Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Plan for Pets’ Safety in Case of Disaster


Pet Column for the week of July 15, 2013

Related information:

Species - Exotics

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Sarah Netherton
Information Specialist

Whether tornado, flood, wildfire, or hurricane, a natural disaster may strike in nearly any location. Add the possibility of a house fire, and no family is immune. A family disaster action plan should take into account the non-human family members.

One of the most important precautions is to use multiple ways of identifying your pets in case you are separated from them, according to Dr. Suzett Hexum, an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana and a veterinarian with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
“Redundancy in identification offers the best chance of reuniting owner and pet,” says Dr. Hexum.

“First, make sure a pet has a collar with identification tag that includes the pet’s name, owner’s name, current address, and phone number,” she advises. “This will make for a quick return if a good Samaritan comes across the animal—and save a trip to a veterinarian’s office or animal shelter to scan for a microchip.”

Microchipping by a veterinarian is strongly advised as a permanent means of identification, since collars can get lost. Dr. Hexum also recommends keeping a current photo of you and your pet. The photo would serve as a description of the animal and also as proof of ownership.

Another key part of a disaster plan is to know in advance where you can take your pet if disaster strikes. Dr. Hexum advises asking your veterinarian or local animal shelter to see if a pet can be taken in temporarily in the case of an emergency that forces you from your home.

For owners who board their pets, Dr. Hexum advises asking to see the emergency plan for the animals. “The business owner should realize that you want peace of mind, and you will learn whether the establishment has an emergency plan,” she says.

“You can also contact your county emergency response board to learn the county’s emergency plans during a natural disaster,” says Dr. Hexum. “Government agencies in Illinois are now required to incorporate animals into emergency plans.”

Livestock as well as pet owners should have plans for where to house their animals in case of evacuation.

“Use the buddy system and talk to neighbors, friends, and relatives who may be able to provide a safe place to seek shelter if you agree to do the same for them,” says Dr. Hexum.

For large animals and exotic pets such as snakes, lizards, and rabbits, owners can follow similar identification precautions. Horses and camelids (camels, llamas, and alpacas) can be microchipped and identified with a name tag attached to a halter. Cattle, pigs, goats, and sheep should have ear tags.

“Seeking shelter for large animals takes more planning since they need more space and the proper housing facilities,” explains Dr. Hexum. “Many counties will plan to use fairgrounds in the case of an evacuation. An owner’s best tool is to network with neighbors, friends, and family.”

Exotic animals should be placed in an escape-proof portable enclosure that is identified with the pet’s name, owner’s name, and current address and telephone number.

“If a large-scale disaster occurs and people and animals are sheltered in a common area, you may find that other evacuees do not appreciate your snakes and spiders,” says Dr. Hexum. “Some people have significant phobias, so keeping the animal covered and out of sight may allow everyone to coexist.”

She advises having a crate or other enclosure large enough for the pet to stand up and turn around.

Her final advice is to prepare a pet emergency supply kit. It should include enough food and water to last the animal three days, and the food should be kept in an airtight container. Additional supply kit essentials include: medications, bandage rolls, cotton, bandage tape and scissors, antibiotic ointment, flea and tick prevention, latex gloves, isopropyl alcohol, and saline solution. Sanitation supplies such as litter boxes, paper towels, newspapers, garbage bags, and bleach should also be part of the kit.

The emergency supply kit should contain documentation, including a pet first-aid reference book and a list of possible shelters for the animal, with the name, address, and phone number of these safe havens. Additionally, Dr. Hexum recommends that your animal’s medical records be kept in a waterproof container and stored in the emergency supply kit.

Dr. Hexum says to remember that there will be chaos in the event of an emergency, so being prepared to keep your animals safe will eliminate one additional source of worry.

For more information about pet disaster preparedness, contact your local veterinarian or animal shelter. The state of Illinois has online recommendations and resources at Ready.Illinois.gov.