Disaster Preparedness For Your Pets

There are many things you can do to prepare for a disaster, and some of them are important even if a disaster never hits.

When a flood comes, one never knows what the extent of the disaster might be.

As representatives of the Mississippi Animal Disaster Relief Fund (MADRF), the members are charged with deciding which disaster-affected Mississippians gets reimbursement for disaster-related expenses. All of the committee members are veterinarians.  (Mississippi Animal Disaster Relief Fund functions completely on donations.  If you would like to donate please click here to be directed to a secure site to donate through the Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association.)

Some of the committee participants have encountered disasters personally and others have worked as state and federal government officials in post-disaster operations. Some have firsthand experience with Mississippi River flooding, others stayed home when Hurricane Katrina hit. Still others work in fields that take them directly into disaster areas for onsite recovery relief.

The most recent disaster for which we are reviewing requests is the tornado that hit Hattiesburg, MS, February 10 of this year. While its strength was estimated between EF1* and EF2*, this tornado’s touchdown area was almost one-half mile wide, affecting far more homes and businesses than a pinpoint tornado might.

It chose a west-to-east path down Hardy Street, one of the main corridors in the town a campus perimeter for the University of Southern Mississippi.

Hardy Street is also the location of a good friend’s practice, Animal Medical Center. When I was able to make telephone contact with the hospital a day or two after the strike, their receptionist said, “It was as if the tornado lifted up, went over us, then touched back down again.” On the day I spoke to her, two doctors were already back in surgery and two others were in examination rooms, and they were completely self-sufficient, needing no emergency help.

One of the recurring themes of the cases reviewed for disaster assistance is that routine preventive care had not been maintained prior to the tornado strike. Thus, when families lost their homes, and animals were presented for emergency boarding, vaccinations had to be updated prior to admitting these new patients into a doctor’s boarding facility. It is a standard health practice that veterinarians do not house unvaccinated animals with vaccinated ones.

Physical examinations, vaccinations, heartworm testing and stool testing for intestinal parasites are procedures foundational to good pet health. One must plan ahead for these aspects of care so that the funds for them are always available.

In one case, the pet owner said that her kitty was up to date on vaccinations, but since her regular doctor’s office had not yet reopened after the storm, records could not be obtained to verify the vaccination dates, so she experienced the additional expense of updating vaccinations.

Simply maintaining a copy of your pet’s vaccination history in a safe place at home can prevent such problems. In addition, always have written medical history on your emergency-departure checklist

Unfortunately, the funds our committee has access to are limited, so our bylaws specify what we can authorize reimbursement for, and what we cannot. By necessity, preventive care is not on that list.

In another case, a pet was diagnosed with hookworms during post-tornado boarding. Boarding dogs are taken out for exercise at different times, yet they must share a common exercise area, making transmission of intestinal parasites quite easy. Even if the conscientious caretaker picks up a dog’s stool immediately, microscopic amounts of stool left behind can carry hundreds of hookworm eggs, waiting to infect the next dog who walks that way. Thus, the doctor caring for this disaster-affected pet recognized that routine preventive care had not been performed in quite some time. That possibly put his other boarders and hospitalized patients at risk. In addition, the pet-owning family had been at risk of hookworm infection, also.

Routine preventive care can cost as little as $250 per year. It just makes sense to plan ahead so that those funds are set aside.

See you next week, Dr. Randolph.

*Standards for tornado strength from 1971 to 2007 were rated according to the scale proposed by Dr. T. Theodore Fujita. The original F-scale rating system factored only wind speed. The enhanced scale, EF (Enhanced Fujita), was introduced was finalized by committee in 2007 and includes 28 “damage indicators” combined with Dr. Fujita’s original wind speed measurements. The committee was careful to shape the new standard so that ratings with the old system are still valid.

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