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Routine vet visits keep pets ready for disaster

By Susan Collins-Smith
MSU Ag Communications

JACKSON – Getting routine health care for family pets is just as important as having a fully-stocked emergency kit and a home evacuation plan when preparing for disasters.

“After a disaster, many animals must be boarded because their homes are damaged or they are injured or lost,” said Dr. Carla Huston, veterinarian and associate professor in the Department of Pathobiology and Population Medicine at Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “In a boarding setting, animals may be exposed to other animals that are carrying diseases that may not be visually evident.”

Routine health care includes physical examinations, vaccinations and screenings for contagious parasites. Boarding facilities require pets be up-to-date on routine health care before accepting them. In a disaster situation, there are often no exceptions, Huston said.

“Animals involved in disasters are often lost, injured or stressed,” said Huston. “Stress and poor nutrition, which can occur when a pet is lost, decrease an animal’s immunity and can cause it to be more susceptible to infectious diseases.”

Pet Emergency Kit

In addition to proof of vaccination, Huston said pet owners should include a photo of their pet in the emergency kit, which can help identify the animal if lost.

“There are many websites now dedicated to reuniting pets with their owners, and a picture goes a long way,” Huston said. “If the animal has a microchip, keep the subscription and information current. A copy of the microchip identification should also be included in the emergency kit.”

These pet supplies should also be included in the emergency kit:
• a week’s supply of food and water;
• bowls;
• a sturdy leash and/or harness;
• a kennel big enough for the pet to stand, turn around, and lie down comfortably;
• bedding and toys;
• a two-week supply of prescription medications; and
• a written record of feeding schedules, medical conditions and/or behavioral problems along with the name and number of the pet’s veterinarian.

Huston said food, water and medications should be rotated so they do not expire.

For more information on disaster preparedness for pets, visit http://www.humanesociety.org/work/ and click on “Disaster Preparedness” under “Animal Rescue and Care” in the center of the page.

Not only could the animal become ill or infect other animals, but its human companions could be at risk also.

Dr. James Randolph, a small animal veterinarian and owner of Animal General Hospital in Long Beach, described a situation that occurred after the February 10 tornado that struck Hattiesburg.

“During post-tornado boarding, a pet was diagnosed with hookworms, one type of intestinal parasite that can be transmitted to other animals and humans,” Randolph said. “Thus, the doctor caring for this disaster-affected pet recognized that routine preventive care had not been performed in quite some time. That possibly put his other boarders and hospitalized patients at risk. The pet’s family also had been at risk.”

Health records for all pets should be included in a family’s emergency kit to avoid the added cost of vaccinating animals that are already up-to-date. Huston advises families to have at least one extra copy of their pet’s complete medical record stored at the veterinarian’s office or a relative’s home.

“An animal may be up-to-date on its vaccinations and screenings, but a facility can’t take an owner’s word for it because doing so might risk illness for its other boarders,” Randolph said. “After the Hattiesburg tornado, a pet owner who needed to board her cat couldn’t provide proof of current vaccination because her veterinarian’s office had not yet reopened after the storm. So she experienced the additional expense of revaccinating the cat.”

Randolph cautioned owners that owners might have to board a pet unexpectedly when temporary shelter arrangements do not work out.

“I don’t know of any hotel that requires pet owners to show proof of vaccination. But an owner could be asked to board their pet if it becomes disruptive or doesn’t get along with the resident pets at a friend’s or relative’s home,” he said.

Pet owners can apply for assistance through the Mississippi Animal Disaster Relief Fund to help with disaster-related expenses, such as emergency boarding or care for injuries incurred as a result of the disaster. However, pet owners cannot be reimbursed for expenses related to routine health care.

The MADRF is a non-profit fund established after Hurricane Katrina. It provides assistance to pet and livestock owners and veterinarians after a disaster and is funded completely through private donations.

“The funds provided by MADRF are limited, so our bylaws specify what we can authorize reimbursement for and what we cannot,” Randolph said. “By necessity, preventive care is not on that list.”

More information about MADRF can be found at http://www.mbah.state.ms.us/ by clicking on “Animal Disaster Relief Fund” under the “Emergency Programs” tab at the top of the page.

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Released: May 6, 2013
Contact: Dr. Carla Huston, (601) 325-1183