Ten Tips to Help Hurricane Traumatized Pets

The losses of life and property in recent hurricanes are staggering but the stress and trauma remains for both human and animal evacuees. Animal expert and author, Diana L. Guerrero says that pets will be traumatized and shares tips for helping animals get over their post disaster trauma.

Pet problems are likely to be on the increase for animal victims of Hurricane Katrina. Author and animal behaviorist, Diana L. Guerrero says that rescued pets may begin to exhibit abnormal behavior patterns.

She said, “People returning to disaster zones need to remember that their animals will need to be confined and supervised since natural landmarks and scent markings have been destroyed or are completely gone. Clean up, restraint and supervision are critical during this time.”

Guerrero, a resident of the San Bernardino Mountains, is the author of the booklet, “Animal Disaster Preparedness for Pet Owners & Pet Professionals” and is one of the contributing editors to “Resources for Crisis Management in Zoos and Other Animal Care Facilities, Volume I.” Guerrero is currently working on project on crisis management scheduled for release in the summer of 2006.

In addition to her written works, she holds numerous certifications in the animal disaster field from groups such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). She has practical training and field experience in animal disaster work with United Animal Nations and the American Humane Association and works to educate people on the importance of pet and animal disaster preparedness.

According to Guerrero, all disasters have unique problems not only due to the type of disaster, but also due to the location and population. Problems found include cuts and bruises, as well as shock, heat stroke, injury by flying debris, collapsing structures, vehicles, and broken bones, disease and dehydration. Contaminated water, injury from floating or moving objects, and exhaustion can create other problems.
“Animals may show signs of post disaster stress trauma. Symptoms include loss of appetite, defensiveness, aggression or clinginess. Some animals will begin to lose hair, drop weight, or regress in their toileting or grooming habits.” Guerrero said.

Guerrero’s tips to help traumatized animals include:
1. Establish a routine. Schedule walking or activity and feeding.
2. Don’t physically try to comfort the animal as it escalates any fearful responses.
3. Talk quietly and calmly to your pet to reassure it.
4. Brush your animal at least once a day.
5. Engage in active play with your animal at least 20 minutes once or twice a day.
6. Allow for temporary idiosyncrasies in your pet’s behavior.
7. Immediately seek professional help from an animal behaviorist for any pet problems.
8. Provide animals with their own secure area.
9. Get your pet in for a veterinary check-up quickly.
10. Allow yourself, family and pets all the time needed for emotional recovery.

Guerrero concluded, “No matter how much you prepare you can never really brace yourself for the wreckage a disaster creates in your life or the life of those that you love. The recovery process is a long one and varies according to each individual. Be gentle with yourself and your pets.”

Enrollment in animal disaster preparedness teleseminars, the pet preparedness booklet and animal behavior help can also be found elsewhere on this site.

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