Natural disasters are an unfortunate reality across the world. As hurricane and wildfire season rage around us (and with blizzard season on the horizon!) I thought it might be useful to discuss how to evacuate in an emergency. Pet preparedness is an important topic, so let’s dive into the checklist that needs to be ready ahead of time, how to prepare and how to help your cat recover from an emergency situation.
Pet Emergency Preparedness
One can never know when an emergency may arise, so proper preparedness is key. If it is a more personal emergency (such as your roof caving in), asking a friend, vet office or calling for boarding may be all you need for a short term stay until things are safe to return.
However, in more serious situations it’s important to keep calm for the sake of yourself and your family (furry members included!). Here are some common challenges I’ve heard clients express, and how to address them.
Getting your cat into a carrier
Countless times at the cat spa, I hear customers say that they struggle to get their cats into their carrier and have to fight and run around the house beforehand to even find their cat. I’ve definitely experienced this! Daphne has pulled a Houdini and disappeared right as I am walking out to the car many times.
To remedy this, familiarize your cat with the carrier. It doesn’t have to be associated with stress and a car ride. Leaving it out every so often so your cat is used to it is a good start. Having it out at random times also means it’s harder for your cat to guess when it’ll be used, so they can’t hide from you. Make sure your name, your cat’s name, and your address and phone number are somewhere visible on the carrier. I use an address label that is taped over with clear tape (so it won’t get water damage or fade!) and then Daphne’s name underneath. A taped over luggage tag from the airport or index card will suffice.
Prep your cat’s bag
Besides your carrier (or perhaps stored in your carrier, it’s a good idea to have certain materials ready to go in an emergency situation. Many cat owners prefer to let their cats roam around the house naked, but you should have an emergency collar ready with their name tag on it just in case they were to get loose. These are cheap and easy to buy at a pet store and can be kept hooked to the handle of the carrier while in storage. You should also consider having:
Be ready to pack up at least 2 weeks worth of food in a safe container to keep it fresh and dry. A plastic container is best to avoid spoiled food. Along with the food, bring 2 weeks worth of water. You may not know where you are going to end up and the water could upset your cat’s stomach and that is the last additional drama that you need. Water from home is the safest option.
I prefer to use little foldable canvas and plastic lined bowls which have clips to clip onto a bag. That way, I am not carrying around a huge breakable bowl or stainless steel one. If your cat is on medications, bring them and have extra, if possible. Write your cat’s medication regimen on paper and tape it to the carrier in case you forget in a high stress situation or your cat needs to be cared for by someone else. Grab their bed if possible and a first aid kit as well as you both could be needing it. Any vet records that you can have copies of and place in a waterproof envelope (even a Ziploc) is also best in case of separation.
In a previous blog, I talked about microchipping. This is where it can really pay off. When you do leave, be sure to bring the microchip number with you and keep it with your vet records. This is a safe and excellent way to have peace of mind for your cat should an evacuation arise.
If your cat was unable to go with you or escaped, once you return home, call the local shelters or vet offices to check if your cat was dropped off there. Check with the neighbors and use online resources to notify others of a lost cat. Notifying the microchip company also is a great way so that they are on alert and have updated information. The old classic sign up around the area may work just as well with a photo of your cat on it and contact information.
Plan for shelter
Since we now live in a pandemic world, shelter space is even more limited than before. If you are unable to provide a safe place for your pet, calling a friend or relative, vet office or kennel is a great option. Many hotels also often accept animals, but call ahead to confirm this.
If you do find a hotel or can stay at a friends or family members house, remember your cat will feel your stress as well. Try and keep the cat in a small area at first until they calm down and feel safe. Help your cat adjust by putting their bed, toys, objects that smell like home, food and water nearby. We all have experienced the cat hiding under the bed scenario so check the place you are staying for any open space underneath the bed. If you need to make a quick escape, it may be better to keep your cat corralled in a bathroom until you know how long you will be there. Check when you leave that the cat is safe as they are sneaky and fast and you don’t want them to run out the door and be lost in an unfamiliar area.
Returning to your home
If you are able to return to your home post-emergency, be sure to check it thoroughly before trusting things. If your home has been weakened by a fire, flood, tornado, blizzard or hurricane, make sure to check for stability. Check the house and surroundings to make sure things are safe for you and your family. Be prepared for them to be a bit on edge. They may take some time checking things and to calm down completely. You may even want to try CBD to calm them down. Keep an eye on them and if the behavior continues after you have returned for a while, speaking to your vet may be best.
Preparing for a disaster of any magnitude is scary. Having your plan ready to go to safeguard your kitty is important. Play with the carrier and take them out for a ride every so often so they are familiar with a car ride. Have a bag ready to go with the essentials and list ready to check off so there is one less stressor to add to the situation. Our cats are family and preparing for their safety is essential.
Other resources for pet disaster planning:
Just like humans, different cats prefer different mealtimes and feeding styles. Having a cat that was once a stray, Daphne has taught me how feeding styles really are. As a former stray who had to eat whatever she could get whenever she could get it, if I leave a large bowl of food out, she will gorge herself on as much as she can and get sick. After experimenting, I found the best way to feed her. I leave her bowl out throughout the day with one generous scoop each morning to last all day and she is fine with it. As with all my cats, they had their times they preferred to eat like clockwork. Luckily, Daphne has adapted to this and is just fine with her scoop of food to manage for the day. Now, she does still go outside some days and hunt for treats, but that is the exception. However, some cats may not be able to adjust to this style of feeding and are better suited to scheduled meals.
Why Are Feeding Styles Important?
Age, lifestyle, health needs and activity levels are all important determining factors in the best way to feed your cat. Your own lifestyle and availability throughout the day is also important to take into consideration. It can become even more puzzle-like when you have a multi-cat household! Let’s take a look at some determining factors to figure out which option is best for your family.
Indoor vs. Outdoor Cats
Cats are natural hunters and love to play with their food. In the wild, cats worked for their food and ate several little meals a day. They tended to graze throughout the day and not sit and gorge then lay around. Move indoors to the world of a lazy domesticated cat and therein lies the new problem. Indoor cats don’t move as much and expend much less energy than an outdoor cat who is nearly always on the move. Having adapted to being served their food, indoor cats are very humanlike in their eating habits. They eat out of boredom, stress and anxiety, and Daphne’s reasoning – because the bowl is full and she can. Some cats simply don’t have will power or control and will eat for the wrong reasons. This can lead to weight problems and possible health issues for some.
Health and Weight Concerns
If this pattern is happening in your home, talking to your vet first is key. Checking the cat’s weight and seeing what range it is in is important. Cats come in all different sizes and bone structure so a nice big Maine Coon cat may be right in a normal healthy weight at 22 lbs but a regular size tabby at 15 lbs may be tipping the scales. Your vet can help determine how much food needs to be given in a day or even what brand. Some brands are not as healthy as other brands and contain fillers and nonsense food sources (think fast food). Grain free or weight management foods are better choices for a chubby kitty. Following your cats natural eating schedule is a good way to start as your cat may not need to eat every three hours if just two meals per day will suffice.
If your vet recommends (or you prefer) wet food, free-feeding might not be the best option. Wet food sitting out all day can attract flies or create a smell. We all have let wet food sit out and watch it turn into a hardened mess! Wet food is a great choice for a scheduled feeding time. One issue my sweet Maddie had with free feeding dry food is that it must have become soggy or stale as she would refuse dry food if it sat out more than a few hours. It made me think of when I leave a bag of chips open and then go to snack and the crunch is gone.
Free feed or scheduled times are definitely unique to each cat and situation. Just remember that if you do decide to try the scheduled feed times that you may end up with a hangry cat! Moderation is everything so cutting back food intake but not depriving. Slowly adapting for your cat is key to a happy and healthy cat.
All in all, pay attention to your cat’s patterns and body. Do they finish the whole dish the second you put food down? If so, smaller scheduled meals might be a better option. If your cat is more of a conservationist and nibbles here and there, free feeding might be best.
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