Disaster Season – Prepare Your Pet Now

During a recent intense January cold snap in Northern Illinois, Dr. Jim Carlson opened his practices up to the community’s animals when their owners faced displacement due to the -35F weather.  “There were many shelters set up for humans but none could take animals. Many people would rather stay home in very cold weather with their pet than leave a cherished family member behind to suffer.  This can be very dangerous so it’s important that those who can help, such as animal hospitals or kennels, step up when necessary. It’s important as a community to assist everyone in the evolving ways they want and need help,” said Dr. Carlson.

Preparedness is key to successfully surviving an emergency situation. Having a plan with documents in place and knowing where you and your pet can find safety will provide reassurance in a time of disaster.

“This issue can be more detailed and complicated than an owner might consider. I would suggest first keeping your pet’s health care plan up to date including important vaccinations like rabies and kennel cough.  Those vaccines and others are necessary in case you need to board your pet or travel. It’s likely a kennel, extended stay hotel or airline will ask for proof of vaccination and possibly a negative intestinal parasite screen,” said Dr. Jim Carlson, veterinarian and practice owner at Riverside Animal Clinic McHenry and Grove Animal Hospital & Holistic Center in Chicago’s northwest suburbs.

Organizing veterinary documents in a go-to binder, saving them digitally and being able to access paperwork from your mobile phone or email can be lifesavers. In addition to vaccination and health papers, don’t forget pet identification information: microchip number, photos and a collar with your name and contact information on it.  said Dr. Carlson.

Pet owners should also set aside a first aid kit suitable for their pet and for themselves.  “This step is very important because many things can happen when travelling with an animal. For instance, if you have to go to a shelter that accepts pets and your pet won’t calm down, medication might be necessary so it’s a good idea to talk to your veterinarian about this in advance. In times of great stress, you will need access to medications to calm a pet, proof of rabies vaccination in case your pet bites another person and enough supplies to help a human or animal in need,” said Dr. Carlson.  

Refills of important medications shouldn’t be left until the last pill and the types of medications you need should be reviewed.  Ask yourself some key questions: Does your pet get carsick on long rides? Is it aggressive toward other dogs with who you might share space?   How will you store sensitive supplies like insulin? Does someone else caring for the pet understand how to dose and administer medications?

When packing food for yourself or your family, try to keep things the same when it comes to pet food. Stick with what’s familiar whenever possible. Buying an extra bag of your pet’s regular food, treats and even comfort items will help limit gastric distress or illness due to food changes.  Throwing in a probiotic paste to ease a distressed tummy is also not a bad idea.

Communication and planning is important when handling where you will go in an emergency, whether it’s short term or long term.  If you are thinking of staying with family and friends, you should discuss their level of comfort with your animals. Or, consider visiting and interviewing local kennels in advance if you’ll be staying in another city or state during a disaster.  

Large animals, such as equines, require a structured plan.  You will absolutely need to find a place to pasture or rest a horse being hauled out of a flood or other disaster.  Reaching out through social media and to barns along your planned route is helpful when developing an evacuation plan.  An owner will need to organize hauling by a professional or if hauling alone, plan to have a trailer’s lights, tires and brakes in good condition and stocked with hay, feed, buckets, medications and all necessary health papers. That includes a current Coggins test which is necessary to haul between state lines and is a requirement at any boarding facility. Vaccinations and deworming should also be up to date.

Putting some thought into where you’ll go and what you’ll do isn’t something to put on the back burner. Severe weather season begins in just a month.  We all hope that an evacuation plan is not something we’ll need but Plan B brings much comfort in difficult times.

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