Preparing For The Unexpected – Disasters and your pets

Preparing for the unexpected

January 23, 2014


Last Thursday, as I left my home at 6:30 am to head to work, I turned the corner and looked smack at the distant hillside on fire. I knew it wasn’t likely to affect my home directly (wrong way of prevalent winds and it would have had to jump a freeway to do so). So I continued on to work, and paid attention to what was happening as did most of Southern California that day.   Later that day, this would be called the Colby Fire which burned in some capacity for several days.  On my way in, I began to wonder if my clients know what to do for their pets in an emergency situation like fire and earthquakes. It did get me thinking about how prepared I am or how prepared we all are as a community for the next big disaster. Certainly those who live in the common burn areas of Southern California experience these types of disasters more commonly than those of us who live in the more urban areas. However, we should all be equally prepared. Planning is crucial to surviving a disaster.

 Keep in mind that if you need to evacuate from your home, you should take your pets with you. They will most likely be unable to survive on their own and they count on you for their safety. In the event that you are separated from your pets during an emergency or disaster, being able to reunite with them will depend largely on what you have done prior to the incident taking place. Microchips are your best possible tool in being able to find your lost pet. I can’t stress this enough. Microchip your pets. The technology is there now, so that all major chip manufacturers’ chips are read by each other’s scanners. It used to be that one manufacturer’s chip reader would not read another manufacturer’s chip.  Universal scanners are now the norm. In a major disaster, stray animals will be gathered up and taken to the pound or other temporary shelters. Without an identifying chip, the likelihood of these pets returning to their homes is slim. Literally hundreds if not thousands of dogs and cats were relocated across the country following Hurricane Katrina. They were never returned to their homes of origin causing an immense amount of sadness for pets and owners alike. It bears repeating, “Microchip your pets”.


So, how do we best survive a “natural disaster”?  The first thing on your list in any emergency, disaster or otherwise, should be to remain calm. Slipping into a panic mode will not help anyone, including your pets. You’ll want to keep their stress level down so that things like running from the home and or biting someone to do not take place. Know ahead of time what to do, who to call, where to go and what to take with you. These same principles apply for humans as well. Spending some time preparing for an earthquake or other natural disaster removes some of its power over us.


The two main challenges in Southern California are fire and earthquakes. So let’s take a look at that earthquake kit you’ve got in the garage or back bedroom that you can use is either scenario. You know……. the one that isn’t there but you keep meaning to put together?  Yeah, that one. Your disaster kit should have a 5 to 7 day supply of food and water for each pet in your home. This is in addition to all suggested items that are needed to take care of your non furry family members. If you pet has a required prescription medication, keep an additional supply in the disaster kit. The exception is insulin which must be kept in a refrigerator. Your best bet in an earthquake is to keep the door to the refrigerator closed and hope that the fridge stays cold. Icepacks may help. Having a first aid kit specially stocked for pets is also a great idea. Make sure your pet carriers and/or leashes, harnesses and muzzles are readily accessible as well. There is a great pet survival guide available from FEMA on line that I recommend highly. Just click here:

It’s also a good idea to have all your emergency numbers in one place so that they are easily accessible, like on the refrigerator. Things like the veterinarian’s phone number, the pet poison control phone number, numbers to local animal shelters and the emergency vet’s phone number for after hours issues should all be at your fingertips. You should also know where the emergency vet is located. You won’t want to try and figure that out in the middle of an emergency. While things are calm, do a “drive by” to your local emergency vet’s office. Know how to get there quickly and where to park. This may save precious minutes later.

As discussed above, we should start in our own homes with being organized and prepared for the unexpected. Then, we can move on to our neighbors and community. This is where a website such as can be really helpful. It offers suggestions for a neighborhood contact list, neighborhood meetings, etc. Asking questions like who else in the neighborhood has pets or kids and how you can support one another can prove to be very useful in an emergency.  By involving and getting to know your neighbors (yes even the annoying ones), you will increase your odds of helping your family and pets, and others as well. We will all need to come together in the event of a disaster.


On a bigger scale, Los Angeles County has an Animal Emergency Response Annex, who has put together a manual for disaster relief operations for animals. areaanimalannex.pdf

The county provides emergency shelter for evacuated animals and there are provisions for temporary shelters being set up near where people are evacuated as well. Veterinarians have formed the California Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps (CAVMRC) The CAVMRC is guided by the Disaster Preparedness Committed of the California Veterinary Medical Association. Its mission is to preserve animal wellbeing and protect the public health and welfare by providing emergency medical care and expertise in all phases of disaster preparedness and response. Every veterinarian at Washington Blvd Animal Hospital is a CVMA member and supports the CAVMRC.  In the event of a major disaster, these resources will be taxed, but if you have taken the time to prepare then you will have a better sense of control over the situation and feel much more confident about your ability to care for your family and your animals.


Preparing for a disaster is something that most of us chose to ignore. I think we all live in denial to a certain extent and just try to wish it or will it away. But keeping our heads buried in the proverbial sand does no good at all for anyone, especially our pets. Do you need to be prepared for a disaster tomorrow? Who knows. Disasters don’t exactly give notice of their pending arrival. Even though it can be overwhelming to prepare these disaster kits and get ready for the “big one”, whatever that may be, it’s time to start. At least take some baby steps in the right direction. Maybe a New Year’s resolution? Before you know it, you’ll be ready and stocked up. Heck, you might even be the one that everyone else in the neighborhood looks to in a time of need.  Putting some type of disaster plan together, will make you feel better about the care of the critters in your charge.


Until next week……… 


Dr. Voorheis 

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