Hurricane Dorian has caused extensive flooding and catastrophic damage in the Bahamas. While a direct hit on Florida is not expected, Hurricane Dorian is expanding and is still expected to cause life-threatening storm surges, heavy rainfall, and high winds along portions of Florida’s east coast, and the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. North Carolina is bracing for flash floods later in the week as Hurricane Dorian makes its way up the coast. In addition to the human lives at risk, many pets are at risk as well. With veterinary clinics, hospitals, and shelters expected to be impacted by this storm, it may be difficult to obtain veterinary care for dogs and cats.
What you can do while you wait for veterinary care and things to watch for if you become stranded:
- Food – If you run out of pet food and you are stranded in your home, you likely have some alternatives that will do in a pinch. Canned tuna, salmon, and anchovies are good options for cats. A combination of protein (meat) and carbohydrates (rice or potatoes) will cover the nutritional requirements for your dog in the short-term. Canned fish, ground beef, or chicken mixed with boiled rice or potatoes are good options. If your pet has been without food for a long period, offer several small meals over the day working up to full meals to avoid stomach upset.
- Diarrhea and vomiting – If your dog or cat is experiencing vomiting and/or diarrhea, it may have consumed contaminated water. While waiting for veterinary care, initially do not feed your pet any food for the first 12-24 hours, then feed an easily digestible diet such as boiled chicken (ideally without skin) and rice or boiled chicken and potato. Allow small amounts of clean water frequently. Pepto Bismol can be safely given to dogs for short-term relief until a veterinarian can be seen (dose is 1-2 teaspoons for every 10 pounds and can be given every 6-8 hours). Do not give Pepto Bismol to your cat, as it is not safe for them.
- Water – Ensure your pet is drinking enough water to prevent dehydration. Contaminated water is a concern. Provide bottled water if possible or cooled boiled water (boil for at least one minute). Boiling water will NOT remove chemical contamination.
- Rest – Allow your pet uninterrupted rest for long periods if possible. This allows your pet to recover from the trauma and stress.
- Anxiety – Pets will obviously become quite anxious during and after such a traumatic event. Pets are very tuned into their owner’s emotions and will respond to the stresses experienced. A pet in unfamiliar surroundings (a shelter, a rescuer’s home, etc.) may be quite anxious. Speak in soft tones, calmly petting the dog or cat, and try to keep calm yourself. As difficult as it may be, try to introduce a routine to your pet’s day – it will help to reduce his anxiety. It may take weeks for your pet to return to normal behavior. Keep dogs leashed for walks.
- Aggression – Even the most friendly cat or dog may become aggressive if fearful of a situation, or if injured. A pet may even bite his owner when stressed or injured. Be very cautious and move slowly when attempting to rescue or move an injured or stressed pet. Consider a muzzle or crate if possible, or wrap the pet in a blanket or towel to avoid bites and scratches.
- Approaching strays – Unfortunately, many pets may have been left behind during the quick evacuation of areas. If attempting to rescue a stray dog, approach it carefully. Crouch down to appear less imposing. Watch for aggressive behavior (hair standing on end, lips move to show teeth, stiff tail); avoid prolonged eye contact; talk softly or make a clicking noise; avoid startling the dog and keep talking quietly while approaching very slowly; allow the dog to come to you by calling to it quietly and slowly put your hand out, palm up and lower than the dog’s head. If you have strong smelling food like tuna, you may be able to lure him to come to you. Let the dog smell you and slowly leash the dog.
- Identification – If a pet you rescue has identification on his/her collar, make attempts to contact the owner. Keep in mind that the owners are likely displaced and may not be reached immediately. If the pet has no collar, take him/her, when safe to do so, to a veterinary clinic or shelter to have it checked for a microchip (many pets have a chip implanted under the skin at the back of the neck).
- Introducing a stray pet to your home – If you bring a stray into your home, be patient. It may be extremely anxious. If you have other pets in the home wait to introduce them (if possible, until after a veterinary examination). Allow the rescued pet to explore your home quietly. Avoid loud noises. Confine cats to one room initially to allow it acclimate to the new environment. Be sure to provide a comfy bed, toys, water, and food. The pet may have been without food for some time; to avoid stomach upset, feed it several small meals over the day. To reduce stress, try to get into a routine with the pet, and continue to use a calm, soft voice. Allow the pet to rest uninterrupted to recover from the trauma. Seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
- Medication – If you don’t have the medications that your pet normally takes and you are concerned, contact a veterinarian to find out if the medication is vital for his/her wellbeing.
- Watch for “hot spots” in dogs – Hot spots can develop after the hair coat and skin become wet for prolonged periods of time or broken from vigorous scratching. Lack of grooming, reaction to insect bites, and skin infections from bacteria or yeast can all lead to hot spots. Try to keep your pet clean and dry. Cover the hot spots with a clean bandage, cloth, or sock. If you are unable to get immediate veterinary care, you can administer Benadryl to reduce the itching (the standard dose for Benadryl is 1 mg per pound of body weight, given 2 to 3 times per day). Be aware that if your pet has a medical condition or is taking other medications, administering Benadryl may not be safe. Contact a veterinarian for advice.
- Watch for ear infections – Ear infections can develop after water has entered the ear canal. Moisture in the ears can foster bacterial growth. Clean your pet’s ears and allow them to dry thoroughly to avoid infection. If you suspect your pet’s ears are already infected, your pet will likely need a cleaning solution and antibiotic drops. Until you can see your veterinarian, try to gently clean wax and debris from the visible part of your dog’s ears with cotton balls or clean cloth, and allow them to dry.
- If you have lost your pet – post water-proof notices when it’s safe to do so and notify local law enforcement, animal care and control officials, veterinarians, and your neighbors.
Our thoughts are with you at this difficult time.