7 ways to prepare your pets for a natural disaster
Does your emergency plan include your pets?
Most New Zealanders don’t have an emergency plan for their pets. Here’s what Cyclone Gabrielle taught us about preparing one.
After flood waters devastated Hawke’s Bay, the charity HUHA (Helping You Help Animals) set up a temporary animal shelter for displaced pets. They’ve cared for 88 dogs and cats, five goldfish, one pigeon and one swallow so far.
Carolyn Press McKenzie, Chief Executive of HUHA, said “There are a lot of pets who just can’t go back to their homes. So, there’s a lot of logistics around who’s going to look after them and how long for.”
Dr Hayley Squance is a national emergency animal welfare expert who has coordinated emergency responses internationally and is a volunteer at HUHA. She says, “We know that the majority of New Zealanders don’t have a plan. So just thinking about your animals and what you’re going to do with them is important.”
“If you’re planning for your pets, you’re planning for yourself.”
Emergency scenarios to plan for may include:
- being stuck indoors with your pets for a long period of time
- evacuating your home with your pets
- getting separated from your pets.
Dr Squance said, “What we’ve found is people really need their pets around them because they help with their recovery. So if we look at different scenarios of how to keep their pets with them, that’s the best outcome for everyone.”
Here are seven steps to make sure your pet will be safe if disaster strikes.
1. Arrange emergency contacts
Arrange backup contacts – friends, family, or neighbours – who can care for your pets if you get separated from them.
Make sure your contacts know where to find a spare key, plus your pet supplies like cages, leads, and food.
It’s a good idea to have the phone numbers of your emergency contacts saved on your device and written down somewhere handy. After an emergency, the power might be off, your phone battery has limited charge, and you may not have contact details at your fingertips like you would pre-disaster.
2. Microchip your pets
All dogs, except working farm dogs, need to be microchipped in New Zealand. If you own a cat, only some city councils require you to get them microchipped. We encourage you to microchip your pets, regardless of whether it's mandatory or not.
Scanning microchips to quickly and easily find information about the dogs, and who they belong to, has saved HUHA masses of time and resources.
However, a few of the rescued dogs didn’t have microchips. Carolyn Press McKenzie said “... it meant it took far longer to be able to reunite those animals with their owners. This is a huge lesson to New Zealanders – microchip your pets!”
3. Buy your pet food in bulk
The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) currently recommends pet owners have 5 days of food stocked at home. However, Dr Squance says “What we’re seeing is that these events are having a significant impact and lasting longer, so we recommend you actually need to stretch that out to 10–14 days to have a good supply.”
After Cyclone Gabriel, some supermarkets were flooded and any pet food that was still safe to consume was bought quickly, leaving shelves bare.
Buying cat and dog biscuits in bulk is a lot cheaper overall and usually has long expiry dates.
It’s also important to keep a routine and regular diet for your pets. If you’ve lost power, don’t feed your pets defrosted food from your freezer; it may make them sick.
4. Stock a pet first aid kit
Flea and flystrike overpopulation is a problem for pets and farm animals after flooding, says Press McKenzie.
Flystrike happens when blowflies lay their eggs on animals, usually sheep. In humid weather conditions, such as after a flood, the eggs hatch into maggots which infest and eat the living sheep.
“When you have a storm where there’s heat and moisture involved, those parasites, they take advantage,” Press McKenzie says.
If an emergency makes the outdoors unsafe, you won’t be able to nip to the shop to grab things like an antiparasitic or mud fever treatment when you most need them.
Press McKenzie says, “If it’s possible to have a store of items that can help you with killing those parasites, it’s worth it for when you need it – and hopefully you can get to it when you need it.”
5. Prepare a pet grab bag
You might have everything your pet needs, but are your supplies easy to access in an emergency? With Cyclone Gabrielle, some homes were destroyed and partially buried by flood waters and silt.
Consumer NZ resident survival expert and product test writer Amy McNabb, has a grab bag prepared for her dog Charlie for this very purpose.
“I made a grab bag for my dog, Charlie, which includes food, her medicine, a small bowl, a spare leash, and an info sheet with her details and mine. It’s in a cheap waist pack I can wear comfortably with my backpack, and having her gear separated from mine means I can find things quickly.”
Read more about how to prepare a grab bag for your entire household.
6. Bathe animals immediately
Flooding can expose your pets to water contaminated with toxic chemicals and debris.
Keeping extra water in your emergency kit to wash your pet is essential. If your pet has been exposed to silt, you need to do a decontamination wash as soon as possible.
Dr Hayley Squance said, “One thing that we’ve really learnt from this experience is that silt is incredibly toxic to animals. If you imagine amongst the flood waters, there’s diesel, there’s E. coli, there are all these compounds that just aren't okay for an animal to ingest. Animals do lick silt off their bodies, so we’re seeing a lot of diarrhoea and vomiting.”
7. Check your pet insurance
It pays to check your house and contents insurance policy, as they may include cover for temporary accommodation for you and your pet after a natural disaster.
You can check out our house and contents insurance buying guide.
Emergency animal welfare resources
MPI coordinates the emergency animal welfare response across New Zealand.
“MPI should be your first point of call, which most people wouldn’t think of, but they have some amazing advice on their website,” says Dr Squance.
Make sure you have all the essentials with this handy ‘Planning for pets’ checklist from MPI.
We've tested 6 emergency grab bags and made one of our own. Find out how they compare.