Guest blog: Preparing your pets for emergencies

William Courtney, DVM, MPH
Today’s guest blog is by Bill Courtney, a member of APHA’s Veterinary Special Primary Public Health Interest Group. Courtney practiced veterinary medicine and then spent more than two decades in the U.S. Air Force. He currently works at a center and shelter for victims of domestic violence that accommodates pets, and is on the board of directors of a local animal shelter.

Pets are people too! When planning for an emergency and evacuation, please include your pets. But keep in mind that they could pose a health risk to other pets and to people, too.

To minimize the risk, make sure your pets’ routine shots are all up to date. This would include the distemper and associated shot series for dogs, plus the kennel cough shot. Many kennels will not board dogs that are not current on these routine immunizations, and the same consideration should be made for shelters. Cats should likewise be current on their distemper series, and both must be current on rabies. This is to protect other pets as well as people. Similarly, all pets should be free of intestinal worms and fleas. A flea infestation would be a real nightmare for both people and pets in any emergency, and especially in a shelter situation.

Sanitation and waste disposal can be a real challenge during an emergency. Pack small bags, newspapers, cat litter or wood pellets, and sanitary wipes in addition to necessary food, water and medicines.

Finally, always make sure you have the proper restraints for all pets. This would include — but is not limited to — cages, collars and leashes, and also consider muzzles. Even the gentlest pet can react to your stress and get excited and display aggression. Also, please keep in mind that no matter how friendly your pets may be, there are many people that are just plain afraid of them, and it is your responsibility to relieve the fears of fellow safety seekers.

This is intended to highlight and prepare for the possible public health threats your pets may present in a emergency situation. For tips for getting all your family members ready, check out:

Read, download and share Get Ready’s fact sheet on emergency supplies for your pets and get tips for keeping your pets safe in our Get Ready Q&A and podcast.


Enter your pet in Ready, Pet, Go! APHA’s Get Ready Photo Contest. The contest is using animals — of any kind — to promote emergency preparedness. Deadline for entry is June 1.



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