If disaster strikes tomorrow, would you still be able to take care of your reptiles?
If you’re like me, you probably haven’t thought much about it. But just like it’s a good idea to keep a savings account, it’s good to know the basics of emergency preparedness with pet reptiles.
There are three primary types of emergencies: natural disasters, financial crises, and accidents.
- Natural Disaster (earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, floods, etc.)
- Financial Crisis (job loss, illness, etc.)
- Accidents (power outage, gas leak, house fire, etc.)
Any one of these events can turn your life upside-down, and without proper preparation, pets can be the ones who suffer most. Fortunately, we’ve put together an easy guide to help you make sure your reptiles stay safe and healthy in the event of an emergency.
Have a Reptile-Specific 72-Hour Kit
If you don’t do anything else, at very least take some time to put together a pet 72-hour kit specific to your reptiles’ needs. I’ve linked a few of these to my favorite products, and most will be elaborated upon later.
- First-aid kit
- Nonperishable reptile food
- Food/water bowls
- Heat pack(s)
- Battery-operated mister fan(s)
- Hand sanitizer
- Nontoxic baby wipes (for cleaning)
- Paper towels
- Cash (enough to purchase extra food/supplies/etc.)
If there’s anything else you use in your daily reptile routine that you think you might need, include it. Everything should be able to fit in an easily-transportable plastic tote.
Have an Evacuation Plan
In case of evacuation, do not leave your reptiles behind! If humans need to evacuate, animals need to evacuate, too. Have an appropriately-sized (but not too large) transportation container on hand for each animal. Personally I like tubs with holes drilled in them because they’re cheap, easy to carry, and easy to clean. They’re also easy to stack inside larger plastic totes.
Once you have your reptiles situated, grab your 72-hour kit and unplug all electrical wiring and devices in your home.
You will also need a place to take your reptiles in the interim. Don’t assume that any hotel or shelter will display open arms to your reptiles if you’re in a crisis — in fact, most evacuation shelters do not accept pets at all due to health and safety regulations. Check to see if there’s a pet-friendly shelter in your area. If not, here are some sites where you can find pet-friendly hotels. (The hotels listed on these sites have not been verified as reptile-friendly, so it would be wise to call first.)
If you’re counting on getting help from a friend or relative during evacuation, share your plan with them early so they don’t get caught off-guard, and have the opportunity to decline if they’re uncomfortable with reptiles in their home. If you have a large collection, you may need to divide your reptiles between multiple knowledgeable friends.
Preparing Against Natural Disasters
Natural disasters include earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, tsunamis, etc. If the Earth itself seems like it’s trying to kill you, that’s a natural disaster. Because these emergencies vary in the types of danger that they present, it is best to know the hazards of your area and prepare accordingly.
If you live in an area prone to earthquakes, bolt racks and shelves to walls to help prevent them from toppling over. Secure heat lamps so they don’t fall off and potentially cause a fire. Place your heaviest terrariums on lower shelves and the lightest on higher shelves. Double-check your electrical wiring for defects.
If you live in an area prone to floods, don’t use your basement as a reptile room, as this exposes electrical devices and wiring to potential water damage. Be prepared to evacuate if necessary, and invest in flood insurance.
If you live in an area prone to hurricanes, keep your reptiles in a windowless room that isn’t your basement (basements flood easily). Be prepared to evacuate if necessary, and invest in flood insurance.
If you live in an area prone to tornados, know your community’s warning system and keep your reptiles in a windowless room, preferably the basement if you have one.
After the Disaster
If a disaster does occur, check your reptiles for injury, but otherwise avoid handling until they are back to eating regularly— they are likely to be stressed, and may be particularly defensive during this time. Even if your home suffered minimal harm, check enclosures and nearby electrical wiring for damage.
Preparing Against Financial Crisis
Financial crises include job loss, severe illness (reptile or human), and similar circumstances. When money or housing is short, we want to maintain quality care of our animals without resorting to selling them off.
Start and maintain a savings account. Try to save up enough to get you through at least 2-3 months. This is not a fund to spend at the next reptile expo — this is a fund to make sure you can make ends meet if you lose your job or experience a similar crisis.
Start and maintain a vet fund. Vet bills are expensive, but a necessary evil if one of your reptiles starts showing worrying symptoms. By keeping a vet fund as part of emergency preparedness with pet reptiles, you will have disposable income to enable you to bring them to the vet ASAP, rather than waiting and hoping that it will blow over because you can’t afford the trip. Even if you don’t have enough in the fund to entirely cover the bill, anything helps when you’re in a pinch. Having a first-aid kit to take care of minor problems will also be handy.
A credit card or CareCredit can also help in an emergency, but be warned: the latter’s interest rates become ridiculous if you don’t pay everything back within 6 months.
Stock up on reptile food. After the initial investment, one of the most expensive aspects of reptile keeping is just keeping them fed. If you have a stockpile of reptile food prepared before crisis hits, you will be able to redirect those funds to other expenses.
- Freezer: Reptilinks, frozen prey
- Pantry: Repashy/Pangea powders, canned/packaged reptile diet
Keep at least 2 weeks’ worth of food, but preferably enough to last a few months. If your reptiles don’t usually eat these products, make sure that they will eat them readily before filling your house with them.
In Case of Accidents…
Power outages are fairly benign (if annoying) to humans, but they can be life-threatening for reptiles who rely on electricity to keep them warm. A major part of emergency preparedness with pet reptiles is being able to care for them without electricity.
During summer, a power outage will take out air conditioning, so your point of greatest concern will be keeping reptiles cool. Baths can be used to cool down hot reptiles. Battery-operated mister fans can be employed to help keep chameleons and geckos cool. If you have prey items in the freezer, don’t forget to grab ice from the store to keep them from spoiling.
During winter, a power outage can take out electric furnaces, space heaters, heat lamps, heat pads, etc. High-quality Uniheat shipping warmers are inexpensive and can be used for up to 72 hours each to keep your reptiles cozy.
If you have a large collection or are incubating eggs, you may want to invest in a backup generator instead of trying to juggle emergency care for a roomful of reptiles. Keep in mind that outdoor generators are generally more powerful than indoor generators, and are thus capable of powering more devices.
As soon as a gas leak is discovered, open all windows and evacuate your reptiles immediately. Small animals are more sensitive to carbon monoxide, and will begin to suffer ill effects before you do. Carbon monoxide’s effects on reptiles are similar to those in humans: they will begin to act drowsy, may become more defensive/cranky, and show other signs of distress (for example, a bearded dragon’s beard may darken). If any of your animals have lost consciousness, rush them outside for fresh air and call your vet’s emergency line for instructions on performing reptile CPR.
Once they have been evacuated, notify your gas company and do not return your reptiles to the house until the problem has been resolved. Monitor them carefully after the event to make sure they recover, and if you suspect lingering effects, call your vet. They may require oxygen therapy.
Prepare yourself against a house fire/reptile room fire by preventing them. Check your electrical devices and wiring to eliminate hazards, keep a fire extinguisher in an accessible location, and have your evacuation kit ready. More about fire in this blog post: Fireproofing Your Reptile Room.
Can’t Get Home Due to Injury/Accident
In case you are prevented from caring for your reptiles due to injury or accident, have a pet sitter who care for your reptiles in your absence. This person should be a capable individual with experience in properly caring for reptiles. They should also
Get a Rescue Alert Sticker
For one reason or another, you may be unable to evacuate your pets. Part of emergency preparedness with pet reptiles is making sure that they don’t get forgotten; display a rescue alert sticker on your front door or front window to let first-responders know that there are pets in your house.
On this sticker, write down your veterinarian’s name, number, what kinds of pets you have, and how many. Now is not the time to be skittish about what or how many you have; providing accurate information could one day save their lives!
Keep the information simple — most people don’t know the difference between a Burmese python and a corn snake, for example. Keep it to “snakes,” “lizards,” and “turtles” (I know, cringe later), or better yet, just write “reptiles.” And don’t forget to keep it up-to-date as your collection grows or downsizes.
If you were able to evacuate your pet, write “EVACUATED” across the sticker.
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