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

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Family Disaster Plan Should Include Pets

Pet Column for the week of June 12, 2006

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

Storms, floods, fires, disease outbreaks and terrorist attacks are frightening realities that people all over the world face today, and when disaster strikes, people are often unprepared to care for themselves, let alone their animals. Having an emergency disaster plan can benefit everyone in the family, including the family pets.

Allison Fedash, a veterinary student at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and volunteer for the animal rescue group Noah's Wish, explains that there's never a better time to prepare for a disaster than now.

"The problem is, people don't plan, and why should they if they don't think anything bad is going to happen?"

As a volunteer for Noah's Wish, Fedash has helped rescue animals from flood, storm and fire-wrought areas. Noah's Wish, which is over 2000 volunteers strong, works with organizations such as the Red Cross to help locate and rescue pets and farm animals. Noah's Wish sent volunteers to the sites of the south Asian tsunami, the World Trade Center disaster and hurricane Katrina.

Fedash explains that a disaster plan for animals is very much like that for the human members for the family. "Have an evacuation plan, have an emergency kit ready, and have your paperwork in order."

An evacuation plan may be as simple as making sure you have adequate transportation for everyone in the family, including your animals. This can be especially challenging for owners of large animals such as horses. "For horses or other big animals, have a trailer--even if you think you'll never use it, it's a good idea to purchase a second-hand trailer."

"I also keep my tack on a hook right outside each of my horses' stalls so it's always easy to find." Plan with your neighbors in case you aren't home during a disaster, and inform family and friends of your plan.

The most important part of evacuating is doing it. "When the authorities tell you to evacuate, evacuate. Bring your pets with you if you can, and if you have the chance, leave a note on the door stating that all animals and people have been evacuated from the house."

An emergency supply kit for animals would include many of the same things as that for a person: three days worth of food and water in airtight containers, a can opener, food and water bowls, and medications (including heartworm and flea preventives). A kit for animals would also contain some from of confinement such as a travel crate or collapsible kennel, leashes, collars or halters, and sanitary supplies such as plastic poop bags for dogs, litter pans and newspaper for cats and paper for birds.

Emergency food and water supplies, for either animals or humans, should be rotated every three months (more often for perishable products such as hay) to make sure the supply is fresh.

Having paperwork together and up-to-date can save a lot of headaches and red tape when a disaster strikes. "Make sure your animals are current on their vaccinations and tests, and have their current veterinary records handy. Many shelters and kennels won't take cats and dogs without current rabies vaccinations, and if you need to take your horse across state lines, you'll need a current Coggins test."

Keep veterinary records in a waterproof container along with photographs of your animals for identification purposes. You also may want to have pre-printed "lost" flyers with a photo and description of your animal. Also keep a list of phone numbers of emergency organizations.

Identification is key for any animal. Tags and tattoos may work for some animals, but owners may want to consider microchipping, since it is a permanent form of identification and works for several species, from birds to Guinea pigs to horses.

Fedash reflects on how pets can be a true comfort when a disaster strikes. "At Noah's Wish, we've had people come to us and say 'I lost my home, my job and I have no money, no place to work--but I have my cat, and that's all I care about right now.' During these times, that pet can mean so much."

For more information on vaccinations, tests, and microchipping for your pet, consult your veterinarian. For more information on disaster planning for your pet, or for information on becoming a Noah's Wish volunteer, visit