It’s not just humans who can suffer after traumatic events like the recent Oklahoma tornadoes. Susan Nelson, a veterinarian and clinical associate professor at Kansas State University’s Veterinary Health Center, says a tornado can be just as stressful on pets.
“It’s traumatic on the pets, also,” Nelson said. “Many people are displaced from their homes and are living in shelters that do not allow pets. Often times pets are cohabitated in a building close by.”
One of the best things pet owners can do is visit their animal often. Taking your pet for a walk and spending time with it will establish familiarity and help ease the animal’s anxiety. Nelson suggests leaving something recognizable with the pet.
“I realize most people lost everything, but if there’s a T-shirt they can wear for an hour or two, this will leave their scent on the shirt and it can be left with the pet,” Nelson said. “If pets have that scent of their owner, that could help make them feel a little more comfortable in an area where it’s really pretty scary for them right now.”
It’s important to make sure the animal didn’t sustain any injuries. Pets could suffer broken legs, fractures, sprains, cuts or internal injuries from a tornado. Nelson suggests having someone take the animal to a veterinarian as soon as possible for a general physical examination. Owners also need to watch for physical or behavioral changes following a traumatic event.
“Afterward, especially if they’re being boarded or they’re in a hotel with their owner, animals could experience stress diarrhea,” Nelson said. “These guys are pretty stressed out and so they may suffer from vomiting or diarrhea. You could also see some behavioral problems, such as chewing excessively on something just to self-soothe.”
Nelson said if your pet does experience vomiting or diarrhea, keep them on a bland diet for a few days. The best way to rectify behavioral changes is to establish a routine, exercise your animal and distract them with toys, if possible.
Most importantly, pet owners need to be prepared in case disaster strikes.
“Tornadoes will happen again,” Nelson said. “Make sure your pet has an ID and a microchip in case you get separated. Also, have a kit with your animal’s essentials and a plan for where you and your pet can stay following a disaster. This will help a little bit when you have chaos like this break out.”
It’s possible to donate items such as food or toys to care for pets hit by disasters, but Nelson urges people to check with the Red Cross or American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals first to see what is really needed.