The best way to protect your household from a hurricane is to have a plan. If you are a pet owner, that plan should include your pets to ensure their safety.

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With hurricane season upon us, it is important that everyone has a personal disaster plan. For seniors, this is especially important, as needs change and special medical and/or mobility factors need to be considered. The National Hurricane Center and the American Red Cross websites provide a great deal of information on how to prepare for a hurricane, create a disaster kit, and otherwise make sure you and your property are safe in the event of a storm. One factor that can often be overlooked when preparing for hurricanes, however, is the safety of your pets.

Once you have created a disaster plan and have made arrangements with friends and family for all contingencies, it is important to make sure that your pets are taken care of as well. For example, in the event of a disaster, if you must evacuate, the most important thing you can do to protect your pets is to evacuate them too.

“If it’s not safe for you, then it’s not safe for your pets,” says Emily Stowers, MSW, Aging Services Manager at One Senior Place in Altamonte Springs. “With so much to consider for themselves, seniors can become anxious when a hurricane approaches, but they need to remember that their pets need to be safe too.”

The American Red Cross stresses that knowing a safe place to take your pets is one of the most critical aspects of keeping them safe during a storm. Local and state health and safety regulations do not permit the Red Cross to allow pets in disaster shelters, so the organization recommends that you contact hotels and motels outside your local area to check their policies on accepting pets, as well as restrictions on number, size and species. You should also ask if “no pet” policies can be waived in an emergency. Once you do this, keep a list of the pet-friendly places, including their phone numbers, with your disaster supplies.

Other steps you should take regarding finding a safe place for your pets is to ask friends, relatives or others outside the affected area whether they can shelter them. Boarding facilities and veterinarians may also be able to shelter animals in an emergency, so you should have their phone numbers on hand as well. The American Red Cross does allow service animals in Red Cross shelters, so if you have a service animal, you can bring them along if you need to evacuate your home.

If you do need to evacuate and have pets traveling with you, you should take along their medical records, crates, leashes, up-to-date collar tags with current address and phone number, food/water bowls, plenty of dry food and extra water. Basically, just as you would assemble an emergency preparedness kit for you and your family, you should also assemble one for your pets.

The American Red Cross suggests that your pet emergency preparedness kit include:

  • Medications and medical records (stored in a waterproof container) and a First Aid kit.
  • Sturdy leashes, harnesses, and/or carriers to transport pets safely and ensure that your animals can’t escape.
  • Current photos of your pets in case they get lost.
  • Food, drinkable water, bowls, cat litter/pan, and manual can opener.
  • Information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to foster or board your pets.
  • Pet bed or toys if easily transportable.

Once a storm has passed, you still need to take steps to ensure that your pets are safe. The Department of Homeland Security suggests that if you leave town after a disaster, you take your pets with you because pets are unlikely to survive on their own. The agency also suggests that you leash your pets when they go outside in the first few days after a storm because familiar scents and landmarks may be altered, and they may become confused or lost. Also, snakes and other dangerous animals may be brought into the area because of floods, and downed power lines can also become a serious pet hazard post storm. You may also find that the behavior of your pets change after an emergency, with normally quiet and friendly pets becoming aggressive and defensive because of stress. This is normal, and you should provide as much love and understanding as possible until things get back to normal.

“If your pet suffers from stress or anxiety during storms, you should plan for that by talking to your veterinarian in advance,” says Stowers. “Discuss what is best for your pet and if they need to have medication available in case a storm hits. We often forget that our pets experience the same emotions that we do, and a hurricane can be stressful for all living things.”

In the end, knowing that you have made the proper preparations for you and your pets in the event of a hurricane will provide you with the peace of mind you need as you deal with the approaching storm. When you are properly prepared for a hurricane, or any natural or man-made disaster, you are putting yourself in the best situation to avoid undue stress and come out of the storm safely.