Top Tips for Pet Earthquake Preparedness

Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ
By Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ on Oct. 17, 2014

Drought, wildfires, and earthquakes are some of the natural disasters that we Californians currently face. This may deter some people from moving to The Golden State, but I'd rather endure a chance that the earth will shake around me or blazes will develop in wildfire-prone areas as compared to living somewhere where there’s a hurricane season (yes, a whole season dedicated to torrential rain and high-speed wind… no thanks).

I’ve lived in Southern California for over eight years now and have not yet experienced a major earthquake. My first quake occurred in 2008 and the walls of my client’s sturdily-built, Hollywood Hills house waved slightly and a chandelier was sent swinging, but no damage was done. The sensation was that of a large truck driving by and I needed a few moments to realize that I had lost my earthquake virginity without suffering any harm.

Of course, California isn’t the only state reported to have earthquakes. Interestingly, we’re not even the state having the highest incidence of earthquakes. The U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS) lists the Top Earthquake States as:

  1. Alaska
  2. California
  3. Hawaii
  4. Nevada
  5. Washington
  6. Idaho
  7. Wyoming
  8. Montana
  9. Utah
  10. Oregon

Whenever I hear about earthquakes happening elsewhere in the U.S. besides California, I don’t feel so isolated in the potential for natural disaster to strike at any moment. Since quakes can occur in so many locations around the country, all U.S. (and international) dwellers should best prepare themselves for one.

As October 16 is the 2014 Great California ShakeOut, there are some simple steps to keep your household members safe during earthquakes and other cataclysmic events. To prepare for “the big one" (earthquake, that is), we are encouraged to “Drop, Cover, and Hold,” meaning you should:

  • 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 take the above actions, like driving, being outdoors, or near the shore, Recommended Earthquake Safety Actions has more specific tips to help you best manage the situation.

Of course, we also have to consider the welfare of our animal companions during earthquakes. My top earthquake safety tips for pets include:

Know Your Pet’s Whereabouts

In the urgency of an earthquake, being aware of your pet’s location and having immediate access to your dog, cat, bird, pocket pet, or other creature is vital to ensuring his safety. Cats and small dogs can seek shelter in closets, under beds, or elsewhere to escape stressful situations and potential harm. Medium and large-sized canines are usually more obvious in their presence, but they may instinctually flee a dangerous scene unbeknownst to their concerned owner.

Always be aware of your pet’s location in your house, yard, or public place and observe his habits, including his preferred site to nap, nest, or hide. Knowing the “free time” habits of your cat or dog will facilitate their discovery during an emergency.

Properly Identify Your Pet at All Times

Pets that escape from the safe confines of their homes during an earthquake are more likely to have a safe return to their owners if up to date identification is worn. Companion canines and felines should wear a cervical (neck) collar embroidered with or displaying a tag showing their name and (at least) their owner’s phone number or e-mail.

Since tagged collars can fall off or be removed, implantation of a microchip increases the likelihood that you and your pet will be reunited. Keep your personal information up to date with the microchip manufacturer.

Since microchip identification requires a scanner and collars and tags can go missing, using both is ideal.

Provide Your Pet With a Safe Means of Transport

If an earthquake forces you to flee for safety, always securely transport your pet in a carrier. Cats and small dogs should be placed in a protective (rigid or soft), airline-approved carrier. The pet’s name, species (dog, cat, etc.), color, breed or mix of breeds, and weight, along with your contact information, should be readily visible on the outside of the carrier.

Medium and large-breed dogs aren’t easily transported via carrier, therefore using a cervical collar or chest harness and leash helps maintain control of their movements.

Keep Pet Food, Medications, and Supplies Readily Accessible

To ensure the ongoing health of your pet in the face of an earthquake, keep his food, medications, and other supplies in easily accessible and transportable containers. Many pets require special diets and consistent doses with medications and supplements to manage chronic conditions, so emergencies can lead to reoccurrence of clinical signs of disease when medications are lost.

As my dog, Cardiff, is undergoing treatment for Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA), I use a Monday through Sunday AM/PM pill dispenser to keep his medication, supplements, and herbs organized for home use or while traveling.

I suggest having at least seven days worth of your pet’s food and 30 days worth of medication and supplements prepared for immediate departure.

Alert Emergency Personnel to Your Pet's Presence

To alert emergency personnel of your pet’s presence in your home, post a notification in a clearly viewed window. In 2009 the American Kennel Club (AKC) and ADT Security Services partnered to create window clings so pet owners can write information about their pet (dog, cat, other). I hope the clings will eventually include more details, such as tips for identifying your pet during transport.

Immediately Seek Veterinary Care

The destruction caused by earthquakes could expose your pet to smoke, fire, water, or other noxious substances that can cause life-threatening malfunction of vital organs (brain, heart, and lungs). Additionally, tissue trauma from heat, moisture, or chemicals may not be readily apparent to the pet owner but will be very obvious to the overseeing veterinarian.

If there are any concerns that trauma or toxicity has occurred, seek urgent care at an emergency veterinary facility. Determining the degree that an organ system has been damaged and establishing the best treatment plan for your pet may require diagnostics (X-rays, blood tests, etc).

For the sake of the health and safety of your animal and human family members, I hope that you and your pet don’t have to endure the potential life-changing chaos of an earthquake. Readying ourselves and our pets for the unforeseeable by following the above recommendations should be part of your earthquake-preparedness strategy.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Image: Stacey Newman / Shutterstock

Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ


Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ


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