Animal Health Matters: Are you ready to keep your pets safe during a flood?

Russ Daly
Special to the Farm Forum

While thankfully, our spring weather hasn’t featured a lot of extra precipitation so far, flood conditions will still be a reality around the region. Preservation of life and property is paramount in these situations. For many of you, however, your animal companions rank just as highly. Given the role pets play in our lives, their safety and well-being during a stressful situation such as flooding provides some much-needed relief – one less thing to worry about. As is the case with providing for the care of livestock and other large animals during flooding, a little forward planning for the care of your pets can really pay off when considering the disruptions that spring flooding can bring.

If your animals live in outbuildings or outdoor kennels, assess those places for the risk of flooding prior to the spring thaw. While barns with haymows or second stories might provide adequate relocation opportunities for barn cats, single story sheds might not provide that option should they become flooded. Determining ahead of time where animals can go will help you figure out how to provide them food and fresh water. If flooding overtakes outdoor kennels, dogs will need to be moved to higher ground. Keep dog and cat food in watertight containers if it’s kept in outbuildings; it may also need to be relocated.

Your pets’ exposure to certain diseases can increase during flood conditions. If your dogs and cats are close to being due for their vaccinations, get them done prior to the spring thaw. Floodwaters often roust wildlife such as skunks from their normal habitat, making it more likely for them to come in contact with your pets, raising the risk of rabies transmission. Distemper is another infectious disease that, while easily prevented through vaccinations, can result from encounters with wildlife. In many parts of the country, leptospirosis is a known risk from contact with floodwaters. Most routine dog and cat vaccination programs include protection against these diseases. If you expect that your dog might need to be housed with other animals in kennels or shelters, kennel cough vaccination should be included in their vaccine program – it may even be required to enter such facilities.

As warmer weather begins to overlap with wet conditions, mosquitos, ticks, and other external parasites might become abundant. Heartworm disease and other conditions may result from exposure to these insects. Work with your veterinarian to obtain effective preventive medications prior to the onset of these warmer temperatures. If your animals spend time in or around standing water, they may be more prone to injuries and skin infections. Having access to a pet first aid kit – and knowing how to use it – can keep a minor condition from getting worse.

In the worst case scenario where you need to evacuate your farmstead, take your pets with you if at all possible, as you might not be able to return and care for them in a timely manner. This means you’ll need sufficient pet carriers. Think ahead regarding your destination should evacuation be necessary: will your pets be able to stay there? Put together a pet evacuation kit ahead of time (the AVMA is a good resource for what to include). Make sure it contains any routine medications the pet needs, as well as several days’ worth of food and water.

Some aspects of animal care are important regardless of whether animals stay in place in a flooded location or are relocated. Make sure your animals are well-identified – through collars, tags, microchips, or other methods. Your pets might become disoriented when floodwaters rise, and find themselves cut off from home.

Importantly, flooding can create unusual and stressful situations, not just for you, but also your animals. Dogs and cats may exhibit unpredictable behavior when frightened or exposed to unusual circumstances, so you and others should be a bit more cautious around them than you normally might.

With a little bit of forward thinking and planning, your pets’ health and well-being can be ensured even during the disruption that rising floodwaters may bring. When your animals’ needs are taken care of, they might even provide needed you some needed comfort during these stressful times.