Ensuring pet safety during a natural disaster

pet disaster plan - sydney floods - fox valley animal hospital wahroonga

Photo by: Blake Verdoorn

You may think having a pet disaster plan sounds like a strange idea. But with super storms, flooding and bushfire risk part of living in Wahroonga, Turramurra and the upper North Shore of Sydney, it’s important to have a plan. Looking after your family and your family pets during a natural disaster should be your top priority.

That’s why Fox Valley Animal Hospital has put together some key points in dealing with a natural disaster and help you create a working pet disaster plan.

Please note: The information supplied here is to be used in conjunction with disaster planning techniques outlined by the NSW Fire and Rescue Service and SES NSW. It is not a replacement for their fantastic, live saving advice. If you are in imminent danger, please call 000.

Work out a family and pet disaster plan ahead of time

While you (and us) hope you never have to activate it, all households should have an emergency plan to activate. In event of flood, bushfire or in a situation where you and your family need to move quickly to avoid danger, panic will set in.

So being prepared and having things such as set meeting points, a checklist for vital items such as clothing, food and water as well as packs with necessities such as torches, batteries, pet leads, first aid kit and other helpful items is paramount.

If you are greeted with news of potential threat from floods, bushfires and other disasters, gather essentials such as food, clothing and bedding for both you and your pets.

Helpful things to do to build your pet disaster plan:

  • Don’t be afraid to pack a suitcase with the necessities for both you and your family and store it in the house or garage, just in case
  • Make sure you check the pet transportation equipment you own annually to ensure it is in good working order. This could include things you might not use that often such as pet carriers, pet seat belts and training crates
  • In an event of a house fire, pre-arrange to have a meeting point with members of your family so you know you’re all safe and well
  • Make sure you visit the NSW Fire and Rescue website and the NSW SES website for your SES emergency plan
  • Add to these checklists with information for your family pets such as remembering to include food, water, bowls, toileting equipment, warm blankets and medication
  • Practise your evacuation drill with your family and include the pets
  • Buy a Pet First Aid Kit and have it on hand for emergency situations
  • Take preventative measures against disaster striking such as cleaning gutters and waterways to give water a free path to dispersal. Install and regularly check your smoke detectors. Clear trees and leaf litter away from homes. Make sure you check the health of large trees on a yearly basis and remove any dead or dying limbs
  • Know the places you can evacuate to safely with your pets in tow. Knowing which evacuation centre will accept you and your family pet is incredibly important

Stay informed and up to date with information

For the safety of all your family, including family pets, always make sure you stay informed of natural disaster information. Some good places for regular updates are:

Be ready to move with your family when and if you have to.

Respect that evacuations are stressful for everyone

You, your family and your family pets will all be on edge during a fire and storm cell. Dogs and cats may fight you due to fear and natural instinct. But it’s important for all of you that you remain calm.

A couple of things you can do to minimise the stress of your pet in an evacuation setting are:

  • Train your pet ahead of time. This includes their associations any pet carriers and restraints such as muzzles you might not use regularly with a positive time
  • Use positive reinforcement such as treats and praise. It may be stressful for you all, but your pet will respond to your tone and physical movements with greater fear if the experience is negative
  • Talk to your pet, hug them and give them comfort. They may also provide comfort to you
  • Never tie up or lock up an unsupervised pet, yours or one you find as a stray in a place where they may face danger. Restricting any animals ability to get away from risky situations could lead to their death
  • A Thundershirt may be useful if your pet suffers from anxiety related to storm phobias. This cosy fitting vest has been proven to help reduce stress and cause a calming effect. We can order theses in for you ready for any unforseen event

Working with your family pet to be as stress-free as possible is paramount. A pet disaster plan helps you do that.

Always put safety first with planning a pet disaster plan 

Natural disasters and evacuations are a time when safety should beat the forefront of your mind.  You can help make your family and your pets safer in an emergency situation by:

  • Ensuring you know where everyone is at all times. Pets tend to jump gates, run and hide when they are afraid. So it’s important to notice where your pet is at all times to ensure if you need to move quickly, you can
  • Respecting the lead, Halti, bird cage and cat carrier. While your pet may enjoy a much freer lifestyle, during an emergency situation they may be unpredictable. So always make sure your pet is properly secured to you as opposed to roaming free
  • Thinking about car transportation. Pets should always be safely secured when travelling in a vehicle. Using a car harness, cat carrier and approved small animal cage can save lives if your pet panics and/or you have an accident. Don’t invite further disaster by ignoring safe pet transportation in a disaster
  • Understanding people and animals are terrified when faced with floods, fire and chaos. Humans and animals can do some pretty strange things when stressed. We can act out of character as fight or flight survival instincts kick in. We can also be vulnerable and less likely to cope as we normally would, depending on our levels of resilience and what we have encountered. Understand that odd behaviour, strong reactions and sensitivity are all part of the disaster situation. Knowing this will help you manage your reactions, your family, pets and others reactions to your family and pets better.
  • Making sure you come to evacuation centres prepared for the long haul. This includes keeping your pets close to you and properly housed and as calm as possible.
  • Knowing your pet friendly evacuation options. If by chance the evacuation centre does not allow pets, know where suitable boarding kennels are located to help house your pet appropriately. We recommend Calabash Kennels at Arcadia and Puss n Boots Cattery at Dural.


Planning for the disaster that hopefully never arrives

While it may sound a little corny to channel your inner boy scout, being prepared with a pet disaster plan helps you keep calm and keep your family safer as a result.

Making sure you include your family pet in the disaster planning process can help you minimise stress and increase your ability to respond to an evacuation order in a timely manner.

Want more tips and advice to tackle all kinds of pet related emergencies? Check out Fox Valley Animal Hospital’s official blog, Facebook page and Twitter profile.


About the Author
Owner and Vet Alex Brittan, Vet Katie Syms and the team of Fox Valley Animal Hospital pride themselves on quality service. Fox Valley Animal Hospital is the one you choose for your family pet when the care your animal receives really matters.