7 Things Pet Owners Should Do After a Natural Disaster Strikes

Hurricane Matthew
NASA
Here is a view from space of Hurricane Matthew from Oct. 4. This storm has the potential to be catastrophic for the south Atlantic Coast.

As Hurricane Matthew bears down on the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, we hope that people and their pets have evacuated if ordered to do so or are hunkering down in a safe place.

But what should pet owners do to help keep their dogs and cats safe when the storm ends? Suppose your dog or cat goes missing or the power goes out? Many worrisome things can happen during and after a natural disaster, so it's best to be prepared.

Whether there’s a hurricane, tornado or other natural disaster, here’s what pet owners should keep in mind in the aftermath.

What to Do in the Aftermath of a Natural Disaster

Lost Dog Poster

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1. If your pet goes missing, get the word out.

Dogs and cats may become spooked during a disaster and run away. If this happens, you may want to take to social media to reunite with your lost pet. Post your pet’s information (a recent photo, his name, age and breed, a description of his markings or colorings, and any health issues he might have) on your own social media pages and keep an eye on local Facebook pages dedicated to finding lost pets. Learn more about using social media to find lost pets.

If it’s safe to go on foot outside, search your neighborhood and put up posters of your missing pet, including the information mentioned above. You should also contact local animal control centers, animal shelters and any temporary shelters about your pet. Check out our infographic to learn what other strategies are proven to help reunite lost pets with their families.

Flashlight

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2. If the power is out, don’t light candles.

If there’s no electricity, you may be tempted to use all the light sources available, but candles can pose a serious fire hazard. According to the National Fire Protection Association, from 2009 to 2013, candles started an estimated 9,300 home fires. Cat owners should be especially wary since felines might be more likely to jump to high places than dogs, where they can knock over candles. Use a flashlight for light instead and make sure you stock up on batteries ahead of time.

Signs Your Dog Is Stressed Cowering Dog

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3. Watch for signs of pet stress.

Thunder and loud noises may panic your dog or cat during the storm, so he may still be stressed when it’s over. Familiar scents and landmarks may now be destroyed or altered and could disorient your pet. If you’ve evacuated, he might have anxiety about being in an unfamiliar location filled with strangers. Be patient with your animal and give him space if he seems aggressive or fearful. If you have a dog, familiarize yourself with the signs of canine stress. Cat owners, this will help you decipher your feline’s body language. To help alleviate stress, keep your pet's usual bedding or clothing with your scent in his carrier and have some of his favorite toys on hand, so he has things that feel familiar to him. You may also want to consider using one of Dr. Marty Becker's recommended products for bringing animals' anxiety levels down.

Downed tree

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4. Keep your pet inside and secured.

After a natural disaster, there could be fallen trees, downed power lines and dangerous debris. And if you have a fence, it could be damaged. Due to these hazards, it’s important to keep your dog on a leash at all times when he's outdoors and to keep him inside as much as possible. If your home is damaged, keep your pets in a closed room or secure in their crates until it's safe. 

Emergency Water Bottles

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5. Don’t give your pet contaminated food or water.

Check with local authorities to make sure your tap water is safe to drink. If you’re informed that it is contaminated, then it’s not safe for your dog or cat to consume either. In addition, if you’ve lost electricity, throw out any leftover canned pet food that’s in the fridge as it may have spoiled. And don’t even think about giving any spoiled human food to your pet. Throw it out.

Cat in carrier

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6. If you need to leave your home, take your pet.

If you need to leave your home after a disaster and can bring your pet without putting yourself or family at risk, don’t risk your animal's life by leaving him at home. There’s a slim chance he’ll be able to survive on his own. Make sure to bring a large supply of pet food, water, his identification, medication, vaccination records and basic pet supplies. Learn more about evacuating safely with your pet.

Shelter puppy

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7. Help animals in need.

In the wake of many natural disasters, such as Superstorm Sandy and the flooding in Louisiana, many animal rescues and shelters become overwhelmed with dogs, cats and other animals displaced by the disaster. If you are able to, consider donating supplies, food or money to shelters in need. Check with shelter and rescue social media pages to find out what they need most. Even a small donation can go a long way.

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