Pet Connection: How to keep pets safe during disaster

06/25/2013 12:00 AM

06/24/2013 4:27 PM

Tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, floods and earthquakes – there are few places on Earth that are not vulnerable to one or more natural disasters.

We've learned from countless disasters that people often will put their own lives at risk – and the lives of first responders as well – if there are no options for relocating with their animal companions. Public planning now includes pets, and your own planning should, too. Here are the basics you need to know:

Have a plan: Prepare for all possibilities, and make sure everyone in your family knows what to do. Try to figure out now what's most likely for you and your community, and how you will respond. Where will you go? What will you take? You need to get these answers in advance. Get to know your neighbors and put a plan in place to help each other out. Find out from local shelters and veterinary organizations – and your family's own veterinarian – what emergency response plans are in place and how you fit into them in case of a disaster.

ID your pets: Many, if not most, animals will survive a disaster. But too many will never see their families again if there's no way to determine which pet belongs to which family. That's why pets should always wear a collar and identification tags with your cellphone number and the numbers of a couple of out-of-area contacts. Better still is the additional permanent identification that can't slip off, such as a tattoo or an embedded microchip.

Practice preventive care: Disease follows disaster, which is why keeping a pet as healthy as possible with up-to-date vaccinations is essential. Prepare a file with up-to-date medical records, your pets' microchip or tattoo numbers, your veterinarian's phone number and address, feeding and medication instructions and recent pictures of your animals. Trade copies of emergency files with another pet-loving friend or family member. It's a good idea for someone else to know about your pet, should anything happen to you.

Have restraints ready: Even normally calm pets can freak out under the stress of an emergency, especially if injured. You should be prepared to restrain your pet – for its safety and the safety of others.

Keep leashes, muzzles and carriers ready for emergencies: The means to transport your pet shouldn't be something you have to find and pull from the rafters of your garage. Harnesses work better than collars at keeping panicky pets safe. Shipping crates are probably the least-thought-of pieces of emergency equipment for pet owners but are among the most important. Sturdy crates keep pets safe and give you more options for housing your pets if you have to leave your home.

Keep supplies on hand: Keep several days' worth of pet food and safe drinking water ready to go in the event of a disaster, as well as any necessary medicines. Canned food is better in an emergency, so lay in a couple of cases, and don't forget to pack a can opener with your emergency supplies. For cats, keep an extra bag of litter on hand. And pack lots of plastic bags for dealing with waste.

Learn first aid: Pet-supply stores sell ready-made first-aid kits, or you can put your own together fairly easily with the help of any pet-related first-aid book or website. Keep a first-aid book with your supplies. If you check around in your community, you should be able to find a pet first-aid class to take that will give you the basic knowledge you need.

Be prepared to help: You may be lucky enough to survive a disaster nearly untouched, but others in your community won't be so fortunate. Check out groups that train volunteers for disaster response, and consider going through the training. Disaster-relief workers do everything from distributing food to stranded animals to helping reunite pets with their families and find new homes for those animals who need them. Volunteering in a pinch is not only a good thing to do, it's also the right thing for anyone who cares about animals and people.

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Email them at petconnection@gmail.com or visit www.petconnection.com. Back columns: www.sacbee.com/spadafori.

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