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Preparing clients and pets for hurricane evacuation during COVID

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The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season its shaping up to be one for the record books, with nine named storms so far. The most recent, Hurricane Isaias, made landfall near Ocean Beach, North Carolina, on August 3 before being downgraded to a tropical storm.

Typically, the ninth named storm doesn’t arrive until the first week of October.

And Amy Stone, DVM, PhD, of Gainesville, Florida, is worried about what lies in wait for the pets and pet owners in areas affected by seasonal hurricanes. Especially in the time of COVID, which brings its own challenges to pet hurricane preparedness.

For Stone, a clinical assistant professor of small-animal clinical sciences at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine and chair of the 2020 AAHA/AAFP Feline Vaccination Guidelines (due to be published in JAAHA next month), practicing in Florida means hurricanes are always top of mind during the hurricane season, which kicked off June 1 and continues through November 30.

She urges veterinarians in hurricane-prone areas to not let the pandemic distract them from advising clients to be prepared for possible evacuation, especially new pet owners who may not have gone through an evacuation with a pet before.

Stone recommends discussing the following with clients to help them best prepare.

  • If people need to flee to a hotel or shelter that allows dogs, it’s important to try to get their dogs used to being around other people and animals—interactions that have not been advised while the pandemic continues.
  • More hurricane shelters are accepting pets, but they’re also requiring that their vaccinations are up to date. Scan your records for pets who are overdue for vaccinations and encourage a curbside visit to get them current again. Remind them that their pets should be caught up on vaccinations even if they shelter with other family members or friends who also have pets. Also, while cases of canine influenza are low right now, they could skyrocket if unvaccinated dogs are exposed in a shelter or crowded environment during an evacuation.
  • A medication supply. Encourage clients to be prepared with several weeks’ worth of medication in the event they need to shelter away from home.
  • A “go” plan. Recommend that clients keep their pet carriers in an easy-to-locate spot. Better yet, advise them to place open carriers on the floor and stick a treat inside to entice the pet to acclimate to being inside.

“Those clients need to be thinking about getting their pets vaccinated now,” Stone adds.

COVID considerations

One distinct twist that the pandemic’s given this hurricane season: health officials are encouraging people to avoid shelters—in which overcrowding makes social distancing difficult—and to stay with family or friends, or in a hotel or motel.

Preventive flea and tick control should be updated in the event that evacuees stay with family or friends who live in or near wooded areas.

Leptospirosis is another concern when flooding is a possibility. Even if clients don’t normally vaccinate for leptospirosis, if there’s going to be a heavy hurricane season, Stone recommends vaccinating for it—she remembers when Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012 and many New Yorkers evacuated to Florida. When that happened, leptospirosis cases spiked in Florida. Stone notes the irony: “People fled south for safety, but then their dogs got sick.”

In short, Stone has this advice for pet owners: “If you know you’re in an evacuation zone, you need to be ready, and your animals need to be ready.”

Photo credit: © Gettyimages/narvikk