After The Dust Settles: Post-Disaster Return to Normalcy for Pets

We’re all pretty accustomed to thinking about disaster preparedness for ourselves and our loved ones in the face of recent mega-disasters like the recent tornado devastation in Oklahoma, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and super storm Sandy, to name but a few. There are websites and books galore devoted to planning evacuation routes and making lists of necessary supplies, and my fellow PHC blogger, Melissa Rice,  has done a bang-up job in her accompanying piece on disaster preparedness.

But what happens after the disaster is over – after the first-responders have gone home and you are allowed to go back into your neighborhood or house? Tons of effort and hard work is expended getting prepared and then actually putting the plan in to effect, but no one really thinks about what happens after the dust has settled. So I thought that would make for some informative material for a PHC post: a veterinary perspective on post-disaster pet care.

Since dogs are creatures of habit, their world is fairly rocked as they are shuttled from home to shelter and then home again – or maybe they have to spend a few more days or weeks boarding as their home is cleaned out and put back together. All this takes its toll. Many pets will stop eating or develop gastrointestinal signs due to the stress of being away from home; we see this very frequently in dogs who are hospitalized. Diarrhea is particular common, and in some cases it can develop into bloody diarrhea, or what is known as colitis (the ‘itis’ here means inflammation).

In most cases the treatment needed is to get back on a steady diet and let the stress pass, but this is not always possible. A bland diet (such as a 50:50 mix of cottage cheese and cooked white rice – prescription options exist, too) is very digestible, is easy on the guts and can help shorten a course of diarrhea.  Never give an OTC human medication for diarrhea without first getting the green light from your veterinarian. In many cases simple remedies like the above diet and/or a product like SENTRY Anti-Diarrhea Liquid can set things to right quickly. If the diarrhea is severe, or is accompanied by other symptoms (such as vomiting, pain or lethargy) a visit to your veterinarian is always your best bet.

When you are able to move back in, take a moment to tour the yard and make sure that your fence is intact and there are no new escape routes that opened up during the disaster. Mend fences and plug holes to make sure that your pets are as safe and secure as they were before the event.  Make sure debris and downed power lines are not dangers in the yard, and call the power company if you suspect any active power lines – don’t try and address them yourself. FEMA has some good information on pets and disaster preparedness on their website.

Giving them a small place of their own with familiar bedding and toys can also go a long way towards letting them know that normalcy is returning, even if you are not at home for a while. An old bed with their scent on it, or their favorite toy can help calm jittery nerves. For severe cases of anxiety, you may need to count on your veterinarian for some prescription sedatives. Milder cases may respond well to the SENTRY Good Behavior pheromone collar. It can help them settle back in – they contain the same chemical messengers that mother dogs use to calm their pups.

If your pet was injured in the disaster (or during evacuation), make sure you give any medications as prescribed and keep your follow-up appointments.  Your life may be a whirlwind of cleanup and logistics, but your pets are counting on you to help them heal. You can understand what happened but your pets can’t, and they need you to be there for them for the follow-up care.

Making it though a disaster takes good coordination, a good plan and good communication – both before and after.  Knowing what to do and knowing how to take care of your pets can help lessen the impact on their lives, make things smoother for everyone and get you all back to normalcy as soon as possible.


-Photo Credit: From flickr by Joplin Tornado Lost and Found Pets


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