to the halter with packing tape.
- If your horse is tattooed or has an electronic chip, be sure ownership information with the appropriate registry is up-to-date.
*This section contains emergency tips and planning information that is primarily derived from The Humane Society of the United States, and we would like to thank them for the use of their information. Click here for their online disaster resource center.