Disasters Bring Home the Message: Prepare for Pets, Too

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Earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, floods, and tornadoes can cause massive damage quickly. It is essential to have a disaster plan in place — for you and your animals.

Are you ready? Since today is National Animal Disaster Preparedness Day, we're sharing several things you can do.

Make a plan. Prepare for all situations, including the possibility that you may be away from home when disaster strikes. Get to know your neighbors, and be ready to help others out. Ask your neighbors if they will try to take care of your pets in an emergency and offer to take care of theirs. Learn about your local emergency and disaster services, including area emergency response plans. Speak with your vet and local shelters to find out if there are designated animal hospitals or shelters to go to during disasters and learn what help they can provide you and your pet.

Always keep ID on your pets. Most animals survive a disaster, but too many never see their families again. That's because many pets don't wear collars and identification tags, so it's hard to determine which pet belongs to which family. A collar and tag are your first defense against a lost pet. Better still is permanent identification that can't slip off, such as an embedded microchip. Make sure one of the numbers on your pet's ID and chip records is your cell phone, and include the number of a friend or relative living out of your area if possible. That way, if you can't get to your home phone, you can still be reached and reunited with your pet.

Put your pet's records in one easy-to-grab spot. Make a simple file with current records of your pet's vaccinations and other health information, as well as his license and microchip information and details on his pet insurance provider. Include some good pictures of your pet with simple, uncluttered backgrounds, so if you need to make lost pet posters, you can. Put these materials with the rest of your important papers in a place safe from fire or flood. You may also want to scan copies of these records and leave them with a friend or load them online, so that if you have Internet access, you can get what you need.

Have carriers and restraints at hand. You're not going to get advance warning of some disasters, such as earthquakes. But if you know a storm is coming or there is a risk of a wildfire turning your way, make sure you get your pet inside a crate if possible. Sturdy crates and carriers belong on the list of must-haves, along with restraints, including comfortable box muzzles for dogs and soft face-shield muzzles and restraint bags for cats. Though you may trust your pet to remain calm, it's better to be prepared: An injured or scared pet may lash out in self-defense.

Include your pet's needs in your emergency kit. Always keep ample supplies of your pet's food, medications, and litter, and enough water to cover your pet as well as your human family members. (And rotate supplies regularly.) A first-aid kit should cover your pet's needs as well as your own — and should include a compact first-aid guide geared to pets. If your pet eats canned food, don't forget to throw in a can opener and spoon. Disposable dishes and litter boxes can be useful as well.

One of the best investments you can make when it comes to preparation is to learn basic first aid for pets and people alike. For classes in your area, ask your veterinarian for information or check with your local Red Cross.

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