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Sunday, March 3, 2024
HomeHealthPet Disaster Preparedness

Pet Disaster Preparedness

The past month has reminded many of us that weather-related disasters are real and can happen anywhere along the coast. Remember 2003 and hurricane Isabelle? Weather is a fact of life, but being prepared for an emergency is a choice. Resolve this month to put together a plan for an emergency – whether it be related to meteorological events or something else.

Do not assume that your location precludes you from having to leave your residence. Gas leaks, fires, power outages, and other reasons can necessitate an immediate emergency. We live in the city in smaller quarters, so storing two weeks’ worth of water is usually not practical, but there are simple steps that can be taken by anyone.

Prepare an Evacuation Plan
If you need to leave, where will you go? Discuss with friends and relatives in nearby and more distant places if you can place your animals with them for temporary shelter. Having a destination location will greatly ease the burden in an emergency. Many times, it is not possible to reach more distant places, so check with your local government’s emergency or disaster management website about local pet sheltering. In the District of Columbia consult https://hsema.dc.gov/.

Have a Pet Carrier at the Ready
You should one clean carrier per pet readily accessible. This is not necessary for larger dogs but may be useful should your residence have the space. Being buried in the back of a closet or in an attic crawl space does not qualify as readily accessible.

Rule of thumb: be able to access it from anywhere in the house within one minute.

Place a copy of your pet’s most recent vaccine history in a plastic bag taped to the top of the carrier or in a side pouch. Do this after each annual vet visit. Should your pet need to be sheltered, having this information makes life much easier. A paper copy is ideal as it can be used numerous times, even when the power is out.

Be certain the carrier is labelled with your contact information and that of a trusted friend or relative.

Spare Leash and Basket Muzzle at the Ready
Always have two dog leashes, with one of them in a dedicated place. When you need to evacuate quickly, you should not have to look for a leash. It is also useful to have your contact information on the leash – via embroidery or a tag. This information should also be on your dog’s collar.

Why a basket muzzle, you ask? In a disaster, pets will often be sheltered, but not necessarily in the same area as humans. The disaster organization sets up an ad hoc kennel operation, and when checking into the shelter, you may be standing on a long line with many other pet owners. Dogs may become agitated and stressed. Should your pup show any aggression, there may be new problems to tackle. Basket muzzles allow a dog to drink, eat small treats, and breathe normally.

Microchip Your Pet
In times of duress, pets may become separated from their people. Collars may fall off or, in the case of an indoor housecat, there may not be a collar at all. Pet microchips – about the size of a large grain of rice and implanted under the skin between the shoulders – provide rescue teams a reliable method of reconnecting pets with owners. Be sure the information in the chip database is current and correct. We routinely place microchips. It is quick and easy and can be done most any day.

Spare Food Containers
Near your pet’s main food supply, keep a waterproof container that can hold a week’s worth of food. This enables you to quickly grab food and go. Have a small collapsible water dish within the container. Keep several gallons of bottled water near the food container. Remember that when pets are sheltered in an emergency, the staff may not have your particular food in stock. Sheltered pets are frequently supplied with a main-brand dry food to feed every pet of that species.

If your pet is on a chronic medication, or is known to receive a periodic medication, it is advisable to have a two-week supply at home, assuming that the medication is stable enough to last for two weeks. Your veterinarian will appreciate your not calling at the end of the day for a refill after you run out.

If You Need to Evacuate
If an evacuation order is issued, don’t delay. Always take your pets with you if safe to do so. Going back to retrieve them may not be possible once you have left your residence.

At the outset of an evacuation, it is normal to think that the need to leave will be brief, but sometimes the evacuees discover they will not be able to return home for an extended period of time. Place pets in carriers, fill the food container or bring the food bag and canned foods, grab any medications and essential supplies, leash pets, and then get out.

The sooner you leave, in general, the better the outcome and the more resources available to you. The last thing you want to do is increase your chance of becoming a disaster victim yourself.

We at District Vet are happy to discuss emergency preparedness with you. We also have further information at www.districtvet.com. Please remember that an hour of planning may translate to saving your best friends in time of disaster.

District Veterinary Hospital will be opening its Eastern Market location this fall.

The above information has been adapted from the American Veterinary Medical Association’s “Saving the Whole Family” campaign.


Dan Teich, DVM, is at District Veterinary Hospital, 3748 10th St. NE, Washington, DC 20017; 202-827-1230 and desk@districtvet.com.

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