Disaster preparedness: how to get your exotic pet ready and out safely

Exotic Pets - Disaster Preparedness

Photo by Patrick Danforth | www.clicktozen.com

Tropical storms, earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, floods, mudslides – phenomena no one can be completely prepared for. Yet, with a little preparation, there are things exotic pet owners can do to be ready.

Preparing for a natural disaster can be overwhelming and scary. It’s difficult enough for families to secure food and shelter for themselves in the wake of a disaster, no less to try to focus on keeping their pets safe.

There are several agencies and websites offering advice to cat and dog owners about pet safety during disasters; however, given the huge variety of exotic pet species and their varying nutritional and environmental requirements, little has been written to guide exotic pet owners about how to prepare their pets for natural disasters and how to keep them safe (http://www.examiner.com/article/emergency-preparedness-for-exotic-pets).

While exotic pet species – birds, rabbits, rodents, reptiles, ferrets, amphibians, pot-bellied pigs, sugar glides, hedgehogs, and others – all have very specific needs to keep them healthy, many of the recommendations for keeping cats and dogs safe during inclement weather apply to exotic pets, too. Several great resources exist to which pet owners, regardless of pet type, can refer in advance of natural disasters, to be as ready as possible should the these events come (http://www.weather.com/weather/hurricanecentral/article/pet-preparedness_2011-08-24?page=1, http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/petprotect.asp, http://www.ready.gov/caring-animals).

According to Dr. Cynda Crawford, veterinarian in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine, and Medical Director for the University of Florida’s Veterinary Emergency Treatment Services, a resource for the state’s animal and agricultural emergency response system, little advice exists specifically about exotic pet safety during storms. However, she recommends all pet owners “…have a 7-day supply of dietary needs, the habitat, and detailed step-by-step instructions for care on hand for emergencies, whether sheltering in place or going to a temporary shelter to get out of harm’s way.” Dr. Crawford also suggests that exotic pet owners “…check with their local community emergency response departments to determine availability of pet-friendly shelters and to see whether these shelters are prepared to accommodate special species.”

She notes that frequently temporary shelters established for emergency housing of pets will accept a variety of species but not snakes. “This places an extra burden on these snake owners to find secure housing if evacuation is necessary, and this planning should be done in advance of urgent need.” Most importantly, says Dr. Crawford, exotic pet owners should discuss emergency preparedness procedures with their veterinarians before emergencies arise.

One thing all exotic pet owners should do to prepare for a disaster is to create a pet emergency supply kit to be stored with your family emergency supply kit in a waterproof container. Several helpful sites exist to help pet owners put together an emergency kit, including http://www.humanela.org/hurricanepreparedness.htm, http://www.scdhec.gov/administration/ophp/hurricane/pets.htm).

A pet emergency supply kit should definitely include:

  1. A safe, escape-proof pet carrier in which to both transport and house your pet temporarily. Carriers should be large enough to house your pet comfortably for several days and be coverable with a towel of thin sheet to provide security and shade. Carriers should have your contact information on them and other emergency contact numbers, including your veterinarian’s.
  2. Pet food (at least a 7-day supply) stored in air-tight, waterproof, spoil-proof containers.

Dry food (such as pellets for birds, reptiles, and small mammals) are preferable to fresh produce or living prey items that spoil easily.

  1. Water (at least a 7-day supply)
  2. A box of re-sealable plastic bags for storing opened food, plus a permanent marker to label the bags.
  3. Bowls and sipper bottles for food and water.
  4. Essential cage accessories, such as lights, heaters, and misters for reptiles; dust baths for chinchillas; perches and cage covers for birds; sleeping pouches for sugar gliders; and running wheels for hedgehogs and some small rodents.
  5. Important medical records, including proof of vaccination for ferrets and health certificates for all pets.
  6. Any medications your pet is on (at least a 2-week supply, plus a prescription from your veterinarian for more).
  7. Microchip, tattoo, or leg band information (if pet has one).
  8. A recent photo of the pet in case he/she gets lost and must be identified later.
  9. Bedding and litter for all species that use it normally, including small mammals and reptiles.
  10. Toys/blankets/comfort items including hide boxes for reptiles and chew toys for small mammals and birds to minimize stress.
  11. Grooming items such as brushes and nail trimmers, plus cuttlebones for birds.
  12. Treats that won’t spoil, don’t need refrigeration, and can be stored easily in plastic bags.
  13. A list of pet-friendly hotels, shelters, and boarding facilities that will accept exotic pets (see takeyourpet.com, www.petswelcome.com, www.LetsGoPets.com, www.travelpets.com).
  14. A local map and written evacuation plan that you can practice with your family and your pet in advance, especially if he/she is stressed by leaving the house and riding in a car.
  15. A flashlight, a radio, and batteries (enough for several days).
  16. An emergency fund to cover last minute housing your pet, if need be, in veterinary hospitals or shelters.
  17. An emergency medical kit containing gauze pads, a scissor, styptic powder or sticks to clot bleeding nails and beaks, bandage material cut up into small pieces, bandaging tape, towels, antibiotic ointment, alcohol wipes, latex gloves, a freezer pack, eye wash, liquid soap, antiseptic solution (recommended by your vet), a tweezers, and a wash cloth.

According to Dr. Doug Mader, a veterinarian who works with exotic pets in Florida and who writes on hurricane preparedness, other factors to consider when getting pets ready for a hurricane include taking pets housed outdoors, such as birds in aviaries and turtles and fish in ornamental ponds, inside. Aquatic pets can be housed inside in temporary tanks powered by battery operated filters and air pumps, if necessary. According to Dr. Mader, in the face of a hurricane, you should not:

  1. set your pets free outside to fend for themselves, as many exotic pets are prey species and will not survive on their own.
  2. abandon your pets at a veterinary hospital or boarding facility or leave them at home alone if you have to evacuate.
  3. leave your pets in a car unattended, where they may overheat, suffocate, escape, or get injured, washed away or stolen.
  4. wait until the last minute and expect that your veterinarian will be able to fill prescriptions, provide extra pet food, copy medical records, etc.

Birds love to fly, many reptiles like water, and several small mammals enjoy climbing. But the extreme weather associated with hurricanes, tropical storms, and other natural disasters is too much for any pet – exotic or otherwise - to survive. With advanced planning and some practice, you, your family, and your pets – furry, feathered, and scaled – can all make it out safely.


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Positively Expert: Laurie Hess

Dr. Hess is board-certified by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners in avian (bird) medicine and served as the President of the Association of Avian Veterinarians from 2009-2010. She is also an active member of the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians and the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians.


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