Emergency plans must include your fur and human family

PREPARED: Senior cat Cabbage's owner has a clear emergency plan for all his animals.
PREPARED: Senior cat Cabbage's owner has a clear emergency plan for all his animals.

Have you considered how you might care for your pet in the event of an emergency?

Whether it's extreme weather events, natural disasters or even pandemic-associated lockdowns, planning is critical to ensure the safety of people, as well as pets.

According to Dr Robert Johnson, Director and Chair of Vets Beyond Borders (VBB), it is important companion animal owners make an emergency plan and practise it.

"Companion animals are part of the family, they depend on us, so it's important we include them in our emergency plans."

"We know that people may be reluctant to evacuate if they cannot be sure that their pets are safe."

Vets Beyond Border's Australian Veterinary Emergency Response Team (AVERT) is a national pool of veterinary professionals with experience in treating a variety of species ranging from pets, to livestock, to wildlife.

VBB works with animal welfare organisations and state government bodies to provide veterinary volunteer support in response to emergency events.

During the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20, VBB deployed volunteers to NSW and SA. More recently, AVERT volunteers were ready to respond to major bushfires in Western Australia and serious flooding in northern NSW.

Dr Johnson himself lives in an area prone to grassfires.

His evacuation plan includes his human family, as well as working-dog-in-training Gladys, senior cat Cabbage and three magnificent green tree frogs.

According to Dr Johnson, there are key steps all pet owners can take to ensure the safety of their animals.

1. Understand your risk. Do you live in an area prone to fires or flooding? Are there steps you can take ahead of time to reduce your risk eg. sandbagging, cleaning gutters, filling water tanks.

2. If you need to relocate, where will you relocate to? Do you have a vehicle that will fit all your animals, or will you need help to move them? Will you have to make multiple trips? Does your car have a towbar for a float or trailer? Who can help move your animals, and have you arranged this with them? Have you tested how long it takes to get to your relocation destination? If not, do so.

3. It's always good to have more than one option for accommodation, as circumstances change. You may not be able to get over a state border, or roads may be closed. Some evacuation centres will accommodate animals, but accommodation isn't always suitable.

4. Ensure you have supplies ready, in an easily accessible location. It is helpful to have at least three to seven days of prescription medication and/or diets handy, if you aren't able to get to your veterinarian. Dietary change can cause gastrointestinal upsets. If possible, have a one- to two-week supply of your pet's food.

5. Cater for toileting: litter trays and litter and puppy pee pads can be helpful at your destination. Toilet trained pets become very stressed if they don't have a suitable spot to go to the toilet.

6. Ensure you can secure your pet. Have a sturdy, secure crate or pet carrier ready and in good working order, as well as an extra collar, lead or harness.

7. Dogs and cats should wear a collar with an engraved tag displaying the best contact number, which may be your number, or that of your veterinary clinic. A mobile number is ideal, as it means that someone can SMS you. In addition, make sure your details are up to date on your state companion animal registry, so that if your pet is found they can be reunited with you as quickly as possible.

Dr Anne Quain BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), Dip ECAWBM (AWSEL) is a lecturer at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science and a practising veterinarian.