Dr. Mahaney’s Perspective on Natural Disaster Preparedness for Canines & Felines

As a southern California dweller, wildfires, mudslides, and earthquakes are some of the natural disasters my dog Cardiff, my patients, and I face on a year-round basis.

Nature versus man events can randomly occur, or are more likely to happen, on a seasonal basis.  Fortunately, the seasonal nature of certain disasters gives pet owners the opportunity to prepare so their canine and feline companions endure minimal hardship, illness, or trauma.

Wildfires

Wildfires, whether started by a natural event (lightning, high-temperature combustion of natural elements, etc.) or man-made (cigarette butts, campfires, etc.) often cause cataclysmic damage to any community.  So common in the greater Los Angeles area are wildfires that the Los Angeles Times features a continuously updated Fire Map so citizens can stay best-informed of potential danger.

In wildfire-affected locations, the charred air can harbor irritants that can negatively impact animal and human healthAirborne particulate material can trigger an inflammatory response the eyes, respiratory tract, skin, and other body systems.  Inhalation of chemicals from burning fuels, metal, plastics, and even plant material (alkaloids) can also cause mild to severe toxic effects.

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The signs your pet will show post-exposure to irritants can vary from mild to severe depending on the degree of exposure, including:

  • Squinting
  • Redness to the whites of the eyes (sclera) or tissue lining the eyelids (conjunctiva)
  • Pawing at the eyes or rubbing the eyes/face on environmental surfaces
  • Eye discharge
  • Coughing, wheezing, and other breathing difficulties
  • Sneezing and nasal discharge
  • Licking, chewing, or scratching at affected skin
  • Other

Direct exposure to heat and smoke will seriously burn body tissues, including the skin, coat, eyes, mouth, and respiratory tract.  Damaged trachea and lungs can lead to hypoxia (oxygen deprivation).  Deficient oxygen causes weakness, ataxia (stumbling), syncope (fainting) or even death.

We can help to protect our human and animal family members by taking steps to reduce the likelihood our homes and yards will be affected by wildfire.  Check out Los Angeles Fire Department’s helpful Ready, Set, Go tips.

Mudslides

We southern Californians are so used to experiencing drought, but winter brings its own dangers in the form of storms that can quickly dump large volumes of water.  Seasonal drought causes large amounts of plant material to die that otherwise would absorb rainwater.  Much of our geography is composed of granite that isn’t very water absorptive, so deluges of water overwhelm drainage systems and cause potentially deadly mudslides.

Unlike wildfires, there really aren’t clinical signs pets will show when affected by mudslides.  Instead, pets can potentially be trapped in mudslides and be made unable to move or get swept away and suffocated by a heavy mud flow.

Earthquakes

In my ten years living in California, I’ve only experienced minor earthquakes, but I recognize that “the big one” could occur anytime. California isn’t the only state reported to have earthquakes.  Surprisingly, we’re not even the state having the highest incidence of earthquakes.  The U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS) lists Alaska as the Top Earthquake State of 2012, so we Californians can breathe a small sign of relief that we’re in second place.

Since all regions of the U.S. can be affected by earthquakes, it’s best that pet owners prepare themselves and their animal companions. The 2016 Great California ShakeOut encourages us to ‘Drop, Cover, and Hold’:

  • DROP to the ground (before the earthquake drops you!),
  • Take COVER by getting under a sturdy desk or table, and
  • HOLD ON to it until the shaking stops.

If you aren’t in a location where you can easily ‘Drop, Cover, and Hold’, like while driving, or being outdoors, Recommended Earthquake Safety Actions shares tips to help you best manage your circumstance.

Owners must prioritize the welfare of our pets during any natural disaster, so I’ve complied my top tips, including:

Properly identify your pet

A pet that escape from home during a disaster will more likely make a safe return if up to date identification is worn.  Dogs and cats should wear a collar or harness embroidered with or having an attached tag featuring their name and your phone number.

Tags and collars don’t always guarantee you’ll be reunited with your pet as they can fall off or be removed.  Having your veterinarian impact a microchip and keeping your personal information up to date with the chip’s manufacturer will increase the likelihood your pet will come home in a safe and timely manner.

As microchip identification requires a scanner and collars, harnesses, and tags may go missing, using multiple means of pet identification is best.

Know your pet’s location

The urgency of natural disasters can cause cats and small canines may seek shelter in closets, under beds, or other hidden spots to escape potential harm.  Medium and large-sized dogs are generally more obvious in their presence, but they may flee from danger unbeknownst to their owner.

Always be aware of your pet’s location in your house, yard, or public place and be familiar with his day-to-day habits, including preferred sites for napping ad hiding.  Knowing your pets’free time” habits will facilitate their discovery during an emergency.

Provide pet-safe transportation

If a disaster forces you to flee your home, use a pet carrier to provide safe transport. Cats and small dogs should travel in a protective (rigid or soft), airline-approved carrier. The outside of the carrier should feature vital information, including your pet’s name, species (dog, cat, etc.), color, breed or mix of breeds, weight, and vaccination history and your contact information.

Medium and large-breed dogs aren’t easily transported in a carrier, so use a collar or harness and leash to maintain control of their movements.

Immediately seek veterinary care

Natural disasters can expose your pet to smoke, fire, water, or other noxious substances causing life-threatening malfunction of vital organs (brain, heart, and lungs). Additionally, tissue damage from trauma or exposure to heat, moisture, or chemicals may not be readily seen by a pet owner but are more obvious to veterinarians and technicians.

With concerns your pet has incurred trauma or toxicity, pursue urgent care at an emergency veterinary practice.  Besides the physical examination, radiographs (x-rays), blood and urine testing, and other diagnostics are commonly needed to establish a diagnosis and determine the best treatment plan for your pet.

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Keep sufficient supply of food, medications, and supplies

Disasters can interrupt your pet’s health maintenance plan, so keep food, medications, and other supplies in readily accessible and transportable containers.  Some pets need special diets and consistent treatment with medications and supplements to manage chronic conditions, so natural disasters can lead to reoccurrence of ailments if proper measures aren’t taken.

Since Cardiff has a history of cancer and Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA), I keep his medication, supplements, and herbs organized for use at home or while traveling in a ‘Monday through Sunday AM/PM’ pill dispenser.  I suggest keeping at least seven days of your pet’s food and 30 days of medication and supplements prepared to be quickly grabbed should disaster strike. Since Honest Kitchen foods are dehydrated and most only require hydration before serving they are ideal options for your pet anytime and especially during disasters.

For the sake of the well-being of your animal and human family members, I hope that you and your pets never face the life-changing chaos seen during many natural disasters.  Preparing for the unforeseeable by following the above recommendations should be part of all pet owners’ disaster-preparedness strategy.

Meet the Author: Patrick Mahaney

Dr. Patrick Mahaney VMD, CVA, CVJ is a veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist providing services to Los Angeles-based clients both on a house call and in-clinic basis. Dr. Mahaney’s unique approach integrating eastern and western medical perspectives has evolved into a concierge house call practice, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW), Inc. Additionally, Dr. Mahaney offers holistic treatment for canine and feline cancer patients at the Veterinary Cancer Group (Culver City, CA).

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