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Emergency Smarts: Disaster Planning for Your Pets

We’re all advised to make emergency preparedness plans for our family, but what about our pets? Whether you care for dogs, birds or cats, their safety is equally at risk during an emergency. And, as with the members of your family, advance preparations can make all the difference in keeping your pets safe when disaster strikes.

Here are some key points for putting together an emergency plan for your pets:

Make plans to shelter your animals.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website Ready.gov says never to leave your pets at home if you need to evacuate during an emergency. And because many emergency shelters will not accept pets, according to Ready.gov, it’s important to identify a few out-of-town locations now where you can shelter your animals. Be sure to ask about any restrictions (like the number of pets, the size of the animal, etc.) so you have accurate information.

Emergency shelters. Start by contacting your local emergency management office (likely a county-level department), and ask if any of the local shelters are among the few that do accept pets.

Boarding kennels. Kennels are another option for sheltering your pet in an emergency, though they’ll typically require your pets to be up to date on all vaccinations (often requiring proof), so discuss this with your vet during your pet’s next check-up.

Pet-friendly lodging. Motels or hotels can be another option; try one of the many online directories of pet-friendly hotels to begin your research, and then create a list with phone numbers and addresses to keep with your emergency kit.

Friends and family. You might also contact out-of-town acquaintances to see if they might be able to offer your animals accommodations in the event of an emergency.

If you have more than one pet, you may need to make separate arrangements to shelter them all safely. Some facilities may have restrictions on the number of animals they can accept. And it’s possible that even friends and family may find that caring for more than one pet is overwhelming.

Update your pet’s identification.

Ensure your pets have up-to-date identification tags with their names and your phone number (a cell phone number is probably best) attached to their collars at all times. Ready.gov suggests that, during an emergency, you also attach your pet’s shelter location and phone number to his collar; if he becomes lost, that extra layer of information may help you reunite with him.

Another precaution may be to microchip each of your pets; these services are typically done by a veterinarian and cost less than $50, according to the online adoption center Petfinder.com; a microchip registers your pet with a nationwide database accessible to vets and rescue shelters.

If you take this option, know that there may be an annual maintenance fee and that you’ll be responsible for updating the contact information associated with your pet.

Create a pet survival kit.

Put together an animal version of your own emergency kit, which will be essential for your pets during an emergency (whether you shelter in place or evacuate). Ready.gov suggests a number of items:

  • Copies of your pets’ health records
  • Current photos to use as as reference if you become separated
  • Food and water, plus feeding bowls
  • Medications and grooming supplies
  • Blankets, toys and other comfort items to help your pet release nervous energy
  • Leash, carrier and potentially even a muzzle to help you maintain control over a nervous pet

Know what to do during a disaster.

Ready.gov also offers helpful advice on how to protect your pet during a severe storm, hurricane or other disaster:

  • Bring your pets inside if you’re home and severe weather is on its way. Some animals exhibit nervous signs when they sense severe weather changes, Ready.gov says, so bring them in well in advance to prevent a runaway. 
  • Lay down newspapers or potty pads for pets that usually relieve themselves outside.
  • Provide moist foods such as canned meat, so that the animal will require less water to drink.
  • Separate pets that don’t get along, if necessary, to prevent fights.
  • Bring your pet with you if you have to evacuate, Ready.gov says. Never leave your pet outside or tie him up during a storm.

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