By Dr. Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian Practice)
Earthquakes, hurricanes, tropical storms, floods, fires, mudslides – all are natural disasters that no one can be completely prepared for. Yet, with a little preparation, exotic pet owners can try to be ready. Preparing for a natural disaster can be overwhelming and frightening. It is hard enough for families to secure food and shelter for themselves in the face of a disaster, no less focus on keeping their pets safe. There are several resources, including agencies and websites, that offer advice to cat and dog owners about pet safety during disasters; however, with the vast variety of different exotic pet species and their varied nutritional and environmental requirements, very little has been written to guide exotic pet owners about how to plan for their pets’ safety during a natural disaster.
While exotic pet species – birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, and others – all have very specific needs to keep them healthy, many of the recommendations for keeping cats and dogs safe during a natural disaster apply to exotic pets, too. Regardless of a pet’s species, all pet owners should have a 7-day supply of pet food and habitat needs (such as bedding), as well as detailed instructions on pet care on hand for emergencies, whether they have to shelter in place or evacuate to a temporary shelter to stay safe. Exotic pet owners should check with local community emergency response departments to know the location of exotic pet-friendly shelters. In addition, all pet owners should talk to their veterinarians about emergency preparedness procedures before emergencies actually occur.
Another thing all exotic pet owners should do to get ready for a disaster is to create a pet emergency supply kit to keep in a waterproof container along with their family’s emergency supplies. A pet emergency supply kit should include:
- A safe, lockable, escape-proof pet carrier in which to both transport and house the pet temporarily. Carriers should be large enough to house the pet comfortably for several days and be coverable with a towel or sheet to provide privacy and shade. Carriers should have the pet’s name on them, as well as the owner’s contact information and other emergency contact numbers, including the veterinarian’s name, phone number, and address.
- Pet food (at least a 7-day supply) stored in air-tight, waterproof, spoil-proof containers.
Dry food (such as pellets for birds and small mammals) are preferable to fresh produce or other table foods that spoil easily.
- Bottled water (at least a 7-day supply).
- A box of re-sealable plastic bags for storing opened food, plus a permanent marker to label the bags.
- Bowls and sipper bottles for food and water.
- Essential cage accessories, such as perches and a cage cover for birds and a litter box and a towel for rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, and other small mammals.
- Medical records for pets, including proof of vaccination for ferrets and health certificates for all pets.
- Any medications the pet is taking (at least a 2-week supply, plus a prescription from the veterinarian for more).
- Microchip, tattoo, or leg band information (if pet has one).
- A recent photo of the pet in case he/she gets lost and must be identified later.
- Bedding and litter for all species that use it, including rabbits, guinea pigs, and ferrets.
- Toys, blankets, and other comfort items including hide boxes for guinea pigs or other small rodents and chew toys for small mammals and birds to gnaw on to minimize stress.
- Grooming items such as brushes and nail trimmers, as well as cuttlebones for birds.
- Treats that won’t spoil, don’t need to be refrigerated, and can be stored easily in plastic bags.
- A list of pet-friendly hotels, shelters, and boarding facilities that will house exotic pets.
- A local map and written evacuation plan that a family can practice ahead of time, especially if a pet becomes stressed by leaving the house and riding in a car.
- A flashlight, radio, and batteries (enough for several days).
- An emergency fund to cover last minute housing of the pet in a veterinary hospital or shelter.
- An emergency medical kit containing gauze pads, a scissor, styptic powder or sticks to clot bleeding nails and beaks, bandage material cut up into small pieces, bandaging tape, antibiotic ointment, alcohol wipes, disposable gloves, a freezer pack, saline eye wash, liquid soap, antiseptic solution (recommended by a veterinarian), a tweezers, a wash cloth, paper towels, and a bath towel (in which to carry a pet, if necessary).
While there are several things exotic pet owners should do in case of a natural disaster, there are also several things they should not do, including:
- set pets free outside to fend for themselves, as many exotic pets are prey species that will not survive on their own.
- abandon pets at a veterinary hospital or boarding facility or leave them at home alone if your family has to evacuate.
- leave pets in a car unattended, where they may overheat, suffocate, escape, or get injured, washed away, or stolen.
- wait until the last minute and expect that veterinarians will be able to fill prescriptions, supply pet food, copy medical records, etc.
With advanced planning and practice, you, your family, and your pets – both furry and feathered – will all be able to make it out safely.