While other residents are buying batteries and calculating escape routes, pet owners are most concerned with their precious pets. One of the most common concerns at this time of year is what will happen to our pets if a hurricane strikes.
If your home is in a vulnerable area, it may become necessary to leave during the threat of a major hurricane. In this situation, the welfare of a pet becomes a real problem. While it may be possible and ideal to take your pet with you to the safe home of a family member or friend, some residents may not have this option.
If it becomes necessary to evacuate your home you may need to spend some time in a Red Cross Shelter. Unfortunately, due to health reasons, Red Cross Shelters will not accept pets. Some people have chosen to stay in an unsafe home with their pets rather than go to shelters without them.
There is no need to risk your life to save your pet. There is a network of specially designated Red Cross Pet Hurricane Shelters.
Harmony Animal Hospital was instrumental in working with the Red Cross even before Hurricane Andrew to set up this network of pet shelters. Harmony Animal Hospital is designated as one of the safe havens, as are many other veterinary hospitals in Palm Beach County. To receive a complete list either come in ask us for a brochure, go to the Red Cross website or call them at 833-7711.
It is always important to plan ahead and even make advance reservations if necessary. You may have to bring your pet into the Pet Hurricane Shelter eight or more hours in advance of the hurricane. The shelter personnel will secure all of their charges and then make their own plans to be sure their homes and families are safe. Most shelters will not be able to accommodate you or your pet at the last minute so make your plans early.
Keep medical records on hand
Be sure your pet is up to date on all vaccinations and have proof available. Pet Hurricane Shelters will not accept unvaccinated animals. Dogs should be up-to-date on distemper, parvovirus and rabies vaccines. A bordetella vaccine (also called kennel cough) is necessary within the last 12 months. For cats, they should have had their yearly panleukopenia (also known as distemper) combo vaccine (with rhinotracheitis and calicivirus), as well as rabies. In addition, they should be up-to-date on the feline leukemia vaccine, or have had a recent negative test for this disease.
Stock plenty of your pet’s medications
Keep on hand those medications that your pet needs to take on a routine basis including heartworm pills. If you’re taking your pet to a shelter, it is also a good idea to bring your pet’s food and enough bottled water to last your pet for at least three days. If the power goes out water may not be available.
Have a roomy crate available
Since the Pet Hurricane Shelters will fill up their facility over their usual capacity in order to accommodate as many pets as possible, it is a good idea to have a roomy crate available so the shelter can house your pet. They may have more pets needing care than there are kennels or runs available. You may also want to use this crate at home, since frightened animals may exhibit behavior changes. Familiarize your pet with the crate until he or she feels comfortable and secure in it. Place identification on the crate as well as your pet (see below).
Not all Pet Hurricane Shelters are equipped or knowledgeable enough to handle your bird and exotic pets. Call ahead to find out which shelter would be most appropriate and what requirements you might have to meet. Have an appropriate cage or enclosure for your bird or exotic pet, as most shelters (including ours) cannot guarantee the availability of enough space to house these critters. Also have plenty of your pet’s normal diet on hand, as well as enough bottled water to last at least three days.
The choice of using a Pet Hurricane Shelter should always be the last choice. There are many more pets than there are spaces in shelters. Use one of the shelters if no other choice is available. If you are able to keep your pet in a safe home, it is often advisable to have pet tranquilizers available. Contact your veterinarian well in advance of the problem to discuss this possibility. Hurricanes are tremendously frightening to animals and they may be difficult to control and calm.
Horses and livestock
Large animals, of course, cannot be brought to Pet Hurricane Shelters. They should be boarded in barns that are strong enough to withstand the full storm surge. Sometimes it is better to leave them in a fenced pasture. Be sure your horses and other livestock are wearing identification so they can be reunited with you if they get loose and wander or become injured during the storm. Of course, secure all objects that may become deadly missiles during the storm. Horses should have a negative Coggins test, as well as their yearly vaccines (including Eastern and Western Encephalomyelitis, and tetanus). In addition, many horse veterinarians are recommending vaccinating your horse for rabies. This is a particularly good idea in the case of a hurricane when your horse may get loose and come in contact with many displaced domestic and wild animals.
Make sure pets wear identification
Identification is important whether you are boarding your pet or keeping your pet at home. When the storm is over be careful about letting your pets outside. There are many hazards to pets (and people) after a severe storm including broken glass, downed power lines, and dangerous debris. Your pet may become confused by the change to his normal environment and wander off and become lost. All pets should always wear identification in the form of a collar and tag, and a permanent identification microchip. We advise that you have your pets implanted with a microchip now, instead of waiting until a threat is imminent. Microchip implantation is a safe, and painless procedure that does not require anesthesia and only requires a few minutes. This tiny device is injected under the skin and becomes a permanent means of identifying your pet. Most animal rescue agencies can scan lost pets for microchips. If a hurricane strikes, the surroundings may appear unfamiliar to your pet and he or she may become disoriented or confused. Proper identification will increase the chances of a safe return home. Keep current photos of your pet as well. It is usually a huge undertaking after natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes to reunite lost pets with their owners. In all too many cases, that never occurs and some storm orphans may be lucky enough to find a new home.
In addition, after the storm, you will need to be sure that your pet does not consume any contaminated food or water since garbage pickup may be non-existent for a while.
The chance of an injury occurring is a possibility. It may not be easy to get to a veterinarian after the storm has passed due to roads being blocked and phone lines down.
Take a first aid class
One of our strongest recommendations is to be ready for this possibility. Sign up for the Red Cross Pet CPR/First Aid class that our doctors teach every few months. In that one-evening class, you will learn how to deal with many types of emergency injuries such as bleeding, broken bones, electrocution, and suffocation. You will also be taught CPR on a realistic dog CPR mannequin. Give us a call for the date of the next class.
Prepare a first aid kit
You can also be ready by having a first aid kit handy for your pet.
- Pet first-aid kit and guide book (visit our store, here, at the hospital for supplies)
- 3-7 days’ worth of canned (pop-top) or dry food (be sure to rotate every two months)
- Disposable litter trays (aluminum roasting pans are perfect)
- Litter or paper toweling
- Liquid dish soap and disinfectant
- Disposable garbage bags for clean-up
- Pet feeding dishes
- Extra collar or harness as well as an extra leash
- Photocopies of medical records and a waterproof container with a two-week supply of any medicine your pet requires (Remember, food and medications need to be rotated out of your emergency kit—otherwise they may go bad or become useless.)
- Bottled water, at least 7 days’ worth for each person and pet (store in a cool, dry place and replace every two months)
- A traveling bag, crate or sturdy carrier, ideally one for each pet
- Blanket (for scooping up a fearful pet)
- Recent photos of your pets (in case you are separated and need to make “Lost” posters)
- Especially for cats: Pillowcase or EvackSack, toys, scoopable litter
- Especially for dogs: Extra leash, toys and chew toys, a week’s worth of cage liner.
You should also have an emergency kit for the human members of the family. Items to include: Batteries, duct tape, flashlight, radio, multi-tool, tarp, rope, permanent marker, spray paint, baby wipes, protective clothing and footwear, extra cash, rescue whistle, important phone numbers, extra medication and copies of medical and insurance information.
For any further information on how your four-legged loved ones can weather a hurricane please call your veterinarian, or the local (in Palm Beach County) Red Cross at (561) 833-7711.
Hurricane Season continues through the beginning of November
If you live in a flood zone plan now to have your pets housed safely if a hurricane strikes. Harmony Animal Hospital is one in a series of Red Cross Pet Shelters. If you can’t take your pet with you to safety, (pets are not allowed in Red Cross shelters for people) bring him or her here.