The relentless one-two punch of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma forced millions of Americans and their pets to evacuate.
Though Harvey has passed and Irma is tapering off, the recovery is just beginning. As conditions allow, families are returning to their homes, many with their cats and dogs by their side.
Hurricane prepardeness is of utmost importance for people and their pets, but post-hurricane safety is another thing entirely, and it's too often overlooked.
In the wake of these major storms, the American Veterinary Medical Association has released a safety checklist for pet parents who are returning to potentially dangerous or stressful environments.
When returning home with pets following a disaster, the AVMA recommends the following:
- Survey the area inside and outside your home to identify sharp objects, dangerous materials, dangerous wildlife, contaminated water, downed power lines, or other hazards.
- Do not allow pets to roam free outdoors until the area is safe for them to do so. They could encounter dangerous wildlife and debris if allowed outside unsupervised and unrestrained. In addition, familiar scents and landmarks may have changed, and this can confuse your pets.
- Allow uninterrupted rest and sleep to allow your pets to recover from the trauma and stress of the evacuation and disaster.
- The disruption of routine activities can be the biggest cause of stress for your pets, so try to re-establish a normal schedule as quickly as you can.
- Comfort each other. The simple act of petting and snuggling can reduce anxiety for both people and pets.
- If you notice any signs of stress, discomfort, or illness in your pets, contact your veterinarian to schedule a checkup.
Helping Your Pet Adjust After a Disaster
The ASPCA is also urging pet parents from hurricane-hit regions to consider the impact these major events have had on their furry companions.
"After a storm, some animals may be traumatized by their experiences," said Pam Reid, vice president of the ASPCA’s Anti-Cruelty Behavior Team, in an interview with petMD. "Being separated from their family and/or their home can be scary enough, but if the pet was lost during the storm or housed at an emergency shelter, the trauma can be more extensive. Not surprisingly, animals that have undergone harrowing experiences can look like they are experiencing something similar to post-traumatic stress disorder."
Reid recommended keeping pets on a "consistent, predictable schedule" similar to the one they had before the storm, if possible. She also suggested providing a "quiet, dark, comfortable place so the pet has the option of hiding if he/she chooses. If the pet appreciates attention and physical affection when upset, by all means, keep the pet with you and console him/her."
Unfortunately, not all pets were able to leave with their owners. For cats and dogs who were put in emergency shelters, Reid said there may be some initial soiling accidents in the household upon return.
"A cat may not have had access to the size of litter box or the type of litter he/she was accustomed to and now needs a reminder to use the box," she explained. "While at a shelter, a dog may have had to learn to eliminate on unfamiliar substrates such as concrete or shavings, or became adapted to an unusual schedule."
That said, Reid assured that with some remedial training and time, "most pets will resume their former house-trained habits."
The storms may have been particularly traumatic for dogs with noise sensitivities. If your dog is showing signs of distress from certain sounds, "try to pair the sounds with something the dog enjoys, such as special tasty treats or a favorite game of fetch," Reid suggested. "If your dog is so frightened that he/she is not interested in treats or toys, you may need to consult with a certified applied animal behaviorist or veterinary behaviorist for a more intensive treatment program."
Hopefully, your pet will be back to normal within a week or two after returning from a storm. But if you see signs that your cat or dog is still in distress, you should talk to your veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist. "A course of behavior medication may help your pet cope and adjust to being home again," Reid said.
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