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Storm-surviving animals need help from humans
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- While pets are considered family during the good times, a disaster like Hurricane Katrina makes them runners-up.
Dr. James Watson, state veterinarian with the Board of Animal Health in the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, said Wednesday (Sept. 1) that the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson is accepting rescued animals, agricenters around the state have taken in horses, and plans are being made to set up animal shelters in South Mississippi.
"We're trying to find out what all the different issues are and try to provide some help in the next few days," Watson said. "We're in the mode of saving human lives, and pets are not a priority right now."
Announcements will be made on the radio when animal shelters are available for pets left homeless by the hurricane.
Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine sent a trailer full of supplies and faculty and staff volunteers to Jackson Tuesday as part of the Mississippi Animal Response Team.
"People come first in an emergency, but there are animals that need help as a result of the hurricane," said Dr. Carla Huston. "We will assist the state veterinarian as long as we're needed."
For those stranded with pets in the midst of destruction, Dr. Stanley Robertson offered some tips. Robertson, coordinator of MSU's Extension veterinary medicine, said to make sure the animals have no injuries, then see that they have the essentials of food and water.
"They have to have the same potable drinking water that we have," Robertson said. "You have to boil their water just like ours. They can pick up some of the same food-borne illnesses we do."
In storm devastated areas, that means the pets should not be allowed to drink from puddles or water left standing by the hurricane.
Robertson urged pet owners to improvise with human food if commercially prepared pet food is not available. Remember to ration pet food if supplies are low.
"Steer away from things that have a lot of fat, like certain meats, as eating these increases the chance of dogs getting digestive disorders such as pancreatitis. Treatment for any medical conditions may not be available to pets in storm-damaged areas," Robertson said. "If your animal has a real sensitive stomach, be even more careful."
Do not give dogs food that is deemed unsafe for humans.
"If the meat is not any good for you to eat out of the freezer, it's probably not good for the pets either," Robertson said.
Pets are susceptible to snake bites, and fire ants can cause a severe skin reaction in pets, just like they can in humans. Mosquito bites can be a problem, and the danger of West Nile Virus is expected to rise in the aftermath of the storm.
While cats are more independent than dogs, similar rules apply to them. Give them only water to drink that is also safe for humans, and feed them canned meat if that is available.
Cats tend to hide when scared, and a cat pulled from the rubble might be react out of fear and scratch. Wrap frightened cats in a towel to protect the rescuer and to provide some security to the animal.
Be cautions when approaching an injured animal as they can hurt their rescuers. As soon as possible, find a shelter or safe place for the animal to stay.
For those who may have fled the area and are trying to get back to care for a pet left behind, Robertson had some good news.
"Dogs and cats can probably go four to five days without water, and at least a week without food," Robertson said. "They tend to scavenge around and often can find something to eat or drink to increase their chances of survival."