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After a Disaster Actions for Companion Animals

Disasters are often catastrophic events and can overwhelm a community.  After an emergency it is important to re-establish your priorities. The first priority should be the safety of people, followed by the safety of animals and property.  If you are safe, you can do more to help your animals.  This is similar to the instructions given when boarding an airplane - "Put your oxygen mask on yourself before you put one on for your child." 

Entering a Disaster Area

  • It is important to follow official instruction from the Office of Emergency Management or other public health officials. Don't go back into an area that has not been approved. This will put your life in danger as well as first responders that need to rescue you and your pets.
  • Plan your route before going back to your farm. Find out what roads are opened or closed. Alternate routes may need to be taken. Even traveling on roads that are open can be hazardous; anticipate debris, downed trees and flooding on the roads. Drive slowly and use extra caution as you proceed.
  • Also use caution when you enter your property. Debris may be present that could harm you and your pets.
  • Examine your property for downed electric lines, fallen trees and contaminated water that could present real dangers to your pet. Snakes and other wildlife may be present that could be harmful to your pet.
  • If you were unable to turn the electric off before the disaster, look for signs of damage to electrical wires and surge boxes. Contact your utility company if your suspect damage or need advice on when you can safely turn on your electric components. Never turn on the electricity in areas that have been flooded before having the system checked by an electrician or by the electric company. Gas lines can also sustain damage and it is good to have gas lines check by the gas utility company.
  • Travel slowly and be alert for any hazards that may occur on the road. Many roads can be blocked and you will have to take alternate routes.

You Pet's Behavior After a Disaster

  • Disasters can take an emotional toll on your animals and they can appear anxious and nervous.
  • After a disaster, familiar landmarks and smells might be missing and your pet can be easily confused, get lost or go into hiding. Be careful about allowing your pets outdoors unattended and off-leash. Reptiles, birds and small pocket pets should be kept in their enclosures unless supervised.
  • Emergencies can make pets display unexpected or uncharacteristic behaviors. Well-behaved animals may become aggressive and defensive after a major disruption in their lives. Your pet may not return to more typical behaviors for several weeks.
  • Take special care of your pets. Your home may be very different after a disaster. This can be very distressing for your pet.
  • Allow your pet plenty of time to rest and get used to new surroundings. Provide familiar toys, bedding and routines.
  • Be patient with your pet after a disaster. Try to get them back into their normal routines as soon as possible. Be ready for behavioral problems that may result from the stress of the situation.
  • Examine any of your pet's food left behind. If it is wet or smells different, do not feed it. Mold or other toxins may be present that can harm your pet.
  • Make sure the water at your home is safe to drink. If it is not safe for you to drink, it will not be safe for your pets.
  • After a disaster there may be pools of water present on your property. Prevent your pets from drinking this water as it may be contaminated and harm your pet.
  • After a disaster some pets may become picky eaters. They still may be nervous with the new surroundings or change of routines. Have patience with them and offer them different types of pet food or small quantities of human or baby food. If you are still concerned that your pet is not eating or any behavioral changes, please contact your veterinarian.

If You Find Someone Else's Pet After a Disaster

  • Use extreme caution when approaching and handling unknown or frightened animals after a disaster. It is better to work in pairs and have someone to help handle the animal.
  • It is best to isolate this animal from your pets until it is returned to the owner.
  • Contact your local Office of Emergency Management to inform them you have someone else's animal.

Lost Pets

  • If you are planning to search for your animals, check with the Office of Emergency Management to make sure it is advisable to return to your area. As you re-enter the disaster area, be aware that there still may be hazards such as downed power lines, flooded areas, and debris on the road. Travel slowly and be alert for any hazards that may occur on the road. Many roads can be blocked and you will have to take alternate routes.
  • Leave an itinerary of your search plans with a family member.
  • Contact surrounding neighbors, veterinary clinics, kennels and other boarding facilities to see if they have your pet.
  • Emergency responders often evacuate animals. If your animals are not on your premises, contact local Office of Emergency Management or other public health officials. Also listen to emergency alerts or announcements on your phone, computer, TV or radio. These alerts may direct you to places your pet might be found.
  • The NJ Animal Emergency webpage will contain links to help you find your pet.
  • Listen to TV, radio, emergency alerts from the Office of Emergency Management about locating lost animals.
  • It is good to have a picture of you and your pet to make proof of ownership easy to determine.