North Carolina is officially a full month into hurricane season, and given the state’s recent history with damaging storms it can only be a good idea to make sure you and your family are prepared.
Among those family members who may need special help to prepare are pets. Storms can be especially stressful for animals, and taking care of your pets during dangerous weather events takes careful preparation said Dr. Anna Allen, veterinarian with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Emergency Programs division.
“I think a big challenge is that people often don’t have a good plan, and they don’t have all of the things that they might need for their pet or even for themselves to take with them if they need to evacuate,” Allen said. “They also might not know exactly where to go.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, anyone forced to evacuate due to a storm will face new challenges, Allen said. Shelters locations could be restricted, and those that do operate might be in different spots than people are used to. Capacity at those shelters could also be tightened due to social distancing requirements.
“People may have known exactly where to go in past years, but this year that shelter might not be open anymore. Their county might have a completely different plan from what they’re used to,” Allen said. “It is really important for people to be paying attention to what local emergency management is doing in terms of shelter locations.”
During storms like Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Florence, pet owners frequently looked to pet-friendly hotels as good spots to shelter if their homes flooded. With the pandemic underway, local governments are like to consider those establishments prime options for public sheltering, which could mean little to no space for private individuals and their companion animals.
During evacuations, some people may be tempted to leave their pets at home. If you want to ensure the safety of your pets, that is not a good idea, Allen said.
Having a plan is important, but the preparation should not stop there. Make sure that your pets are up to date on all their vaccinations, especially rabies, and have copies of the records of those vaccinations on hand in case you have to relocate. Some shelters may require proof of vaccinations before they let you and your pets in, Allen said, with rabies at the top of the list. You should also make sure to have appropriate containment for your pet, whether that is a crate or carrier or simply a strong leash for a larger pet, along with your pet’s food and any medications they may need.
“Preparing for our animals is really not much different from preparing for ourselves. Many of these things are things that we as people need as well,” Allen said. “Our animals feed off of our stress and anxiety, and they feed off of our happy feelings too. Anything we can do to reduce our stress and anxiety will help them. If we have plan, and we have the things that we need to take with us for ourselves and for them, then we’re going to be less stressed and so will they.”
Of course, there are times when the situation does not require a full-on evacuation and instead you will end up sheltering at home with your pets. Animals may still become more stressed and fearful during large storms, and Allen encouraged pet owners to reach out to their local veterinarians to discuss strategies for dealing with anxiety in pets.
“Sometimes pets can benefit from some simple medications that can help them manage that anxiety, but those are usually prescription and need to be prescribed by a vet,” she said. “Other than that, you should try to keep as regular a schedule as possible for your pet. Try and do the normal things that you all do, keep their normal routine.”
For more information on sheltering during an emergency, visit https://www.ncagr.gov/oep/sheltering/index.htm.