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Weather emergency plan must include pets

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Spring in Oklahoma can be a beautiful time of year. Pleasant temperatures, blooming flowers and plants and warm spring showers are just a few of the things Oklahomans enjoy. However, anyone who has lived in this part of the country for any length of time knows spring also brings turbulent weather, including tornadoes, straight line winds, large hail and even flooding.

In the event of stormy weather, it is important for everyone to have an emergency plan in place, and to make sure that plan includes everyone in the family, even the furry and feathered members.

Dr. Elisabeth Giedt, director of Continuing Education, Extension and Community Engagement at the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences at Oklahoma State University, said pet owners should take extra precautions to prepare for weather-related and other emergencies.

“Oklahoma has already experienced tornadoes this season, so it’s important to get prepared now if you haven’t already done so. When a tornado is bearing down is not the time to start making emergency plans,” Giedt said. “While you’re stocking your storm shelter with bottled water and flashlights, make sure you have all of the essentials on hand to care for your pets should you need to evacuate to a safe place.”

If you do not have a storm shelter at home, keep in mind that you may have to leave your home to take cover. Also remember you may have to shelter elsewhere for several days in the event your home is damaged. Make sure you emergency plan has a contingency for your pets. Animals left behind in disaster situations may be injured or lost.

Items to have on hand and assembled in an emergency preparedness kit include pet food, water, a photo of the animal and a strong leash and muzzle. An emergency preparedness kit could be a backpack or plastic container that is easily transported. It also is a good idea to have a record of current vaccinations and medical history with the contact information of the pet’s veterinarian in the kit. Make sure you have proper identification on your pet, such as a collar with ID tags that include the owner’s name and phone number. Microchip identification is highly recommended to ensure your pet is properly identified in case of an emergency.

It is not just dogs and cats that need to have some type of identification and records in the event of an emergency. Birds, small mammals and reptiles should have photos and medical records in an emergency preparedness kit. Birds that are being evacuated should be carried in a covered cage to minimize stress. This also will help keep the birds warm. It is common for the temperature to drop quickly during a storm.

“In the event you have to evacuate your home, be sure you have identified a safe place to go, and remember Red Cross disaster shelters can’t accept pets. Check around in your area at different shelters and inquire about pet acceptance,” she said. “If a shelter isn’t available and you need to stay in a hotel for a few days, keep a list handy of the nearby hotels that will allow pets. Other emergency shelter options for pets include a boarding facility or the home of friends or family who were not affected by the storm.”

Giedt said pets can react to changes in their environment and stressful situations by trying to run away or hide. In an effort to get away, they may bite or scratch their owners or the person trying to help them. Always keep pets under control with a leash or in a carrier while you are evacuating and at your safe place, especially if it is a public location.

“Pets are part of the family and rely on their owners to take care of them and keep them safe,” Giedt said. “Make sure your family emergency plan includes all of your family members, including your pets.”

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