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By Gina Spadafori
Pet Columnist

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Include Pets in your Family's Preparedness Plans

Tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, floods and earthquakes -- there are few places on Earth that are not vulnerable to one or more natural disasters.
We've learned from countless disasters that people often will put their own lives at risk -- and the lives of first responders as well -- if there are no options for relocating with their animal companions. Public planning now includes pets, and your own planning should, too. Here are the basics you need to know:

  • Have a plan. Prepare for all possibilities, and make sure everyone in your family knows what to do. Try to figure out now what's most likely for you and your community, and how you will respond. Where will you go? What will you take? You need to get these answers in advance. Get to know your neighbors, and put a plan in place to help each other out. Find out from local shelters and veterinary organizations -- and your family's own veterinarian -- what emergency response plans are in place and how you fit into them in case of a disaster.

  • ID your pets. Many, if not most, animals will survive a disaster. But too many will never see their families again if there's no way to determine which pet belongs to which family. That's why pets should always wear a collar and identification tags with your cellphone number and the numbers of a couple of out-of-area contacts. Better still is the additional permanent identification that can't slip off, such as a tattoo or an embedded microchip. 

  • Practice preventive care. Disease follows disaster, which is why keeping a pet as healthy as possible with up-to-date vaccinations is essential. Prepare a file with up-to-date medical records, your pets' microchip or tattoo numbers, your veterinarian's phone number and address, feeding and medication instructions, and recent pictures of your animals. Trade copies of emergency files with another pet-loving friend or family member. It's a good idea for someone else to know about your pet, should anything happen to you.

  • Have restraints ready. Even normally calm pets can freak out under the stress of an emergency, especially if injured. You should be prepared to restrain your pet -- for his safety and the safety of others.
    Keep leashes, muzzles and carriers ready for emergencies. The means to transport your pet shouldn't be something you have to find and pull from the rafters of your garage. Harnesses work better than collars at keeping panicky pets safe. Shipping crates are probably the least-thought-of pieces of emergency equipment for pet owners, but are among the most important. Sturdy crates keep pets safe and give you more options for housing your pets if you have to leave your home. 

  • Keep supplies on hand. Keep several days' worth of pet food and safe drinking water ready to go in the event of a disaster, as well as any necessary medicines. Canned food is better in an emergency, so lay in a couple of cases, and don't forget to pack a can opener with your emergency supplies. For cats, keep an extra bag of litter on hand. And pack lots of plastic bags for dealing with waste.

  • Learn first aid. Pet-supply stores sell ready-made first-aid kits, or you can put your own together fairly easily with the help of any pet-related first-aid book or website. Keep a first-aid book with your supplies. If you check around in your community, you should be able to find a pet first-aid class to take that will give you the basic knowledge you need. 

  • Be prepared to help. You may be lucky enough to survive a disaster nearly untouched, but others in your community won't be so fortunate. Check out groups that train volunteers for disaster response, and consider going through the training. Disaster-relief workers do everything from distributing food to stranded animals to helping reunite pets with their families, and helping find new homes for those animals who need them. Volunteering in a pinch is not only a good thing to do, it's also the right thing for anyone who cares about animals and people. - By Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori

Quick action can recover pet bird
Q: A couple years ago, our cockatiel flew out the front door, and we never were able to get her back. We saw her for a couple of weeks in the neighborhood and then she was gone. Can you suggest how we can protect against losing another? -- via Facebook
A: It can indeed be difficult to catch a bird on the wing, which is why the best strategies for preventing a pet bird from being lost forever are preventive. Have your bird microchipped. Keep his wings clipped to prevent him from flying away, and make sure everyone in the family knows to keep doors and unscreened windows closed.
Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, isn't it? But there are things you can do if your bird flies away: 
Don't waste time. The longer your bird is out, the smaller the chance of recovery. Immediately start searching nearby. If you have some game you play that would elicit a response from your bird, start playing it. If your bird is used to responding to your whistle or call, you'll have an easier time locating him. 
Lure your bird with his favorite treats. Even without wings, birds can climb far out of reach quickly. Gathering your bird's favorite treats may lure him back down. Put his familiar cage in an area that's easy for him to see and get to, and put treats inside with the door open. Because birds are more likely to eat at dawn and dusk, even a bird who's not immediately interested in treats may come into a familiar cage at feeding time.
Use the hose, cautiously. Because being sprayed by the hose is frightening and may injure the bird, don't go for this technique first. Some bird experts are dead-set against it, in fact. But a bird at large is in as much danger of dying as he is if he falls to the ground after being drenched. Using a hose is a judgment call, and you'll probably get only one chance, so play this card wisely.
Expand the search. If your immediate actions don't bring in your bird, don't give up. Put up fliers around the area and at the local bird shop, pet-supply stores, veterinarians' offices (especially avian veterinarians) and pet shelters. Post everywhere you can online as well.
Many birds are found days, weeks and months after they're lost, but they're found by people who don't know just who is looking for the pet. If you don't keep putting the word out, your bird may be lost for good, even if found. -- Gina Spadafori
The eyes can be key to decoding a parrot

  • Parrots have the ability to change the size of their pupils rapidly in a display known as "pinning" that offers vital clues to what they may do next.
    People who aren't familiar with parrots are ill-prepared to avoid a nasty bite from these brilliant but sometimes mercurial beings. To key in on bird body language, watch the eyes. Parrots are able to control their irises, shrinking and enlarging their pupils rapidly in a display that's called "flashing" or "pinning."
    Parrots flash their eyes when they're excited or when they're angry. Flashing accompanied by aggressive posturing, such as tail-fanning, signifies a bird who's bound to bite if not left alone. Even people who are familiar with parrots sometimes misread body language. Since the beaks of these birds are well-designed to cause damage, consider a parrot as one pet best admired from arm's length or better. 

  • A researcher who has decoded the language of prairie dogs says the ability to understand dogs and cats is less than a decade away. Animal behaviorist Con Slobodchikoff, a professor emeritus at Northern Arizona University, told The Atlantic that his 30 years of work can extend to understanding other animals as well. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori

Date Published: 6/24/2013 8:09:00 AM
Date Reviewed/Revised: 06/24/2013


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Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of Dogs for Dummies, Cats for Dummies and Birds for Dummies. She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her at

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