Saturday, August 11, 2012

Preparing for Disaster

Here in Florida, we are just now getting into the peak of hurricane season.  At this time of year, everyone in hurricane-prone areas should have a storm preparedness plan.  Hopefully you have one in place for the human members of your family, but what about your furry family members?  Do you have a plan in place for them?  And remember, disaster can strike anywhere.  We worry about hurricanes right now in Florida, but Colorado recently had devastating wildfires, other areas have seen floods, severe thunderstorms...even a power outage during the height of summer can cause problems.  So what first?

Have a plan
Perhaps you and your family would evacuate to a local shelter in the event of a disaster.  Did you know that very few shelters will accept pets?  Make arrangements well in advance of a disaster - don't wait until the last minute to come up with a plan.  Do you have family or friends outside of your immediate area who would take you and your pets in a time of disaster?  Remember, you probably don't have to go very far to reach safer ground.  Do your research.  Is there an emergency shelter nearby who WOULD take animals?  Perhaps there are pet-friendly hotels in more protected areas - but remember, in times of disaster, these fill up quickly, so plan accordingly!

Stock up on supplies
What if you can't evacuate?  What if it's a sudden disaster such as a tornado?  What if a hurricane makes a last-minute turn toward your area, as Hurricane Charley did in 2004?  During the peak of whatever storm season your area may have, it's a smart idea to keep a healthy stock of pet supplies on hand.  So for your bunnies, guinea pigs, and other small pets, what should you have?  I've been through a few hurricanes, and here's what I have found to be crucial (or just plain useful):

WATER.  If you have nothing else, at least have a supply of water.  There is a very good chance you will not have water available after a storm.  Long before a storm hits, figure out how much water your pets drink in a day.  After that, realize that you may also have NO air conditioning if a storm hits in the height of summer.  People and pets will dehydrate quickly.  Have a 7-day supply of water on hand during storm season for your ENTIRE family - people and pets.  Speaking from a voice of experience, I can tell you that water and batteries are the first things to disappear off of store shelves if a storm is imminent.  Buy your supply of water BEFORE your area ends up in the "cone of uncertainty".

Enough pet carriers to evacuate ALL your animals.  Maybe right now you only use one carrier at once for the occasional vet trip.  However, if you need to evacuate, you may need to transport all of your pets at once.  Even if you don't evacuate, you may need to secure your animals in a safer part of your home during a storm.  I have had to do this.  Be prepared.

THIS is why your pets should be in a safe area of the house (safe room, bathroom, etc).  The ceiling fell right on top of our animal cages during Hurricane Jeanne.  Thankfully we had already placed them in carriers in a safe part of our apartment - they were all fine.

A home away from home in case of evacuation.  If you do evacuate, your small animals will need a cage or pen.  You may not be able to return home for several days.  If your bunny lives in an x-pen, this is easily folded up and transported.  If you have a large bunny condo, however, it may not be practical to bring.  Those small pet store cages we keep telling you not to buy?  This might be the time they come in handy if you've already purchased one.  My bunnies have a big condo that doesn't travel, so my favorite portable cage is a dog crate.  They fold up to save space, and they are simple to set up.  My guinea pigs have a large C&C pen, so if I need to evacuate with them, I have a large pet store (Marchioro brand) cage for them.  Don't forget a litter box, food dish, and water bottle. 

At least 7 days' worth of pet food at all times during storm season.  For our small furry friends, this means having at least a week's worth of hay and pellets on hand.  If the power goes out, the veggies will stay cool for a short time (avoid opening the refrigerator to keep it cool longer), but remember that veggies will be the first part of our pets' diet to go.  They won't like it, but they will be okay as long as they have an ample supply of hay and water.  For hamsters, gerbils, and other small creatures, make sure you have enough of their food on hand.  Another tip - if you have a cooler, fill it with ice before the storm hits.  You can put veggies (and whatever human food!) in there to last just that much longer if the power goes out.

Identifying materials for your pets.  Think about having your pet microchipped.  Yes, bunnies can be microchipped.  At the very least, have current photos of your pets if the very worst happens.

First aid supplies.  What if your pet is hurt/sick during the disaster?  If your pet is on medication, make sure you have a 2 week supply on hand during storm season.  Put a pet first aid kit together.  My bunny/guinea pig first aid kit contains infant gas drops (simethicone) for tummy upset (which can be likely in times of stress), pain medication, betadine for cleaning wounds, Neosporin (NOT Neosporin Plus) antiobiotic ointment, gauze & bandages & scissors to cut them, thermometer, canned pumpkin (to entice a bunny appetite or hide medicine in), oral syringes, Pedialyte, probiotics, saline solution, and anything else that may be useful during an emergency.  Here is an absolutely amazing example of a bunny first aid kit:

I keep my bunny/guinea pig first aid kit in a tackle box.

In case of power outage - After Hurricane Frances (a few weeks before Jeanne), we were without power for 2 weeks.  It was 95 degrees in our apartment - definitely not ideal for bunnies, guinea pigs, or any other creature.  Here are some tips for keeping cool:
  1. Keep frozen water bottles in your freezer.  They won't be much help after the freezer warms up, but it helps for a little while.
  2. Have tile for your bunny/piggy/other to lie on.  Tile stays cooler.   You can buy tiles at a home improvement store.
  3. Hopefully you've stocked up on batteries before the hurricane or other storm.  Purchase battery-operated fans to help keep your furry friends cool.  I bought spray bottles with battery-operated fans on them.  They were a Godsend.  Even if they don't have fans, spritz your critters with water.
  4. Ice cubes.  After a disaster, the Red Cross and other relief organizations will roll into town with bags of ice and bottles of water.  Hopefully you have a cooler for that ice.
  5. What if you live in a blizzard-prone area and it's freezing?  Keep lots of blankets on hand!  If you have a way to heat up water, you can keep hot water bottles on hand as well.  Usually the animals handle the cold a bit better than the heat, but either extreme is not good for them. 
Obtain an "Animals Inside" sticker.  You can get these for free from the ASPCA.  Fill out the form here:  Remember, if you evacuate with your animals, indicate on the sticker that you and your pets have evacuated so rescue crews don't waste time and resources!  Mine is displayed on my front window!

Other useful items -  Don't forget to keep a supply of litter or bedding on hand!  It's often the little things we forget.  Other things I found to be very useful through experience: paper towels, vinegar, garbage bags, hand sanitizer (for people), toys and other items familiar to your pets (for comfort), flashlight/lantern, batteries, and weather radio.  Take note of what items you use for your pet during the day.  Remember that you may not have water with which to clean.  Another useful tip: fill up your bathtub before a storm for an extra supply of water.  At the very least, it can come in handy to flush the toilet!

Paperwork - Obtain a copy of your pets' medical records from your vet.  Make sure you have your vet's phone number written down.  I have an index card taped to my animal carriers with my contact information, my vet's contact information, alternate contact information, and basic care information for my animals.

Evacuation bag - Sometimes you have to pick up and go right away - for instance, in the case of wildfires, you may have minutes to evacuate.  You might want to make up an "evacuation bag" with basic supplies that you can grab & go.  You can fill a duffel bag with a small litter box, food & water dishes, and baggies of litter, pellets, and hay.  You could even place some water bottles inside just in case.

Buddy system - Make sure you have someone who can check up on you in the event of disaster.  Are there other rabbit/guinea pig people in your area?  If you are hurt or your home is severely damaged, and you are unable to care for your animals for a period of time, is there anyone who could take you and/or your pets in?

In summary, you want to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.  Think ahead.  Make a checklist.  Don't let a disaster catch you unprepared.  I never thought I would see a hurricane rip my roof off, but I did!  Disaster can happen to you.  Here are some helpful links for pets and people:

Disaster preparedness information for all pets:

Hurricane preparedness planning from NOAA:

For those of you in northern climes - winter storm safety checklist:

FEMA disaster preparedness guide:

Stay safe everyone!

Small Pet Storm Prep Checklist:
  1. 7 days' worth of water
  2. 7 days' worth of hay & pellets
  3. First aid kit & 2 week supply of medications your pet needs
  4. Enough pet carriers for ALL of your animals
  5. Travel cages
  6. Evacuation bag: litter box, food & water dishes, food & water, litter/bedding
  7. Identifying materials & vet records
  8. Keeping cool: frozen water bottles, tile, spray bottle (ideally with battery-operated fan)
  9. Keeping warm: blankets, hot water bottles
  10. "Animals Inside" window stickers
  11. Cleaning items: vinegar, paper towels, garbage bags, hand sanitizer (for people)
  12. Evacuation plan/place to stay
  13. Your own complete checklist tailored to your pets' needs

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