People scared in Washington, D.C., after East Coast Earthquake on August 23, 2011
“Did you feel it?”

That’s the first thing anyone wants to know after an earthquake like the one the East Coast felt today.

Many of the people in my Facebook community (and on our brand-new Vetstreet Facebook page as well) asked me if pets can predict earthquakes.

And then they asked what they could do to help their pets now.

Animals and Earthquakes

I strongly suspect animals can, and do, predict changes in our environment. Although the science on that isn’t definitive.

What we do know is that animals have a different sense of the world for the simple reason that they have difference senses: Cats can see clearly in low-light conditions, for example, and dogs can pick out the scent of a fingerprint in a multistory building. Sensing an earthquake? Is that really so far-fetched? Not as far as I'm concerned.

We’ll be debating that one for a long time yet, though. In the meantime, let's focus on what you need to do for your pet right after a major earthquake.

Now, I’m no expert on earthquakes. I was in Japan two decades ago when one hit there, and it wasn’t that powerful. But I do know that pets don’t like change, and they really don’t like it when the people they count on to stay calm aren’t able to do so.

As we say in emergency medicine: "Take your own pulse first." That means that as long as your pet is physically safe and secure (use a crate if you need to), you need to make sure you’re not making matters worse for you and your entire family by being in a panic. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths — that’s clinically proven to settle you down. Now, if you can, shift your focus to your pets.

First Steps

Here are several things you'll want to do if the situation is serious.

Find your pet. If your animal is outside, get him inside and away from windows. Earthquakes mean aftershocks, and you want your pet safely inside so he won’t run away. If there is room, take him to where you are and get to the safest place in the house. 

Check your pet for injuries. Be gentle and be aware of any sign of internal damage, such as a limb that hurts when it is moved, or your animal crying out when you press gently at her abdomen. Call your veterinarian’s office for advice if you suspect your pet is injured. You may not be able to be seen immediately, but they can talk you through anything you need to do before you can bring your pet in.

Secure your pet. If your dog or cat is used to being in a crate or a carrier, it’s not a bad idea to put him in there now. Pets who are regularly put in carriers feel safe in them, and small, dark spaces in general are comforting to many pets. Not to mention: If there are significant aftershocks a crate will protect your pet from debris.

Use products to calm your pet. I always have spray pheromones (Feliway or DAP) on hand. These synthetic products mimic natural chemicals produced by animals to reassure each other and are wonderful for calming some anxious pets. If your veterinarian has previously provided you with an antianxiety medication for your pet (generic Xanax, for example) use that at the prescribed dose. Benadryl can also provide a sedative effect in a pinch.

Prepare for what’s next. Local authorities are the best source of critical information in times of disaster. So, after you’ve dealt with immediate problems, tap these resources for information. In addition to local agencies and media outlets, your local veterinary association and shelters may have current animal-specific information and advice for you.

Most people — and pets — will be shaken from any disaster. But if your family is okay, say a little prayer of thanks and make a note to be better prepared next time. We’ve put together some guidelines that will help.

And the final step? If everything’s fine at your home, do what I wish I could do, and would do, if I were there: Help someone else. Because we're all pet lovers together when the times get tough.