*Pet Preparedness-Don't Forget the Furry Ones*
By: ThePiedPiper
05 March 2004

One of the many things that can readily slip through the cracks as you improve your preparedness profile is preparedness for your pets. To many of us, our pets are just another member of the family, so they're going to be with us no matter what. But have you secured adequate preparations for your furry friends?

This article will focus on your pet's food and water needs, shelter needs, the importance of maintaining a regular health program, and the importance of providing daily attention to your pets.


Water is a no-brainer in many respects. Your pet should have access to clean water at all times. Sounds simple, doesn't it? But do you wash the bowl out each time you put water in the bowl? Do you give it a half-hearted swish? Do you use soap? Or do you give it a thorough scrubbing with an anti-bacterial soap? Hint: Would you want to drink out of that bowl?

When you refill the bowl, scrub it out. Your pet has the uncanny ability to put his mouth in some truly disgusting places. You know exactly what I'm referring to it because you're picturing your darling sweet lil pud cleaning himself even as you're reading this. Eventually, that mouth is going to be slurping in that water bowl, depositing germs and other slimy things in there that will multiply and cause odors and bacteria to flourish. Unless you're one of those tree huggers who goes to such extremes that you now want to provide a good home even for bacteria, get with the program. Scrub out that bowl daily with a good anti-bacterial dish soap. Many of the readily available dish soaps we use every day are anti-bacterial, so this should be easy to do.

For older pets, particularly those that are less mobile than they used to be, consider having two or more water bowls available throughout the house, particularly if you have a multi-floor home. That way, the older ones don't have to negotiate stairs just to get a drink.

Make sure, if you use any additives to your toilet water, that your pet can't get in there to drink it. Some dogs, especially, are toilet dogs. Who knows why they've developed that disgusting habit, but there you are. Do the dog a favor. Make sure the toilet seat is down so he can't drink out of it, especially if you use those fresheners in there. That stuff can kill your dog. But if, for some reason, you HAVE to have your seat up, don't use those fresheners and make sure the bowl is cleaned regularly. Just don't let that slimer lick you in the face. YUK. Been there, done that.

If you have a particularly tall dog, provide raised dishes for him. This goes for both his food and his water. I used to have Great Danes, and they always had raised dishes. I used those individual plant baskets atop three-footed bases. I used those because they couldn't be pushed over a table's edge onto the floor. Using a raised dish has two primary advantages. It eases the strain on your dog's back and legs during eating - it's hard on your dog's knees and back to bend down like that for prolonged periods of time. And it's easier for them to swallow at a more natural angle if they're eating and drinking without having to bend way down.

When there's plenty of water available, you may not even have to think twice about this. But what if water is scarce? Have you added water to your emergency water stores for your pets? Do you even know how much water your pet actually drinks each day? If not, you have two choices: estimate based on actual usage or grossly overestimate. I just grossly overestimate on the assumption that I cannot store too much water. I know that my four cats, collectively, consume a certain amount of water each day. So I have multiplied that amount by 60 days and I've added that amount to my water stores as my base amount for them. I then add to that an amount for waste and for washing their bowl. If you have limited space, you can keep track of your pet's daily water consumption. Remember that it will vary with the amount of activity your pet engages in as well as with weather conditions. Over a year's time, you will note a pattern of water needs and the variations you can reasonably expect, and you can plan accordingly. My cats are strictly indoor cats, and they're bums, so their use varies very little.

When you're estimating how much water you'll need, be sure to add in the amount of water you have to dump out when you clean out the bowl each time. Don't forget, your furry friend has a tendency to slime up his bowl so you end up dumping some of that water out every day. In an emergency situation, you may have to change the bowl every two days or so to reduce the waste. You may also reduce the size of the bowl to reduce this waste. But you'll still have some waste. So be sure to take that into account.


You know what type of food your pet eats. Does your pet eat only one type of food? How much does he eat each day. How much exercise does he get on a daily basis. If his exercise were curtailed for awhile, by how much would you have to reduce his daily consumption to allow him to maintain his current weight? Have you even considered this in preparing for an emergency?

How much pet food do you have stored for emergency situations? Had the recent mad cow disease scare turned out to be sufficiently widespread that there had been a disruption in beef supplies, chances are, there would have been a significant impact in at least parts of the pet food supply lines. Would your pet foods have been impacted? Do you know what is IN your pets' foods?

Look at the labels on your pets' foods. And ask yourself several questions. Do you have only one type of food for your pet. Can you add two or three additional types of food to your pet's diet so that, were one or two of them to be unavailable for awhile, you would still be able to maintain your pet reasonably well on the other foods without a sudden change in his diet?

Just because there's a disruption in supply doesn't mean demand is going to change, at least in the short run. As my vet says, even when times are tough, and funds are really stretched, people are going to do what they have to do to feed and take care of their pets. Our pets are our family members. We love them and that's all there is to it. In addition, for some of us, our pets are also hunting dogs and guard dogs. Many dogs alert when others approach your house, so you'll want those dogs around when TSHTF. They're going to help you survive. So our demand for pet food tends to be very inelastic in the short run-meaning, we're willing to pay extra to ensure our pets are fed because they're that important to us (compared with other things that don't mean much to us, so we're not willing to pay more for those because we'd rather do without than pay extra-that's "elastic" demand). Thus, the ultimate question is, do you have enough pet provisions for them to get you through however long you believe is necessary before you can start providing for them?

Don't be surprised if the costs double or more in the short run for things that are hard to come by. But if you have a large supply, you can ride out a temporary spike in prices altogether. It will also help you transition your pet to a wild animal diet if need be. And if you have enough of it, pet food could even be a good bartering item.

The solution is simple. The stuff keeps. Dry food, canned food, even the pouch food, is good for a year or more. So I keep at least a 6 month supply of food for my cats right here on hand. And when I can, I extend that supply to a year. I just rotate it as it's used. You use it every day, so it should be a simple matter to rotate your pet food as you use it. You should have at least enough for 3 months. So your dog chews his way into those bags? Get yourself some 50 gallon metal trash cans and store the stuff in there. Most dogs won't eat metal (though I once had a beagle who did . . . .)

Consider getting your pets to accept two or three different types of food in a mixed diet. That way, if one of the types becomes unavailable, they don't have to make a sudden transition to something new. Sudden transitions can wreak havoc on their stomachs-and lead to messes you really don't want to think about, let alone clean up. Some pets don't do well with multiple foods. In that case, you really want to have a good stock of what you use. I use Iams Maintenance Light dry food (crunchies) for my cats. I always try to have 100 pounds or more on hand here. If it gets below 100 pounds, I'm scheduling another trip to the pet store and will have resupplied before I'm below 60 pounds of food. I also keep about 100 cans of food and about 25 to 50 boxes of Tender Vittles on hand at all times.

My cats always have dry crunchies available to them, free choice (available 24/7). Dogs aren't as good with free choice eating-they tend to be gluttons, though they can be trained not to scarf everything in the bowl. In addition to the crunchy food that's always in the bowl, I feed my cats a separate breakfast every day. I have several reasons for doing so. First, it diversifies their diet so I don't have to worry about supplies of one type disappearing, thereby creating the problems I just mentioned. Second, they get in the habit of showing up at my feet first thing in the morning (or if I suddenly call them and make the can opening noise or pouch opening motions, they'll come running). You want your pets to come to you in an emergency-especially if you have to get them into your safe room with you, fast. Third, I get to put my eyes and hands on them each day at least once.


Checking Your Pets And Getting Help
I want to get my hands and eyes on my pets at least once a day. Why? I want to check out my pets daily for any changes. Are they gaining or losing weight? Is any of them injured or lame? Are there noticeable lumps or oozing injuries on them, swollen joints or other apparent problems? Is one of them showing any change in mobility or motor skills? Is any of them showing a noticeable attitude change?

These can often indicate problems warranting a visit to the vet. For example, if your cat is suddenly experiencing weakness in his hind end, isn' t interested in food, or is showing other significant changes in behavior or body condition, you want to get him to a vet pronto. If your cats have gotten into a tiff overnight, one of them is likely to be sporting a new hole or two in his face. You want to make sure there isn't anything particularly awful requiring medical care. Puncture wounds, ear piercings and the like need prompt medical attention or they can get infected. You may be able to handle it yourself, but if an ear is shredded, have your vet sew it up. Fortunately, my cats are pitiful pugilists so they rarely hurt each other effectively.

Suppose your dog is showing lame on his off hind leg, and you check it and find a lump there that you hadn't noticed before. Get him to a vet-if it's significant enough to affect the dog's ability to walk, it's serious enough to warrant a visit with the vet. If it's an injury, the limb may have to be stabilized. If it's a cyst or infection, allowing it to continue without the proper medication can lead to a worsening of the condition.

Knowing your pet well often allows you to catch certain illnesses or problems early, when the only sign that something is wrong is a lethargy or sluggishness to your pet. I've caught a urinary tract infection in the early stages twice in Bartholomew, my older male cat, and once in BennieFLB, my younger male cat, simply by recognizing that they were acting more sluggishly than usual. And sometimes, catching something like that early can save a cat's life or at least save him from a lifetime with kidney problems. On the other hand, because you're seeing the animal every day, subtle changes may go unnoticed. That is one of the reasons you want to bring your pet in for a checkup regularly -- your vet doesn't see your pet as often as you do, so changes will be more obvious to him or her than they might otherwise be to you.

Similarly, if your pet is showing signs of illness, and you have more than one pet, you want to try to ensure that the others aren't going to get the sick one's ailment. If one's sick, get him checked out before the other one comes down with the same thing, or at least get reassurance from a vet that it's not a contagious condition. That'll give you some peace of mind while helping out the sick pet.


Regular Checkups Are Essential
How many of you bring your pet to a vet at least once a year, whether that pet is due for a shot or not? I always have my vet check my cats out at least once a year. And as they get into their mid-teens, I'm starting to take them in more often. Regular visits offer several advantages.

First, your vet wants to establish a baseline for your pet. This is just like a cardiologist might want to have an EKG on you while your heart is fine so that if it later turns ugly, he can compare it with the 'good' reading to see how it has changed. Each year, when you haul your pet in there, hissing, whining or growling, new observations can be evaluated in light of the baseline information. Is it normal in light of the pet's age and history? If not, what might the changes suggest? This can help your vet catch illnesses before they manifest. And, as mentioned earlier, your vet may see changes that you can't notice because they're occurring so slowly. But because your vet doesn't see your pet that often, these changes are far more noticeable to him or her.

Geriatric changes are particularly important to watch. As my vet says, the scale doesn't lie, no matter how normal your pet otherwise appears and acts to you. Your pet only lives 15 to 18 years, give or take, and significant geriatric changes are occurring each year. So you want that experienced eye to give that pet the once-over pretty regularly. At her most recent checkup, my little Maggie, who is now 13, weighed in at under 8 pounds for the first time since she was a kitten. In talking it over with my vet, he reassured me that I don't need to bring her in more often yet because she's otherwise in great shape, but I need to watch her more carefully now to ensure that she is able to maintain her weight. If she can't maintain her weight on her current diet, I'll have to separate her from the others once a day to feed her a special diet.

Second, your vet wants to establish a relationship with you. If one of your pets develops a problem later, your vet knows what to expect from you because of prior interactions. How receptive are you about changes? Are you the type of pet owner who is willing and able to separate the cats, if necessary, to ensure that they eat different foods? What kind of budget issues do you face? Are you able to administer medications? Cats are particularly difficult for pill administration, so if you can't give your cat a pill, he'll help you formulate a back-up plan. How committed to your pet are you? Are you going to get halfway through a program that isn't even complex and then just give up?

Third, your vet can remind you of vaccines the pet might need and can also update you on new findings and available medications or other treatments. Some recent developments in the veterinary world, for example, include limiting shots to lesser frequencies than earlier administered. The new inoculation courses were developed because of a couple of concerns that arose due to anecdotal evidence. Certain vaccinations seemingly were triggering autoimmune problems in some dogs. Though rare, veterinarians began noting this in more than just a few cases. Similarly, in cats, cancer was being found at the site of rabies injections. Money wasn't available for large studies, so veterinarians began to ask whether vaccinations really needed to be administered as frequently as they had been and concluded that they really weren't needed as often as they were being given.

Given that risks now appeared to accompany those shots, veterinarians rethought the shot schedules and made some changes.

Some schedules have changed, with the length of time between shots being extended. At least one cat inoculation is now administered at least part of the time via nose drops. In addition, the efficacy of medications may be leading to schedule changes as well. Stay on top of these developments by talking with your veterinarian regularly.

Fourth, your vet can check your pets for parasites or other problems that don't rise to the level of an illness but can reduce your pet' s life span and quality of life. Worms, lice, fleas, ticks. Some are a nuisance to you, your pets, or all of you. Some are even life-threatening to your pets and you.

It seems like new products are coming out every other month that promise miraculous treatments for many of these parasites. I've used several of these products and I have to say, they're pretty handy, making getting rid of parasites easier and easier, with less impact on your and your pet's wellbeing. This is particularly true in the flea/tick arena, where you can now administer a liquid to the back of your pet's neck and get rid of fleas and ticks quickly and keep them away. I remember having to set off multiple bombs in my house to kill fleas and taking all my cats to the vet for a flea bath the same day. Then I would have to repeat the process a few weeks later to kill the hatching eggs. Now, a couple of months with these liquid behind-the-neck solutions and those creepy crawlers are killed along with their newly hatched progeny.

Fifth, your vet has experience palpating animals for tumors, cysts and other lumps. At least taking your animal in once a year gives your pet the chance of something serious being caught in time to do something about it. I can't tell the difference between a little growth and a small serious lump, but my vet can. I can't even be sure, when I feel a bone sticking up, whether I should be worried about it or not. If I feel something I'm not sure about, I'm off to the vet with the unlucky cat who happened to be getting rubbed when I felt the offending lump. So far, it's always been innocuous, but I take no chances with my furry friends. I'd rather have him chuckle and tell me it's nothing than assume it's nothing and later find out that, had I taken my cat in earlier, I might have saved her life. But there are some things I know I wouldn't even know to feel for. My vet knows what to look for when giving those cats their checkups.

Sixth, your vet has lots of information that can help with pet behavioral problems that might crop up. Use your vet as a resource. Describe the changes you've noted in your pet's behavior. If you think you might know why your pet has suddenly gone bonkers, is refusing to use the litter box, is running in circles, is hanging from the chandelier, is walking on his nose, or doing other odd things, share those with the vet. Your vet isn't just there to diagnose physical ailments. He or she can often help diagnose behavioral problems and suggest ways to alleviate them. They're always learning more and they are happy to share this new knowledge with you. And the more you know, the better off your pets are. You might be surprised to know that pet's behavioral problems are often triggered by you or changes you have made-whether it be changes in your schedule, in your home, in their diet, their routine-pets, especially cats, don't like change much.

Seventh, keeping your pets up to date on everything, especially inoculations, improves your chances if a shortage arises with some medications. It's like keeping your gas tank topped off. In the event of a shortage, at least you got it done as recently as possible, but on the other hand, you can't leave this to the last minute because you never know when such a shortage could arise. So you just want to ensure that your pet is kept current and renewed as soon as possible. If your pet requires medication, keep as much of it on hand as is reasonably practical. Store your pet's medications as you would others . . . in a cool dry place, preferably in a darkened area. Medicines tend to degrade with heat, light and moisture.

Finally, if your pet is taking medication regularly, you might have to bring him or her in to see the vet far more often than once a year. By law, your veterinarian is required to see your pet a minimum of once a year in order to prescribe medications. But some ailments warrant more regular checkups. For example, if your pet has an ongoing skin condition, your vet should see him or her more often because medications for skin conditions often have to be adjusted. Your vet will need to re-evaluate your pet on levels of drugs but needs to actually see the skin to make that evaluation. Diabetic animals are monitored routinely-once a month or even more often-for basic maintenance. Kidney patients also require more frequent evaluations. Let your veterinarian be your guide in this. Love and Attention Your pets need this daily. They're not there to be warehoused. They're there to give you love and to be loved and messed with and played with. Rub their tummies. Play with them with their toys. Talk to them. Put in some quality time with them daily. They'll be happy to be with you. And the happy pet is more comforting to you than its unhappy counterpart any day. If times get tough, your pet will still be there for you, no questions asked.

You can get a lot of love and comfort from a happy pet. So remember your pet when you're addressing basic preparedness in your home. Your pet will thank you for it-with love.

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