First aid for cats

Be Cat-Prepared for Disaster

Be Cat-Prepared for Disaster

A hurricane marches up the eastern coast toward your town. Do you know how to keep your pets safe? Although we can't prevent many disasters, we can certainly learn how to deal with them.

Disasters come in two forms: natural and man-made. Natural disasters, are the most predictable because they are often seasonal. Hurricanes and storms are tracked for days before making landfall. Earthquakes are still random events, though, and tornadoes can occur with little warning.

Man-made disasters are often unpredictable. Most are accidents, such as the spilling of hazardous material or accidental fire. Others, as we have witnessed, can be the result of criminal activity (such as arson) or terrorism.

Here are a few tips on how to handle five potential disasters: hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods and wildfires. These tips were compiled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which has partnered with the Humane Society of the United States to help protect pets during emergencies. You can learn more about how to handle disasters by visiting FEMA's Web site at

Preparedness is the key in any emergency, especially if you have pets. You can learn more about how to best prepare yourself and your pets by reading Keeping Your Cat Safe When Disaster Strikes.


Although they can be very destructive, hurricanes are very predictable. The National Hurricane Center in Miami tracks weather patterns and notes possible hurricanes long before they pose a threat. The important thing is to monitor a storm's progress to see if it becomes a risk to coastal areas. (A tropical storm becomes a hurricane when winds reach 74 miles an hour; but a storm is still a storm and not to be taken lightly.) The hurricane center issues three levels of warning: hurricane advisory (which tells where the storm is located and direction of movement); hurricane watch and hurricane warning.

A watch is issued when hurricane conditions are possible within 24 to 36 hours. At that time you should:

  • Begin evacuating large animals (such as horses) and large populations of dogs and cats (such as those in shelters) from vulnerable areas.
  • Keep your pets indoors and accessible. Cats can sense a hurricane and may be hiding. You may want to put them in their transport cages so you don't lose valuable time finding them.
  • Know your community's preplanned evacuation route.
  • Store a week's worth of fresh water and food for yourself and your pets, and prep your house (i.e., put up hurricane shutters, etc.).

    A warning is issued when a hurricane is 24 hours or less away from striking. You should complete all preparations in a hurry before high winds and heavy rains arrive. Remember that storm surge is especially dangerous. Only stay in your home if it is safe, and always bring your pets with you, even if you are not sure where to take them.


Unlike most natural disasters, earthquakes are still unpredictable events. An earthquake is a wave-like movement of the earth's surface, caused when the crust and upper part of the mantle grind against each other along fault lines. When masses of rock slip along a fault, energy is released in waves.

  • Do not place dog runs or other animal enclosures underneath objects that could fall on them during an earthquake or sharp tremor.
  • Keep a pair of bolt cutters in your disaster kit, in case cages are damaged and can't be opened.
  • Know where to turn off gas supplies to the house or barn.
  • Include your pets in family earthquake drills, and instruct your family on how to handle them. Remember that in an emergency, a frightened pet may bite or scratch.
  • If you plan to leave your pet at a kennel, inform them of your earthquake preparedness plans.

    If an earthquake hits, keep your pets with you and safely confined, if possible. Pets that escape often return during mealtimes. Make sure they do not eat or drink anything other than from your supplies.


Tornadoes can be very destructive and can touch down without warning. The weather service issues two levels of warning: tornado watch and tornado warning.

A watch is issued when tornado conditions are possible. At that time you should:

  • Keep your pets indoors and accessible. You may want to put them in their transport cages so you don't lose valuable time finding them.
  • Make sure you have a week's worth of fresh water and food for yourself and your pets and prep your house.

    A warning is issued when a tornado has been spotted. Retreat to a basement, storm shelter or sturdy room in the center of the home. Bring your pet with you.


Floods can affect any part of the United States, and each year more than 300,000 people are forced to evacuate due to rising waters. Floods are classified by how quickly they rise.

Slow-rising floods are more predictable and usually involve rising rivers or streams. Flash floods can hit quickly from heavy rain or melting snow. They can also be caused by dam failure. There are three types of flood warnings:

  • Flash flood watch. This is issued when a flash flood is possible, but not necessarily imminent. You should prepare to evacuate your pets, if necessary.
  • Flash flood warning. A flash flood is imminent or may be in progress.
  • Flood warning. This warning is an advanced notice that a flood may occur (or has occurred) in a specific location or river basin. You should begin to relocate large animals (such as horses) that are in danger.

    You should map out several evacuation routes; don't rely on mapping out just one. You should also anticipate the path a flood may take; this may have a bearing on how you evacuate larger animals such as horses. Head for the nearest high ground with your pets. It is better to err on the side of caution and evacuate early. If the evacuation proves to be unnecessary, consider the experience as practice for the real thing.

    Never leave any animal behind unless your safety would be compromised. (If you absolutely must leave him behind, make sure he has an easy escape route.) Never tie up an animal if floods are threatening.

    Note: The threat of disease is especially strong after a flood. Keep your pets well away from standing pools of water; they should only drink from water you bottled or boiled. This includes tap water. Unless it was protected, consider animal feed contaminated and dispose of it safely.


Wildfires typically occur during summer, when the air is hot and dry. Once lit, they can consume millions of acres, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people. The smoke from wildfires often closes nearby highways.

For this reason, you should plan several escape routes for you and your pets in case fire blocks your path. You should also practice fire drills with your family, and include your pets in the drills. Here are a few actions you can take to protect your home and pets:

  • Provide wide spacing between trees, and cut back vegetation overhanging buildings.
  • Create a “fire break” around your home or barn by clearing away vegetation, especially dead brush. Fire breaks should be about 30 feet wide for all structures. For homes built in pine forests, they should be 75 feet wide.
  • Buy rope or leather halters for horses (nylon halters melt when heated and could injure your horse).
  • If a fire is close, wet the manes and tails of horses, and place a piece of cloth around the nostrils to reduce smoke inhalation. You may want to blindfold them to make evacuation easier.
  • Take all animals with you, if possible. If you can't bring a horse, lead him to the safest part of the pasture, then shut the barn door.

    Deaths during and after a wildfire are usually caused by complications from smoke inhalation. If an animal was exposed, monitor him for smoke inhalation pneumonia.

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