Pets and Flood Waters: Understanding the Dangers

PetMD Editorial
Published: September 26, 2017
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The harrowing images coming out of Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico in the wake of the devastating hurricanes that hit the region are a stark reminder of just what Mother Nature can do.

They've also been a wake-up call for pet parents to be prepared for the worst case scenario, including what can happen to cats, dogs, and other animals when flooding occurs. 

Whether it's just a few inches in a basement or waters that can fill up an entire home, pet safety is critical before, during, and after flooding. 

Animals face many of the same risks human do during such a natural disaster, explained Lacie Davis, ASPCA disaster response manager. "Pets can be at risk of drowning due to high water levels or being hit by a piece of debris if left outside during high winds," she told petMD. "Many pets are often at risk of becoming separated from their owners during disasters." 

If you and your pet(s) do stay together and you get trapped in flood waters, Davis said, "You should immediately contact your local emergency management agency and move to higher ground where you can escape high waters until you and your pet can be rescued." 

Of course, even if you and your pet make it out of the flooded area, there can be long-term issues due to the water. 

"Oftentimes, floodwaters are very contaminated by chemicals, sewage, gasoline, and other substances that can harm animals externally or by being ingested," explained Dr. Nicole Eller, the field shelter veterinarian for the ASPCA. "These toxic substances can cause injuries ranging from chemical burns to the skin to bacterial intestinal diseases.

"Exposure to a wet environment for long periods of time (hours to days) can cause damage to and inflammation of the skin, allowing for bacterial and fungal pathogens to invade and cause severe dermatitis," Eller continued. "This is particularly seen on the feet and between the toes (pododermatitis). There is also an additional risk of potential exposure to venomous snakes and other creatures also seeking refuge from the floodwaters." 

To be as prepared as possible for any major weather event, Davis urged pet parents to make sure that their pet's microchip information and ID tags are up-to-date in case of separation. (This often occurs, she said, because animals can become stressed or skittish and have a tendency to run off.) 

Davis also suggested making a portable emergency kit, which includes your pet's food, medications, and medical records. When evacuating, make sure you have a leash and crate to safely transport your pet.

If you can't take care of your pet as a storm approaches, choose a designated caregiver outside of the evacuation zone, Davis advised. Whatever you do, do not leave your pets behind to fend for themselves. Even if they are inside your home, they can still run the risk of drowning, as well as running out of food and clean water that are necessary to stay alive.

For any pet that has been exposed to floodwaters for any period of time, Eller said, "All animals should have a thorough veterinary examination to make sure there are no lasting effects." 

Image via Shutterstock 

Read more: Animal Abuse During Hurricane Irma, As Pets Are Left Behind in the Storm