ASPCA Expert Tips: Keeping Pets Safe and Calm During Disasters

September is National Preparedness Month; pet owners urged to plan ahead
September 3, 2013

New York, N.Y.—September is National Preparedness Month, and with hurricane season at its height, the ASPCA® (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) offers expert tips on keeping pets safe during a disaster and calm during a storm.

"We often find lost or stranded pets that have been left behind during a disaster,” says Dr. Dick Green, director of disaster response for the ASPCA's Field Investigations and Response team. "Have your disaster plan and emergency kit in place before a storm hits to ensure you aren’t separated from your pet. The more prepared you are, the faster you can get you and your pet to safety.”

A national ASPCA poll revealed that more than one-third of cat and dog owners don't have a disaster preparedness plan in place. The research study also found that only a quarter of pet owners say their animals are micro-chipped. Weather experts predict that up to 20 named storms will affect communities throughout the U.S. before hurricane season ends in November. In the event that evacuation is necessary, pet owners should be prepared to evacuate with their pets—any home unsafe for people is also unsafe for pets.

The ASPCA offers the following tips on disaster preparedness:

  • Always bring pets indoors at the first sign or warning of a storm or disaster.
  • Obtain a rescue alert sticker, which will let rescuers know that pets are inside your home.
  • Keep a portable pet emergency kit and supplies handy with items such as medical records, water, pet food and medications, and pet first aid supplies.
  • Make sure all pets wear collars and ID tags with up-to-date identification and your cell phone number. The ASPCA also recommends micro-chipping your pet as a more permanent form of identification, should collars or tags become lost.
  • Arrange a safe haven for your pets in the event of evacuation. Do not leave your pets behind.
  • Choose a designated caregiver who can take care of your pet in the event you are unable.

If conditions are safe enough that you don’t have to evacuate, you may still need to calm your pet from a storm’s effects.

“Animals may be more sensitive than humans, which can lead them to panic from the intense noises, dramatic visual stimuli and unexpected chaos of a storm,” says Dr. Pamela Reid, vice president of the ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Behavior team. “Many pets experience anxiety or fear during severe storms and may even try to escape from their home. There are many ways pet owners could help their pets weather the storm by calming any storm-related nerves.”

The ASPCA has these tips on calming storm-related anxiety when evacuation is unnecessary:

  • Prepare a smaller area for pets such as the bathroom or a covered crate—with all their favorite toys and extra bedding—where they can hide and feel safe. It’s helpful to teach crate training ahead of time so your pet is comfortable in a crate.
  • Fearful animals—especially thunder phobic animals—may try to dash out the door. Take precautions to make sure your pet is unable to escape from your house or yard. Make sure ID tags are current and pets are properly micro-chipped.
  • Dog appeasement pheromone or synthetic feline pheromone may ease stress and can be obtained through your veterinarian or a pet product store.
  • Special wraps and shirts that provide a calming pressure are sold specifically for dogs with thunder phobia.
  • Blocking out the noise of the storm as well as the visual stimuli can reduce stress. Close curtains or shades and play classical music or turn on a white noise machine.

The ASPCA Field Investigations and Response team frequently responds to hurricanes and other natural disasters around the country, including Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the Joplin tornado in 2011, Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008 and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, in addition to being called upon by state and municipal governments and other animal welfare partners to lend expertise during large-scale animal rescue operations.