Evacuation Packs for Pets

Preparing for emergency situations is becoming a bit of a passion of mine, especially when it comes to pets, who are very often not prepared for. I’m lucky enough to be part of a community of veternary professionals and one of them was nice enough to allow me to publish this. -M

Guest Blog by Jodi Berls

It  was  2008,  and  Hurricane  Ike  had  just  taken  a  chunk  out  of  our  roof.    We  had  water   damage  to  our  home,  no  power,  and  no  way  to  get  in  supplies.    My  husband  and  I   had  to  make  a  quick  decision  –  stay  in  the  house  and  make  the  best  of  the  situation,   or  hit  the  road  with  our  dog,  cat  and  parrot.

Traveling  with  animals  often  is  an  adventure,  and  it  can  be  even  more  of  a  challenge   if  one  or  more  of  your  pets  is  a  bird  or  exotic  animal.    After  my  experience  with   Hurricane  Ike,  I  became  a  real  advocate  of  getting  ready  in  advance.    I’ve  made   “evacuation  packs”  for  my  animals  every  year  as  hurricane  season  approaches,  and   as  our  home  menagerie  has  grown  to  include  two  more  parrots  and  two  pet  rats,  my   collection  of  packs  has  grown  in  number,  too.

This  process  doesn’t  have  to  be  expensive.    I  use  kids’  school  backpacks  that  I  picked   up  at  Walgreen’s  for  less  than  $10.  Most  of  the  contents  of  the  packs  are  items  I   already  had  in  the  cupboards  –  food,  cat  litter,  extra  bird  toys,  treats,  etc.    Each  pet   has  his/her  own  pack,  labeled  with  his/her  name  and  contact  information  for  my   husband  and  I,  plus  a  utility  pack  that  contains  general  supplies  like  paper  towels,   plastic  bags,  pet  medical  records  and  the  first  aid  kit.  Now  that  I’ve  done  the  hard   part  –  thinking  it  through  –  all  I  have  to  do  is  replace  anything  that  may  have  gone   out  of  date  and  store  the  bags  in  case  of  emergency.

So  let  me  explain  that  process  of  thinking  it  through,  because  that’s  the  real  heart  of   the  matter.    It  basically  involves  asking  yourself  three  questions:

First,  where  are  you  going?    Regulations  on  exotic  pets  can  vary  greatly  from  one   place  to  another.    Some  birds  and  reptiles  can’t  be  transported  across  state  lines;   your  ferret  may  not  be  required  to  have  a  rabies  vaccination  where  you  live,  but  that   may  not  be  the  case  at  your  destination.  Make  sure  your  pet  will  be  welcome,  or  at   least  tolerated,  when  you  get  where  you’re  going.

Second,  how  will  you  transport  your  pet?    For  purposes  of  this  discussion,  I’m   assuming  you’re  driving,  which  means  you  need  a  safe,  appropriate  carrier  for  your   pet.    Please  don’t  let  this  wait  until  the  last  minute  –  makeshift  carriers  like   pillowcases  or  laundry  baskets  won’t  provide  your  pet  with  the  security  and   comfort  you  want  for  him.  Ideally  you  want  to  obtain  your  carrier  far  enough  in   advance  that  you  have  an  opportunity  for  your  pet  to  get  accustomed  to  being  in  it   before  the  situation  goes  sideways.

I  don’t  recommend  soft-­‐sider  or  sherpa  carriers  for  long-­‐distance  travel.    They  won’t   provide  any  protection  in  a  car  crash,  and  it’s  too  easy  for  the  animal  to  chew   through  the  fabric  or  leather  if  he  gets  bored.    Species-­‐specific  carriers  such  as  travel   cages  for  birds  are  ideal,  but  they  can  run  as  much  as  $200.    You  should  think  of  the   carrier  as  an  investment  in  your  pet’s  health  and  safety,  but  you  may  be  able  to  do   just  as  much  for  a  lot  less  money:  For  my  pet  rats,  I  bought  a  pair  of  inexpensive   hamster  habitats  for  about  $30  each.    Most  small  mammals  and  many  birds  will  do   just  fine  in  an  appropriately  sized  hard-­‐plastic  dog  or  cat  carrier,  available  at  most
pet  stores  and  not  outrageously  priced.    If  you  think  your  pet  needs  more  padding,   place  a  towel  or  other  soft  material  in  the  carrier.    Make  sure  the  carrier  doesn’t   have  holes  in  it  large  enough  for  your  pet  to  squeeze  out  or  small  enough  to  trap  a   foot  or  toes.

Now,  about  what  to  put  in  your  backpacks.    For  this,  ask  yourself  this  question:   What  will  you  do  for  your  animal  for  the  next  few  days,  and  what  will  you  need  to   accomplish  those  tasks?    I  can’t  really  tell  you  what  specifically  you  need  to  pack,   because  I  don’t  know  your  animal.    Do  you  normally  feed  live  foods  to  your  bearded   dragon,  such  as  crickets  or  mealworms?    What  will  you  need  to  keep  them  alive   while  you  travel?    Will  your  guinea  pig  drink  from  a  water  bottle,  or  is  he   accustomed  to  having  his  water  in  a  bowl?    Does  your  pet  need  special  bedding?     Special  lighting?    These  are  the  kinds  of  things  you’ll  need  to  consider  when  deciding   what  to  pack.

As  for  how  much  to  pack,  many  experts  recommend  planning  to  be  out  of  your  home   about  three  days  after  a  hurricane,  but  based  on  my  experience  with  Ike,  I  think  you   need  to  be  prepared  to  be  on  your  own  for  a  at  least  a  week.

That  said,  no  matter  how  large  a  vehicle  you’re  traveling  in,  you  will  have  limited   space.    Stick  to  the  essentials:  At  a  minimum,  you’ll  need  food,  water,  any  necessary   medications,  bedding  and  anything  you  may  need  to  restrain  your  pet  if  it  becomes   stressed  out  or,  God  forbid,  injured  or  ill.    For  our  menagerie,  we  always  plan  on   taking  a  24-­‐pack  of  half-­‐liter  water  bottles  reserved  just  for  the  pets.    Toys  and   treats  may  be  good  to  relieve  the  animal’s  stress,  but  don’t  load  up  on  them.

As  an  example,  this  is  what  I  put  in  the  pack  for  my  Senegal  parrot:

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• A  quart-­‐sized  plastic  bag  of  Harrison’s  Bird  Food  pellets.

• A  smaller  plastic  bag  of  Nutriberry  treats  and  nuts.

• A  spare  perch  for  his  travel  cage,  and  vet  wrap  to  pad  it  for  his  arthritic  little   feet.

• Two  medications  that  he  gets  a  couple  of  times  a  week.

• A  toy  to  replace  the  one  that  normally  stays  in  his  travel  cage,  and  some  parts   to  refill  the  toy.

• A  towel  for  handling  him  if  he  decides  to  be  uncooperative.

• Two  extra  food/water  bowls.

In  the  end,  we  decided  to  stick  it  out  at  home,  and  we  got  lucky.    The  power  was   restored  after  a  few  days,  and  our  house  was  livable,  if  not  comfortable.    But  if  the   damage  had  been  just  a  little  bit  worse,  or  the  recovery  had  taken  a  little  longer,  we   would  have  been  forced  to  travel.    Now  I  know  the  next  time  a  hurricane  threatens,   we’ll  be  as  ready  as  we  can  be.