Protecting Pets in a Disaster
Please sign and date these instruction sheets. Often pet owners can leave
their wishes in written form with their veterinarian to be included as part of
the permanent patient record. Family veterinarians can be a valuable reference
to emergency doctors trying to make decisions for pets and people they do not
know. Many times they will consult with the family veterinarian in serious
treatment matters or if euthanasia is being considered.
If there are financial considerations, please note them. Unfortunately,
unless you have pet insurance, expert care can be expensive. If you have a pet
insurance policy be sure to leave it with the pet. Without knowing your
personal choices for care of your sick or injured pet, emergency personnel are
stuck between providing basic care and extended care for a pet, whose condition
may only worsen as time passes, possibly lowering survival rates. Often the
good neighbors who are left to care for your pets cannot or will not be
financially responsible for extensive veterinary care. Most emergency
veterinary practices do not offer billing services.
During the Disaster
Animals can sense danger, and may panic and try to hide when fearful. To
avoid injury and escape, crate the pet immediately, if a crisis is imminent. In
certain emergencies it may be necessary to temporarily evacuate the area. This
may include evacuation of animals. For pets, veterinary hospitals, boarding
kennels or fairgrounds may be utilized as holding facilities, where it is not
possible for animals to accompany their owners to emergency shelters.
Under no circumstances should you ever leave your pet tied up or loose to
fend for himself. It is best to leave your pet in a room without windows, such
as a bathroom, to prevent him from escaping or being injured from broken glass,
in certain situations. If your pet will be left for several days, leave thick
newspapers to absorb waste, and warm bedding. Remember, there may be extended
power outages. Unplug all electrical appliances, and cover all electrical
outlets with plastic or duct tape to avoid electrocution. If you have two of
the same type of animals who get along well, leave them together for company.
Keep exotic pets in separate rooms, since many reptiles can be dangerous to
disaster personnel who do not know how to handle them. Post signs on door
indicating what is in the room.
Be sure to provide a large supply of water in a heavy bowl which will not
tip over, or leave water in tubs, or sinks, where the animal has access to it.
Remove all flammable and poisonous chemicals from the room, and turn off all
After the Disaster
The behavior of pets often changes following a disaster. Normally quiet cats
and dogs may become aggressive or defensive. Recovery from the disaster may
take several days, weeks, or months. During the period of adjustment here are
- Check your pet for injury and/or exposure to chemicals. Consult your
veterinarian when in doubt.
- Use care when releasing your pet from his crate. Familiar scents and sights
may be gone. Downed power lines, or debris may pose serious threats to animals.
Release only into an enclosed room or yard to prevent escape.
- If your pet was without food and water for an extended time, allow him to
eat/drink small amounts every few hours. In addition, the pet should be
examined by a veterinarian ASAP in order to perform an inexpensive and quick (3
minute) blood test to accurately check for dehydration. This is particularly
important for young pets under 6 months, and very important for geriatric pets.
Even the slightest amount of dehydration or water deprivation may be fatal for
an aged pet with any degree of kidney dysfunction.
- Allow your pet to have plenty of sleep and provide familiar toys while it
becomes re-acclimated to its surroundings.
Hopefully, you will never face a major disaster, but it pays to remember
your pets as part of your household disaster planning. If you must evacuate
your home, it is best to take your pets with you. However, if you must leave
them behind, advance plans for their care will ensure their health and safety.
These suggestions are important, not only in times of disaster, but also during
a brief family vacation.