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Safety First (and Second): Pet Perils Persist After Storm Clouds Clear

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Much to the relief of communities in the Gulf of Mexico and on the East Coast, we have made it well into September with no significant threat of tropical storms to our shores. Some are even questioning whether the 2013 hurricane season is a bust. Of course, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns us not to get too comfortable yet, and if we all learned anything from Superstorm Sandy last year, which made landfall on October 29, it was that these events can strike very late in the season.

When we talk about hurricanes and pets, we usually stress the importance of having proper and permanent identification, a pet first aid kit or go-bag and a disaster preparedness plan. And while these precautions are essential to keeping your four-legged family safe during a storm, it also pays to learn about the dangers that can linger long after the clouds part and the sun shines again.

Whether this year's hurricane season will live up to predictions remains to be seen, but whether we experience storms before November, or not until next year, it is still smart to be aware of perils to our pets after a storm strikes.

Water Woes
While the flooding that follows a significant storm poses immediate risks to the safety of our pets, the standing water left behind for weeks or months is just as dangerous. Floodwaters can be tainted with toxic chemicals, as well as wildlife-borne diseases like Leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that is particularly problematic in wet conditions. Standing water also attracts mosquitoes, which can carry diseases like West Nile Virus and parasites like heartworms to unprotected pets. Keep pets away from floodwaters and keep a few months' worth of heartworm preventative on hand at all times so you can stay up to date with doses no matter what. Flooding can also alter landscapes and obliterate scent trails, which can confuse your pet and cause him to become disoriented. Don't let pets roam outside off-leash, and be sure to keep contact information current on their microchips in case they get lost.

Dangerous Debris
Depending on the severity of the storm, debris from destroyed structures, downed trees and trash can hang around long after floodwaters recede. Never let pets climb on debris or nose through trash; not only can they suffer lacerations, abrasions or broken bones from falls, but curious canines could find unsavory snacks that can lead to intestinal obstruction, bowel perforation or poisoning.

Stress Test
We've talked about how noise phobias can affect pets during storms, but plenty of stressors can make the aftermath just as upsetting for our furry friends. Cats in particular are vulnerable to anxiety caused by changes to their environment, but even a usually plucky pup can find himself frazzled in unfamiliar situations -- like if you are displaced, or if you foster displaced animals for friends, family or neighbors. If you do take in additional animals, keep non-household members separate from each other to minimize the potential for negative interactions. Take note of common canine stress signals like yawning, licking or chewing when no food is present, excessive shaking as if to dry off and freezing when touched. Cats signal stress through excessive vocalization, inappropriate elimination and even vomiting. Exercise and play can help alleviate anxiety, but it is a good idea to keep your vet's number on hand to discuss any concerns that crop up.

Spores of Trouble
Although toxic black mold poisoning has not been widely documented in pets, recently, two cats who survived Superstorm Sandy succumbed to the toxin. Because mold spores in the lungs can cause long-term respiratory damage and other health issues not just to your furry friends, but to your entire family, it is absolutely critical to have your house checked if you've sustained flood damage. If you notice your pets scratching themselves or chewing on their extremities or at their skin, or your pet exhibits extreme lethargy, wheezing, coughing, struggling to aspirate, bleeding from the nose or disruption in regular eating habits, your pet may be suffering the long-term effects of black mold exposure. Get your house checked and take your pet to the vet immediately if you notice any of these signs.

As we head into the final weeks of hurricane season, I truly hope we'll be spared from the storms and that my advice above will not be needed, but as always, knowledge is power -- and an ounce of prevention goes a long way toward protecting pets from potentially disastrous situations. Prepare your family for before, during and after a storm and you'll weather whatever lies ahead as safely as possible.