When a hurricane comes barreling your way, the days beforehand are a frantic frenzy of last minute preparations. Shopping for hurricane supplies during COVID is far from easy, especially when you have children who need their own hurricane prep. In all of the chaos, it’s vital that you don’t forget to make preparations for the pets in your family.
“Natural disasters, like hurricanes and tornadoes, often occur quickly, leaving pet owners unprepared. It is not uncommon for pets to become separated from their owners during natural disasters, or require housing away from their owners,” explains Dr. Wendy Hauser, DVM, AVP of Veterinary Relations for Crum & Forster Pet Insurance Group, providers of ASPCA Pet Health Insurance. “A little planning goes a long way in reuniting with your beloved pet.”
How to Protect Pets During a Hurricane
“Fortune favors the prepared!” declares Dr. Sarah Wooten, a top vet expert with over 16 years of experience in small animal veterinary practice and currently serving as a vet expert for Pumpkin Pet Insurance.
“If you're ever separated from your pet,” she explains, “Animal control workers will tell you that the chance of being reunited with your pet increases dramatically if your pet is wearing a current ID tag, or has a microchip that is embedded with your personal information.”
Pet owners should create a pet emergency preparedness kit that contains all of your pet's essentials.
- Food, water and medication (ideally 7-10 days’ worth but no less than 3 days)
- Leash, collar, and ID tag with your current information
- Your veterinarian’s contact information
- Any pertinent medical or vaccine records
- Carrying cases
- Sanitation materials (wipes, litter, etc.)
- A photo of your pet
“Consider maintaining this information electronically in addition to hard copies,” suggests Dr. Hauser. “Remember, phone and internet connections are often impacted during natural disasters.”
Updating your pet’s records with the local vet hospital can also save precious time during an emergency.
“Store everything in a lidded plastic tub, keep in a cool, dry place, and check for freshness and expired meds every six months,” Dr. Wooten advises. “You can also affix a 'pets inside' sticker in a visible area near your front door that lets local law enforcement know how many pets need to be rescued.”
Staying safe with pets during a hurricane
During a hurricane, you want to follow all of the usual hurricane preparedness tips, in addition to taking some pet-specific precautions.
The most important thing you can do is secure your pets well before the storm arrives. Pets can sense the coming storms and can become very anxious in response. If you cannot find your pet, check their favorite hiding places and try to keep them with you throughout the storm, especially if you need to seek shelter.
Have a Plan
“Always have a plan in place to take care of your animals in case of hurricanes or other emergencies,” advises Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, who serves on the advisory board for Pet Life Today.
She stresses the need for a safe place. “Since pets can become scared and try to run away during severe storms, set up a safe room or crate away from windows or doors that may break or open unexpectedly.”
Crate Your Pet
Crating your pet can be critical to their wellbeing, claims pet expert and pet care blogger Peter Laskay for Petworshiper. “If you let your cat or dog run around or your bird fly, the chances of injury or loss increase. This also makes any sudden evacuation difficult.”
Carriers can be an easy, effective solution that is familiar for your pet while keeping them safe. Be sure that the crate is large enough to allow your pet to stand, sit and turn around comfortably.
Dr. Hauser recommends using your pet’s crate for easy identification. “It is helpful to attach vaccination records to each carrier and to have owner contact information written on the outside of each carrier with permanent markers,” she suggests. “If your pet has special needs, write this on the outside of the carrier too.”
Keep Your Pet Calm
Lily Dee is the Editor of The Pawsome World and shares some exclusive tips with us to help your pets ride out the storm.
"Make sure your pet feels safe during turbulent weather. From strong winds to thunder, loud noises often trigger noise anxiety in pets,” she says. “You can help by minimizing the external noise (e.g., white noise machine, blanket over the crate, turning on tv/music), distracting them with fun activities, or giving anti-anxiety medication/oil if needed.”
Evacuate with Your Pet
You don’t want to wait until it is too late to leave town. Dangerous storm surge can wash away roads and highways, cutting off evacuation routes and trapping you in hazardous conditions.
“Be prepared to evacuate,” Dr. Coates says. “Smaller pets like rabbits, ferrets, or hamsters should be moved to fully furnished and well-stocked cages that are small enough to carry if evacuation becomes necessary.”
Make sure you have a plan and evacuate early. American Humane Rescue (AHR) warns, “If you wait and need to be rescued by emergency officials, they might not allow you to bring your pets.”
Always check local broadcasts and advisories to ensure a safe route before you leave home with your animals.
If you are trapped away from home when the storm hits, ask for help.
Peter Laskay places emphasis on your local community. “If you are not at home during a hurricane, it is important to keep in touch with one of your neighbors,” he says.
If you can’t escape, make sure to keep your pet safely secured indoors. Stay away from windows, skylights and doors wherever possible, and transport your first aid kit with you if you move rooms or buildings.
You should never leave your pets alone and unattended, as they are not able to protect themselves like humans can.
If you have absolutely no choice, AHR suggests these precautions.
- Move your pets to a room away from windows, and secure all exits.
- Secure your pet in a safe, comfortable crate with comfortable bedding, toys and other safe, familiar options to help soothe your pet.
- Transfer food and water to self-feeding containers. Larger pets could drink from a partially full bathtub.
- Remove all chain choke collars for a nylon or vinyl collar.
Additionally, AHR warns owners not to tranquilize pets. “They’ll need their survival instincts should the storm require that.
Finding Somewhere to Stay with Pets During a Hurricane
As a pet owner, you never want to abandon your pet, especially during an impending storm.
“Keep your pets safe during a hurricane by making a plan for where you and your pets will stay in case you need to evacuate your home,” says Dr. Heather Venkat, an Arizona State Vet for VIP Puppies. “Many disaster evacuation shelters don’t accept pets, especially if they are exotic like birds and small mammals.”
There are many types of places where you may be able to stay with your pet, but they vary from place to place. ADA-registered service animals are welcome in General Population Shelters and Red Cross Shelters if they abide by federal requirements, but that won’t be the case for all pets.
“Red Cross shelters generally do not accept pets, but personnel will help you locate nearby pet accommodations. Determine the location of pet-friendly emergency shelters and hotels around your community,” suggests Dr. Coates.
That is especially true for more unique types of pets.
Dr. Hauser explains, “Not all shelters house small mammals (e.g., ferrets, rabbits, hedgehogs), birds or reptiles. Contact your local animal shelter to determine what animals will be housed there, and if they have recommendations for other shelters that might be outside of your immediate area.”
Your pets can usually find safe shelter at these types of places:
- Pet-friendly hotels
- Boarding facilities
- Veterinary hospitals with boarding facilities
“You may also find it beneficial to prearrange with a nearby family member that would house all of you, including furry family members,” says Dr. Wooten. “Another arrangement that can help is one with a neighbor - agreeing to care for each other's pets in case disaster ever strikes.”
Shelter for Other Pets
Not all pets will fit in your house.
Dr. Hauser spoke with us at length about how to protect those who have horses for pets. “Horse owners can take some steps to ensure safe evacuation, or re-uniting with them should evacuation not be possible,” she says.
This includes microchipping your horse and using non-toxic spray paint to write your information in case your horse is lost in the storm. Dr. Hauser also suggests “braiding a luggage tag into the horse’s mane or using clippers to shave a contact number into the coat.”
Be sure to have a horse trailer that you can use or another plan for evacuation prior to the storm. “Identify beforehand locations of evacuation centers for horses. These are often at fairgrounds, show grounds, land grant colleges, and boarding facilities.”
Finally, Dr. Coates acknowledges plans for the worst-case scenario. “If you can’t evacuate your horse safely, be sure that they are relocated to the safest location, given the emergency. Provide plenty of hay and fresh water; remember, electric watering stations don’t work if the power is lost.”
The Bottom Line
Normal hurricane preparations should be taken for your pets just as they are taken for your family.
“Many times, people think they are just leaving for a few hours, and it turns out to be weeks, so stay with your pets!” stresses Dr. Wooten. “The rule of thumb is what is best for you is also best for your pet.”
(Photo by Michael Repeta / GettyImages)