Human-Feline Relationships: Disaster-Proofing Your Cat

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I keep in touch with pet-owning friends worldwide. Reports of natural disasters running the gamut from blizzards to floods to record low temperatures and earthquakes prompt me to discuss what owners can do to help their pets during these difficult times.

Those who live in high-risk areas-which would seem to include practically everyone given the weather lately!-can save themselves and their cats a lot of stress by putting together a pet disaster kit that includes:

  • two day’s supply of dry food per animal
  • several cans of food if the cat normally eats it, plus a can opener
  • gallon jug of water
  • plastic food and water bowls
  • copies of your pet’s vaccination and medical records
  • a photo of your pet
  • a week’s supply of any medications your pet needs
  • litter box
  • litter
  • first aid kit containing:
    • rectal thermometer
    • clean washcloths or gauze sponges
    • 1″ adhesive tape
    • 2″ elastic bandage
    • Kaopectate
    • hydrogen peroxide
    • towel
    • veterinary first aid manual

All of these supplies can be kept in a large plastic bag near a fiberglass carrier big enough to hold your cat, a small blanket or other bedding, and a litter box. (For most cats, a small dog carrier will do the trick.) You can use a cut down cardboard box rather than a full-sized plastic litter pan for this purpose.

Suppose local officials tell Evie and Bob Shindler to evacuate their home when a major hurricane heads right for their town or the meandering brook running through their neighborhood turns into a raging torrent. While other pet owners race around frantically trying to get their pets’ things together, Evie grabs the plastic bag with all the necessary items, pops their cat, Taco, into his carrier, and heads to more secure quarters.

Not only do carriers make it safer to transport often frightened pets, some human disaster shelters now accept animals in carriers. Similarly, while friends and relatives might welcome Bob and Evie with open arms, both they’ll probably thank the Shindlers for not turning their pet loose in their homes.

Whether with his owners in temporary housing or kenneled in emergency facilities set up by local shelters or veterinary clinics, Taco will fare much better in his own carrier in which he feels snug and secure. For this and other reasons, I strongly recommend cat owners train their kittens and cats to accept their carriers as their own private space which the animals can enter at will. That way wherever the cat goes, a little bit of its territory goes with it. Because we know how territorial some cats can be compared to other domestic animals, this can relieve a great deal of stress during an already stressful time.

Naturally, the people maintaining pet emergency shelters will want and need to know the vaccination history of any animal guests. Because they keep all of Taco’s records with a photo in a reusuable plastic bag, the Shindlers readily can provide this information. If Taco does get loose, the picture will help others identify him.

“But Taco has a microschip ID,” Bob notes. “Isn’t that enough identification?”

While more and more owners do use microchips (which are injected just under the animal’s skin in a simple procedure)or tattoos to identify their pets, these only work if others can catch the cat, know to look for these forms of identification, and can do something with the data these provide. Both microchip and tattoo numbers are registered in a national registry which will provide the owner’s name and address. However, a microchip without the necessary scanner to view it provides no information, and an owner’s name and address means nothing if that area has been evacuated.

Consequently, in addition to training cats to accept their carriers (and thus reducing the chance of their taking off), and identifying them with microchip or tattoo, a good clear photo and detailed written description of the pet can be a godsend if the animal disappears. Although it seems hard to believe, a lot of owners really can’t describe their pets in much detail, especially amid the chaos of a natural disaster. Moreover, while Evie’s thinks her description of Taco as “a shaded cameo Exotic Shorthair” says it all, the overworked shelter volunteer might never connect that description to what he considers a reddish, Persian mix huddled in a cage in the next room.

Granted the emergency food and water supply in the disaster kit won’t last forever, but at least it will provide some nourishment in a form familiar to the animal. The last thing Taco’s excited gastrointestinal tract needs as he copes with all the other changes is a new brand food or different water.

“Why the towel?” Evie asks.

Every first aid kit should contain one because a frightened or injured cat may bite; and, even if it wouldn’t, owners who fear this will respond in a less that confident manner when the animal needs the owner’s assurance the most. Bob throws the towel over the terrified Taco when the wind blows out the window, scoops the cat up, and places him in his carrier to settle down or transport for any needed medical care.

By replacing the food and water and updating their kits routinely (some owners do this when they move their clocks forward and backward in the spring and fall), the Shindlers take some of the worry out of a worrisome situation. Additionally, such kits are a boon to those who travel with their pets. Rather than packing for Taco as well as themselves when they visit their folks, the Shindlers simply takes Taco’s disaster kit and then replenish anything depleted supplies they return.

While none of us like to think about disasters that might force us and our pets from our homes, a little time spent preparing for such a possibility can save us and our pets hours of avoidable grief.