What about pets?

Pets present many special problems, especially if you have to leave your home in a major disaster.  However, here's one big problem that I think people frequently overlook.  Even a small earthquake that causes just a few things to fall over in your home can still cause major problems if you have a dog or cat that stays home alone during the day.  If you have anything that you would not want to leave your pet with unattended, you should make sure that it can't fall and be accessible to your pet before you can get home.

The following is an article that I wrote for the April 2010 Cole Hardware newsletter, Hardware Hotline.  For more information on common foods and household plants that are toxic to dogs and cats, see the ASPCA's toxic-to-pets list.

Earthquake Preparedness in the Home: Remember Your Pets
Matt Springer
Cole Hardware's Hardware Hotline, April 2010

   YouÕve probably all heard that you are supposed to take various precautions around your home to lessen the chances of damage or injury from earthquakes.   Hopefully you even have some idea of what do to (that is, donÕt hang heavy or sharp-corner items on the wall over your bed, keep an emergency kit, brace tall furniture, use quake-proof cabinet latches, stick down important loose items with quake putty or buckles, hang pictures with quake-proof hooks, etc.).   But hereÕs something that is frequently overlooked: how can you protect dogs or cats who are left alone at home during part of the day?

    I first realized that this was a concern a couple of years ago when I was setting up the standard Òearthquake proofingÓ in a new apartment and a puppy joined our family.   I had been installing stretch cords in front of heavy books on upper bookshelves (to stop them from walking forward and falling during the vibration of an earthquake), and I realized that the rows of CDs on the upper shelves of a bookcase would be hazardous for the puppy if they all fell on him.   The CD cases consisted of hundreds of sharp plastic corners, so I installed stretch bands in front of the CDs also.   It then dawned on me that I had a whole new set of concerns that I needed to consider because of the dog.

    I think of these in two categories.   First, the small members of the family, be they two- or four-legged, are shorter than adult humans; and that means that in addition to bracing tall items that might fall and injure you, shorter items that could fall should be braced as well if they could hurt a small child or pet.   Second, unlike a small child, the family dog or cat may be home alone during the day, so anything that might fall to the floor in a quake could easily be eaten, licked, or otherwise touched by your pet before the humans get home.   Will your cat try licking anything at least once?   Better make sure your sharp knives cannot fall on the ground.   Does your dog eat anything?   If so, a little bit of broken glass that would not bother you may end up in the dogÕs mouth and stomach, so make sure that nothing can fall and shatter.   Likewise, given the list of human foods that are toxic to dogs (most notably, chocolate, coffee grounds, onions, garlic, grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts), perhaps you should not have a bowl of chocolates or a bunch of grapes lying around that can fall to the floor in a quake.   Similarly, if you have houseplants, it would be wise to look them up to see if they are toxic to your pet; and if they are, either make sure that they canÕt fall or shed leaves in a quake, or consider getting new plants. And of course, make sure that your household cleaning chemicals canÕt spill.

    Remember, your pets are counting on you to keep them safe, and a little bit of thought now may prevent a tragedy when the ground starts to move!

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