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Emergency Preparedness: 5 Tips for Dog Safety in Fire Season

It's crucial to have an evacuation plan for you and your pets when wildfire risk is high.

 |  Oct 8th 2013  |   1 Contribution


In recent months, major wildfires have blazed across California, damaging buildings and homes and forcing families to quickly evacuate the area. California has been experiencing its driest year ever, fueling the increase of uncontrolled fires.

With wildfire season at its peak during the months of September and October, it’s crucial that you have an emergency preparedness and evacuation plan in place for not only yourselves, but also your pets. In the heat of the moment, you may overlook the key actions that might save your pets’ lives.

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If your dog wants to join the Fire Service, that might help, too. Bichon Frise with fire engine by Shutterstock

1. Prepare essential supplies

Having your pet’s daily necessities packed and ready to go in an easily accessible place is the first step. Wildfire disasters typically last longer than a few days, so it’s recommended that you stock up on two weeks’ worth of supplies to hold you over in the event you are unable to revisit your home for an extended period of time. Some necessary pet supplies to include are:

  • Pet food and water in airtight containers. If possible, it’s best to include canned pet food, which might hold up better in extreme environments. Also, don’t forget to pack bowls for the food and water. 
  • Any necessary pet medications that your pet is currently using. A pet first aid kit is valuable in the event that your pet is injured or harmed during the evacuation process. 
  • A secure leash with a collar that includes an identification tag. The identification tag should have your pet’s name and a phone number for the best contact, should you and your pet be separated. It is also highly recommended that you have multiple numbers on the identification tag, such as a mobile number and a landline number or even two mobile numbers in the event one number doesn’t work. 
  • A portable pet carrier for each pet that is big enough to give your furry friend some extra wiggle room. If possible, include your pet’s bed and favorite toys to help reduce stress and anxiety, which often occurs when pets are displaced from their home and taken out of their natural environment. 

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Don't wait until the flames get closer to your home -- evacuate yourself and your pets. Wildfire by Shutterstock.

2. Research local boarding facilities and animal shelters

Don’t wait until the wildfire happens before you start finding local boarding facilities and animal shelters that will house your pet in the event of an emergency. It is important to note that Red Cross evacuation centers do not allow pets due to health and safety regulations. The only exception is service animals that assist people with disabilities. In advance, create a list of local pet boarding facilities, veterinary clinics, and animal shelters along with their contact number and address. If you’re staying at a local hotel or motel, call ahead to see if they are pet friendly. Another option is to have friends or relatives outside of the affected wildfire area take in your animals temporarily while you are away from your home. 

3. Keep pet records handy and get a photo of you and your pet

Many boarding facilities will require proof of up-to-date vaccinations as well as any additional medical documentation, so it’s important to have accessible copies of all your pet’s medical records with you at all times. Another useful thing to have on hand is a recent photo of you and your pet together along with a detailed description of your pet. This will help others identify them should you and your pet become separated and will also serve as proof of ownership. 

4. Consider getting your pet microchipped

Microchipping your dog or cat will significantly increase the chance for you and your pet to be reunited during an emergency. According to a study published in the American Veterinary Medical Association, microchipped dogs had a return-to-owner rate of 52 percent while cats had a return-to-owner rate of 38 percent.

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Microchipping is a swift and simple procedure, and could help you find your dog if you get separated during a natural disaster. Vet and dog by Shutterstock.

Also, it is crucial for the microchip to be registered and up-to-date in the microchip database so that people are able to contact the pet’s owners once found. Many pet owners are hesitant about microchipping their pet because they feel that it will be invasive and painful, but this is a very fast process that does not require anesthesia and is comparable to a routine vaccination. Once found, a veterinarian or animal shelter worker will be able to scan the microchip and locate the animal’s owner based on the unique identification number and the information provided in the microchip database.  

5. Know the signs of smoke inhalation

Even if the wildfire is not at your door step, the decrease in air quality in the surrounding areas can negatively affect your pet’s respiratory system. Some symptoms of smoke inhalation include coughing, wheezing, rapid breathing, red eyes, or possibly even vomiting. It is best to keep your pet indoors as much as possible and to continually observe your pet for any changes in behavior, especially if they begin to act disoriented. Also, do not leave your pets unsupervised in a car because they may suffer from heatstroke from the high temperatures in the surrounding areas. 

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Me with one of my rescue dogs, Dr. Woo.

Another important thing to remember is to keep your emergency pet preparedness kit in an easily accessible place, like by the front door, so that you can easily remember to grab it on your way out. In addition, the kit should be compact and lightweight enough for you to carry it into your vehicle when in a hurry. 

Do you have a pet preparedness kit ready for an emergency natural disaster? What else would you include in your pet preparedness kit? Tell us in the comments below!

About the author: Brad Kriser is a pet expert and CEO and founder of Kriser’s, a multi-unit pet retailer specializing in all-natural pet food, supplies and grooming. Follow Kriser’s on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook

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