Natural Disasters and Pets

Posted on February 16, 2006 under Pet Health & Safety

Posted by Pets Best on 2/16/2006 in General Articles

Natural disasters such as hurricanes, fires and floods have a reputation for catching people unprepared, costing lots of money, destroying lives, plus injuring and even killing a huge number of companion pets. Too often pets are left behind in a home designated unsafe for any living being and must fend for themselves; unfortunately a vast majority are lost. Some pets are wiped out by the effects after a disaster strikes, some will slowly bleed to death from injuries sustained, some end up starving to death locked in a deserted home in an evacuated town and others will die from bad weather forced upon them.

The best thing a pet owning household can do to protect themselves and their pets is to be prepared. Don’t put disaster preparedness at the bottom of the “to do” list, make it urgent, any city anywhere at any moment can be struck with a deadly disaster. In order to accomplish this task the household needs to develop a plan that includes the pets. If an order to evacuate happens in your neighborhood where do you go? Do the work ahead of time, organize a list of pet friendly hotels, relatives or friends that will allow you and your pets to stay with them and plan pet friendly rest stops. Be prepared to travel quit a distance and plan to stay for an extended length of time, some people never return home after a natural disaster. Don’t plan to be able to hire a pet sitter or board the animals. Kennels that are safe will be full fast, if you leave your pet anywhere you may never be reunited and most kennels are not safe if they are in the path of the disaster. Remember if your home is not safe for you to stay in it during a natural disaster it is not safe for any animal. Also have disaster kits set up and accessible that contains first aid supplies, these may need to be grabbed at a moments notice.

A disaster kit needs to be kept in a location where it will be easy to snatch if you are in a hurry to vacate the property. Also it must be keep up to date if it is going to be safe to use therefore it should be checked and updated every two months. The kit should contain food, water, utensils, a can opener, pet dishes, extra means of identification for pets, photos, any medications, towels, plastic bags, extra leash and collar, flashlight and batteries, litter and box for felines, dish detergent, and a first aid kit. Food and water will need to be checked and possibly changed every two months to keep it fresh and safe to use. Also small animals need to have a kennel readily available and each small animal should have their own kennel, avoid placing two animals, even if friends, in the same kennel. Stress can cause animals behavior to change and being forced in close quarters could create an unneeded problem. In addition make sure all pets have a way to be identified if something happens to their owner or if they escape. Furthermore keep pets up to date on vaccines to help prevent disease transmission. Disease transmission always seems to be on the rise after a disaster attributed to many unvaccinated animals running loose and even breeding.

After the terror of Hurricane Katrina came through many issues came forth that involved pets who survived the disaster. During the evacuations in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana pets were not allowed to be housed in any shelters provided for humans. The consequence was many companions were left behind possibly as many as a quarter of a million left to fend for themselves. Fortunately more then six thousand have been rescued, but a great many survivors are still loose on the streets fending for themselves and multiplying. The reason for the growth on the streets and in the shelters was due to unaltered animals running loose. Shelters were seeing as many as seventy five animals come in daily and were finding a new age group, these were born a couple of months after the hurricane hit. Currently it is also a problem getting owned animals in the disaster area altered since owners are afraid to let their pet out of sight, worried they may not see them again. A concern with the growth of all these young animals is on the numbers of animals in the shelters and the spread of disease. These puppies may have been born without any antibodies to protect against preventable disease and there parents were exposed to horrible conditions including toxic water and heartworms. Heartworm has been found in a huge number of Katrina survivors and is expected to be spreading across the country as a result of rescued pets being adopted across the United States.

In addition to the health effects a natural disaster can have on animals there is a large amount of evidence that a traumatic event can affect an animal’s psychological well being. Evidence even suggests animals can experience post traumatic stress disorder. The psychological scars can run so deep that without rigorous training intervention the damage can drastically affect behavior especially when an animal stress level is increased. An event that reminds an animal of the stressful event may trigger undesirable behaviors even behaviors that are dangerous for the pet. Loud noises, thunder, heavy rain have been known to affect some pets that have survived natural disasters; some animals will act extremely strange and have even been known to jump out of closed windows trying to escape their fears. Signs of post traumatic stress include barking, crying, hiding, aggression, eliminating in an inappropriate location, and even pacing. These signs can show up right after living through a catastrophe while some animals will not show signs for weeks or even months after the disaster. Again the best thing you can do to protect any animals that you are responsible for is to keep them with you and when told to evacuate leave with the animals.

Natural disasters have been around as long as mankind, but with today’s modern society one would think with a warning loss of any living life could be kept to a minimum. Yet even as recent as Hurricane Katrina the loss of human and animal life was astonishing. Preparing your household for an unexpected catastrophe can greatly improve your odds for survival and by evacuating with your pets you can save their lives and minimize the danger created when mankind must try and rescue your pets after the disaster strikes.