Why make an emergency plan for your pet?
Today’s pets are integral members of most families, and because of this, their health and welfare is as important as that of any other family member. Just as human family members should have a disaster plan, so should their pets; and cats have their own particular needs when it comes to disaster preparedness preparation. One should not leave your cat(s) behind as there will likely not be a source of food or clean water. Many are not used to fending for themselves if they suddenly find themselves outside; and there can be many hazards in the aftermath of a disaster, such as dangerous debris and toxic chemicals.
What types of emergencies should you consider?
Emergencies are often a direct result from a disaster. One category of disasters includes natural disasters. Natural disasters can include, but are not limited to blizzards, ice storms, floods, tornados, high winds, fires, hurricanes, tsunami’s, hail, earthquakes, and excessive heat. Man-made disasters are the other category of disasters and include things such as nuclear disasters, chemical spills and blackouts.
Utility service interruptions can occur after any natural or man-made disaster. These utility interruptions can last a few minutes to as long as many weeks or months. Some may necessitate one leaving their home, and unfortunately for some disasters, there may be no home left to return to after it is over.
Unplanned separation from pets can result from any of the above disasters as well as individual emergency situations such as unplanned illness, death in the family, accidental injury and travel delays, to name a few.
Suggestions for emergency situations
It is important to know what disasters could happen in your area so you can plan accordingly. The type of disaster will dictate if you can shelter at home or if you will need to leave your home and find shelter elsewhere. If you do need to leave your home, be aware that not all public shelters, hotels, relatives or friends will allow pets, so one should have several alternatives. In a large-scale disaster, it is likely that many people in your vicinity will be trying simultaneously to find pet-friendly lodging alternatives, so it would be wise to have the names of places in other communities where you could go in case local alternatives are already taken. In the case of an individual emergency situation, ensure a trusted neighbor or close relative has a key to your dwelling or the code to your lock/garage door; better yet both in case there is no power to run the garage door opener, etc.
Next, create your disaster plan, develop a checklist and make your pet evacuation kit. For your cat, things to consider for your plan in addition to your pet’s evacuation kit include how you will actually transport it (on a leash or in a carrier), where you will you go, as well as alternative routes to get there as some roads may be impassible or closed
There are many items to include in your cat’s evacuation kit. It is a good idea to have the items for your kit stored in a waterproof transport container or at least have individual items that should be kept away from moisture stored in waterproof bags or containers. A backpack is a good option for a transport container as your hands may be full carrying your own evacuation items, as well as your cat. Supplies to consider having in your cat’s evacuation kit and other things to consider include:
- Contact numbers for pet-friendly hotels, boarding facilities, relatives and your veterinarian stored in a water-proof bag. Having the information for a veterinary hospital in a different community or other side of a large city is also a good idea in case your local veterinarian is affected by the disaster as well.
- Copies of medical records stored in water-proof bags.
- Proof of vaccination. Keep all vaccines current in case of need for emergency boarding.
- Food sources such as pop-top cans or small bags of dry food and bottled water. Have at least a 3 day supply of everything should you need to evacuate and up to a week’s worth for in-home sheltering. These items should be rotated every few months for freshness. If not using pop-top cans, be sure to include a can opener.
- A 3-7 day supply of all medications that are rotated as with the food and water.
- A photo of you with your cat in order to provide proof of ownership should you become separated.
- Consider purchasing a “pet passport” card that includes your cat’s picture as well as relevant medical information.
- Some type of identification (collar and tags +/- microchip). Ideally, both forms of ID should be considered as tags can be lost and microchips can sometimes stop working or be missed by a scanner. There are also some facilities that will not have a scanner available for use. Information should be kept up to date. Also be sure to include the name and number of an additional contact person should you not be able to be reached. One may want to consider having the additional contact be someone who does not live in the same vicinity as they may not be reachable if they are affected by the disaster as well.
- A carrier…and be sure to know where it is located as it is the best way to transport your cat. A harness made for cats and a leash to go with it can also be useful if you’d like to take your cat out of its cage if needing to stay at a temporary shelter. Ensure that the harness fits appropriately before putting it into the kit.
- Small, familiar items such as toys, brushes or a blanket that smell like home, as these can help to reduce stress for your cat. Feline pheromone sprays or wipes can also aid in reducing stress.
- A small first aid kit.
- Additional items include clean-up supplies, collapsible bowls, spoon, litter and a small litter box.
- Place a rescue sticker on your front window which indicates how many cats you have inside in case an in-home rescue is necessary.
- Consider using a buddy system with neighbors in case you are not home to evacuate your cat.
Finally, practice your plan. Teach your cat to come when called as you may not have much time to evacuate in some circumstances. Leaving your carrier in site at all times will allow your cats to become acclimated to it so they won’t be as inclined to run from it when its use is needed. You may even want to feed your cat in its carrier and or make it a cozy bed to teach him it is a safe place. Know where your emergency kit is for quick access and see how long it takes to get everyone together and out of the house.
Nobody wants to be involved in a disaster, but being prepared will help to mitigate some of the stress that can be experienced by you and your cat(s). There are many helpful resources for disaster preparedness planning for your cat, including ready.gov, ASPCA and the American Red Cross.
Emergency planning worksheet for pet cats
It is important to have a plan in place when preparing for a disaster, or even time away from home and having somebody else care for your cat, so important items or details are not forgotten. Information should include your cat’s identifying information, feeding instructions, veterinary information, health conditions, list of medications and how to give them, exercise/play instructions, and boarding/pet sitter contact details. A planning sheet has been included to assist you in this endeavor.
By Susan Nelson, DMV
Susan Nelson, DVM is a Clinical Professor at the Veterinary Health Center at Kansas State University. In 1985, Dr. Nelson received her BA in Biology from Hastings College in Hastings, NE. She then completed her DVM at Kansas State University in 1989.
After receiving her DVM, Dr. Nelson spent her next 14 years as an associate veterinarian in a companion animal practice in Manhattan, KS. In 2003, Dr. Nelson joined the faculty in the Veterinary Health Center at Kansas State University. She is currently a clinical instructor for 4th year veterinary students in the hospital’s Pet Health Center, where students are taught the necessary skills needed to meet the challenges of being a primary care veterinarian.
Dr. Nelson gives a variety of lectures to veterinary students as well as animal science majors and high school students through the Kansas State Olathe campus. She also works in conjunction with the hospital’s mental health counselors in the instruction of communication skills. She has provided CE lectures for veterinarians on topics such as vaccine protocols, rabies and disaster planning.
Dr. Nelson’s interests are in wellness and preventive medicine, the human-animal bond, as well as end of life and palliative care. She has been a member of the Primary Care Veterinary Educators group (PCVE) since its inception. She is a past board member for the Kansas State Animal Response Team (KSSART) and has provided certification training for small animal first aid and preventive measures for zoonotic diseases for animal responders. She is still an active responder for her community. She has been a past board member of the Riley County Humane Society and is still works closely with the group. Dr. Nelson is an active participant and co-coordinator for outreach events that help provide veterinary care to underserved populations.