Tips for helping pet owners prepare for a hurricane
Having lived on the North Carolina coast for the past 20 years, I’ve seen my fair share of hurricanes. Whenever hurricane warnings are in effect, pet owners begin to scramble. Here’s a list of tips pet owners should follow to prepare for a “bad blow.”
Use a pet carrier.
One of the most important pieces of equipment you can have during an evacuation or severe weather event is a pet carrier. This is especially important when transporting small dogs and cats. Carriers are required at many pet shelters and can serve as a safe space for a nervous pet. Be sure to label the carrier with your pet’s name, breed, sex, date of birth, your current address and contact numbers, and any important medical information.
Make sure you have at least two weeks of your pet’s medications on hand.
Those who remember Hurricane Hugo back in 1989 recall that many homeowners weren’t allowed to return for a week or more. In the event that a hurricane strikes, make sure you have 14 days of prescription medications, as well as heartworms and flea preventives. Pack them in a bag with your pet’s essentials and write down your current administration schedule in case you have to leave your pet at a kennel or other facility. I recommend applying heartworm and flea preventive prior to placing your pet in an evacuation facility—even if it’s not quite time for an application. Your pet may be exposed to fleas and mosquitoes and the extra protection will only help.
Carry a week’s worth of food and water.
If possible, divide your pet’s meals into individual storage bins or bags. This will help ensure you bring enough food and allow you to assist others who may have to care for your pet during an evacuation. Carry bottled water (figure 24 ounces per day for a 20-pound dog and 8 ounces a day for a 10-pound cat) and bowls. Many shelters will not have adequate food and water on hand for pets.
Bring at least two slip leashes.
I recommend you carry the simple slip-type webbing or nylon leashes with you at all times. A frightened dog can slip out of a collar, but a slip leash can hold it securely. A slip leash can also be used to restrain a cat in a pinch. Carry an extra leash in your pocket in case someone else needs it or you lose yours.
Before the storm, find out which evacuation shelters allow pets.
Many pet owners complain that they were turned away from evacuation shelters because they brought pets. Call your local and county officials and find out where you can take your pet before the storm hits. Your veterinarian or boarding facility may also take in pets during severe weather. Find out your options and make plans for your pet well in advance.
Bring a printed copy of your pet’s vaccine and medical history.
Contact your veterinarian a couple of days before a storm approaches to obtain any necessary forms. Even better: Keep a medical folder for your pets that contains your pet’s latest physical exam reports, blood tests and proof of vaccines or licenses. If you wait until a hurricane is imminent, your veterinarian may not be able to provide you with these documents. If your pet has a medical condition, make sure you understand the diagnosis, most recent diagnostic test results, treatment and prognosis. In an emergency, quick access to this information can save your pet’s life.
Have identification and contact information on your pet and carrier.
Be sure your pet is wearing a secure collar with your current contact information, including cell phone numbers. If you don’t have an ID tag, write your information in indelible ink on the collar and carrier. Hopefully your pet has a microchip—after major hurricanes, microchips are often the only means to positively identify lost pets. Thousands of pets were never reunited with their owners after Hurricane Andrew because owners could not positively identify their pets and prove ownership. If possible, include a contact not travelling with you in a safe area.
Take a photo of your pet before you leave your home.
A current photograph on a cell phone can be the difference between lost and found in the event you become separated during a storm.
Prepare for anxiety.
Hurricanes can last for many hours. Even the most storm-hardened pet can crack after numerous hours of howling wind and changes in barometric pressure. Carry anxiety wraps, calming herbal remedies and prescription medications if you suspect your pet needs it. Talk to your veterinarian a few days before a major storm to stock up on aides for your pet’s anxiety.
Pack litter, piddle pads, trash bags, shampoo, brushes, and towels.
I can’t tell you how often even the most prepared pet owner forgets these vital necessities. Bring a small baking pan and litter for cats, piddle pads, towels and trash bags for dogs—plenty of them. And don’t forget bathing supplies—things can get messy during a major storm.
Bring plenty of patience.
As an experienced evacuee, I can tell you that nothing happens as quickly or smoothly as you’d like. Keep in mind that everyone is just as stressed, nervous, and worried as you are. So try to be courteous, understanding, and helpful. I’ve had pet owners make unreasonable demands—imagine being asked to bathe and groom a pet during a Category 3 hurricane—and be downright rude to team members. If everyone remains calm, stays focused, and slows down, preparation and rescue efforts will go much more smoothly.
No one plans on a major storm disrupting his or her life. What you can prepare for is how you’ll respond when the hurricane watches and warnings are announced. Click here to download a client handout featuring these tips.