Disaster Preparedness Plan


Introduction. Those of us who live with our pets in the Florida Panhandle are subjected to several different types of potential natural disasters to include hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and fires. Each type of disaster warrants a different approach to survival with our animals. In some cases our residence may not be habitable for days to months to years. We may be forced to seek other shelter. In other cases we may be able to continue living in our residences with limited to no support from the local infrastructure. An example of limited use might be that we have no electricity but can survive with natural gas or propane to heat, boil water and cook food.
We may be called upon to help evacuees from other disasters as was the case with Katrina. Several members of the Greater Panama City Dog Fanciers’ Association assisted the Red Cross, FEMA and the Bay County Emergency Operations Center by caring for animals temporarily housed at the Bay County Fair Grounds, Panama City, FL.

We may be forced to evacuate with our animals to a Red Cross Shelter for a variety of reasons. If you have special needs and require assistance evacuating your home in an emergency, your local County Emergency Management Office can help. Be prepared for hurricane season and call to register NOW. The County Emergency Evacuation numbers are:

Bay 784-4000

Okaloosa 651-7150

Escambia 471-6400

Santa Rosa 983-5360

Holmes 547-1112

Walton 892-8065

Jackson 526-4500

Washington 638-6203
Or we may choose to evacuate the area entirely.

The purpose of this document then is three fold. Part One sets out guidelines for establishing a Disaster Plan in the case where we are directly affected by a natural disaster and choose to leave the area. Part two sets out guidelines if we choose to evacuate with our animals to established Red Cross Shelters within Bay County, Florida. All Red Cross shelters in Bay County are designated “Pet Friendly.”. Part three sets out guidelines for those of us who donate our time to help others in distress in Red Cross operated emergency shelters, or, as was the case right after Katrina, where there was a large influx of displaced persons and animals and the County Fair Grounds was established as a temporary shelter for persons and animals from outside our geographical area. Pay particular attention to the sections titled Personal Protection for Caretakers, Facility Management and Avoiding Bites and Scratches in Pet Shelters.
The plan is intentionally not restricted to dogs. Many of us have other pets as well.

Part One 

Planning guide for natural disasters that occur in our geographical area and directly affect the quality of our lives, make our residences uninhabitable and we choose to leave the area. Please note that the following planning guide was extracted from the Florida Division of Emergency Management web site and modified to fit the specifics of Bay County, FL and surrounding areas serviced by the Panhandle Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Disaster Plan for Natural Disasters Occurring To Us In Which We Are The Evacuees
The best way to protect your family from the effects of a disaster is to have a disaster plan. As a pet owner, that plan must include your pets. Being prepared can save their lives.

If you evacuate your home, DO NOT LEAVE YOUR PETS BEHIND! Pets most likely cannot survive on their own; and if by some remote chance they do, you may not be able to find them when you return.

Sites to help you get started:

The HSUS Disaster Center has several brochures available for download to help you plan for the needs of your pets, horses, and livestock during an emergency. The following PDF brochures are available for download:

Have a Safe Place To Take Your Pets
It may be difficult to find shelter for your animals in the midst of a disaster, so plan ahead. Do not wait until disaster strikes to do your research. Many communities are developing pet friendly shelter plans, check to see if your local emergency shelter plan include pets. All emergency shelters in Bay County, Florida are pet friendly.
Contact hotels and motels outside your immediate area to check policies on accepting pets and restrictions on number, size, and species. Ask if “no pet” policies could be waived in an emergency. Keep a list of “pet friendly” places, including phone numbers, with other disaster information and supplies. If you have notice of an impending disaster, call ahead for reservations. Go to Pet’s Welcome (http://www.petswelcome.com/) to search online for pet friendly hotels and motels. Pet friendly policies change almost daily so no list is provided at this time. Keep a stack of out-of-town telephone books for those cities you might want to visit or live in if you do evacuate.
Ask friends, relatives, or others outside the affected area whether they could shelter your animals. If you have more than one pet, they may be more comfortable if kept together, but be prepared to house them separately.

Prepare a list of boarding facilities and veterinarians who could shelter animals in an emergency; include 24-hour phone numbers. Check your local phone books for Veterinarians and boarding shelters/kennels.
Ask local animal shelters if they provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets in a disaster. Animal shelters may be overburdened caring for the animals they already have as well as those displaced by a disaster, so this should be your last resort. Be aware that veterinarian and boarding facilities may and often do close well before a storm is projected to impact so that staff can prepare or evacuate.
Assemble a Portable Pet Disaster Supplies Kit NOW. Whether you are away from home for a day or a week, you’ll need essential supplies. Keep items in an accessible place and store them in sturdy containers that can be carried easily (duffle bags, covered trash containers, etc.). Your pet disaster supplies kit should include:

  • Medications and medical records and shot records (stored in a waterproof container) and a first aid kit consisting of at least the following:
  • Gauze rolls and pads
  • Adhesive or first-aid tape
  • Roll bandages that stretch and cling
  • Hydrogen peroxide for cleaning wounds and for inducing vomiting
  • Antiseptic cream
  • Tweezers
  • Magnifying glass
  • Scissors
  • Saline solution or eye lubricant
  • Plastic syringe for administering liquid medications
  • Ice pack
  • Compact thermal blanket or a regular blanket
  • Benedryl — if approved by your veterinarian
  • Anti-diarrhea medication for dogs — if approved by your veterinarian
  • Written prescriptions for medications your dog takes regularly
  • Pet first-aid booklet
  • Telephone numbers for your vet, a vet in the city you’re visiting, an after-hours emergency vet hospital, and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: (888) 426-4435

No time to put together a first-aid kit? Order one already stocked with many of the items listed above. Several companies and nonprofit organizations sell canine first-aid kits. Your local Red Cross Chapter sells one containing most of the items for a very reasonable price.

If your dog is prone to motion sickness, pack some additional items:

  • Ginger snaps. These cookies sometimes help alleviate upset stomachs.
  • Comfort Zone spray. Spray it in your dog’s crate or on the car seat where he’ll ride.
  • Benadryl. Some vets suggest this over-the-counter medication.
  • Prescription drugs if your vet recommends them.
  • Sturdy leashes, harnesses, and/or carriers to transport pets safely and ensure that your animals can’t escape.
  • Current photos of your pets in case they get lost.
  • Food, potable water, bowls, cat litter/pan, and manual can opener.
  • Information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to foster or board your pets.
  • Pet beds and toys, if easily transportable.
  • Crate for each dog.
  • Carrying case for each cat.
  • Appropriate container for other animals
  • Know What To Do As a Disaster Approaches
  • Often, warnings are issued hours, even days, in advance. At the first hint of disaster, act to protect your pet.
  • Call ahead to confirm emergency shelter arrangements for you and your pets.
  • Check to be sure your pet disaster supplies are ready to take at a moment’s notice.
  • Bring all pets into the house so that you won’t have to search for them if you have to leave in a hurry.

Make sure all dogs and cats are wearing collars and securely fastened, up-to-date identification. Attach the phone number and address of your temporary shelter, if you know it, or of a friend or relative outside the disaster area. You can buy temporary tags or put adhesive tape on the back of your pet’s ID tag, adding information with an indelible pen. Recent studies indicate that 95% of pets returned were returned because they wore nylon collars that had their name and owner’s telephone number embroidered onto the collar. Tags are easily lost.
You may not be home when the evacuation order comes. Find out if a trusted neighbor would be willing to take your pets and meet you at a prearranged location. This person should be comfortable with your pets, know where your animals are likely to be, know where your pet disaster supplies kit is kept, and have a key to your home. If you use a petsitting service, they may be available to help, but discuss the possibility well in advance.
Planning and preparation will enable you to evacuate with your pets quickly and safely. But bear in mind that animals react differently under stress. Outside your home and in the car, keep dogs securely leashed and buckled in with a secure chest harness or crated. Transport cats in carriers. Don’t leave animals unattended anywhere they can run off. The most trustworthy pets may panic, hide, try to escape, or even bite or scratch. And, when you return home, give your pets time to settle back into their routines. Consult your veterinarian if any behavior problems persist.

Caring for Birds in an Emergency

Birds should be transported in a secure travel cage or carrier. In cold weather, wrap a blanket over the carrier and warm up the car before placing birds inside. During warm weather, carry a plant mister to mist the birds’ feathers periodically. Do not put water inside the carrier during transport. Provide a few slices of fresh fruits and vegetables with high water content. Have a photo for identification and leg bands. If the carrier does not have a perch, line it with paper towels and change them frequently. Try to keep the carrier in a quiet area. Do not let the birds out of the cage or carrier. Be advised that birds are not permitted in Bay County Red Cross Emergency Shelters

About Other Pets

Snakes can be transported in a pillowcase but they must be transferred to more secure housing when they reach the evacuation site. If your snakes require frequent feedings, carry food with you. Take a water bowl large enough for soaking as well as a heating pad. When transporting house lizards, follow the same directions as for birds. Be advised that reptiles are not permitted in Bay County Red Cross Emergency Shelters

Pocket Pets 
Small mammals (hamsters, gerbils, etc.) should be transported in secure carriers suitable for maintaining the animals while sheltered. Take bedding materials, food bowls, and water bottles.
If you evacuate, have a place to go and take your pets, use Pet’s Welcome to find pet friendly hotels and motels by state and city listings

General Guidelines in the event you evacuate to a Red Cross Emergency Shelter with your animal(s).
While all Bay County Emergency Shelters are pet friendly, not all pets are welcome. Birds and reptiles are not permitted in the shelters.
In the event of an evacuation order and the decision is made to open a shelter, the first one to be opened in Bay County will be the “special needs” shelter at Bozeman High School. Generally, this shelter will be opened 72 hours in advance of a projected storm to allow ample time for seniors or others with special medical needs to arrive. The Department of Health has mandated that because of health concerns, animals will be housed in a building separate from the general human population and once admitted, there will be no further contact between the owner and their animal(s) until they depart. The concern here is that the owner might bring pet dander or other contaminates into the general population facility that might adversely affect another temporary resident. Personnel from the Bay County Animal Control Facility will be available to water, feed, walk the animals and do whatever necessary to make them comfortable.
When the Bozeman facility reaches capacity the county will open the second facility at Haney Technical School. There, owners will be responsible for the care and feeding of their own animals.
If that facility fills to capacity, the county will open another facility at Northside Elementary School. Owners will be responsible for the care and feeding of their animals.

You should have the following available to take to the shelter:

  • Shot records indicating currency of all vaccination, in particular Rabies, Parvo, and Bordatella, commonly called Kennel Cough.
  • Medications including Flee, Tick and Heart Worm medications.
  • Crate, cage or other sturdy container for each animal. While the county has a supply of crates, don’t assume the truck will get to the shelter or they will be adequate for your animal. Bring your own.
  • Dog’s name and your name on crate, medications, food, water etc.
  • Blanket or mattress if the animal is used to sleeping on such.
  • Food, in suitable container and bowl, for at least five days.
  • Potable water and water bowl for at least five days.
  • First Aid Kit as described in Part One.
  • Leash
  • Collar with dog’s identification and your identification (dog’s name and your telephone number).
  • Current photos of your animals in case they escape.
  • Microchip numbers.
  • Vet’s name and telephone number.
  • Favorite toys.
  • Newspapers and plastic bags to handle and dispose of waste.
  • Rubber or plastic gloves.
  • Cat litter and a small plastic dish pan that fits into the cat’s carrier or container.

If you are responsible for walking your dog, don’t let the animal drink any storm water as it is probably contaminated. Make sure you walk your dog on a sturdy leash to prevent its escape. Don’t turn him loose as there might be a problem with snakes, loose hostile animals or downed power lines. Watch for broken glass, roofing nails and any other injury threatening conditions.
During a storm keep your dog in its crate in the designated area. Even if you dog cries, don’t take him out during the storm. Talk to him to calm him down. Keep a few favorite toys in the crate to keep him occupied and calm. Try to stay calm yourself because your emotions flow down the leash to your animal. Use breath mints or mouth wash to mask your anxiety.
FOLLOW ALL DIRECTIONS FROM RED CROSS, ANIMAL CONTROL AND SECURITY PERSONNEL. They are stationed in the shelter to ensure your stay and that of your animal is as safe and comfortable as possible. Members of the Greater Panama City Dog Fanciers’ Association, who are also trained Red Cross Volunteers, are available to assist pet owners.


Interim Guidelines for Animal Health and Control of Disease Transmission in Pet Shelters, is intended to provide guidance for volunteer care givers when we have an influx of evacuees from other areas and have assumed responsibility for assisting in the care and feeding of either displaced animals or animals temporarily sheltered at the Bay County Fair Grounds. The Guidelines were extracted verbatim from the web site of the American Veterinary Medical Association and are included without change or comment.

These Interim Guidelines have been developed by consultation between the American Veterinary Medical Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and are advisory in nature. They are intended to provide guidance for the care of animals entering shelters and for persons working with or handling the animals in response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The guidance reflects information available as of September 27, 2005 and may be updated as more information becomes available.

Animals arriving at shelters as a result of hurricanes Katrina and Rita need special care. Because they have been exposed to contaminated flood waters and have not had access to safe food and fresh water, many are stressed and dehydrated and some may be injured and/or ill. Stressed animals may or may not show signs of illness and may also exhibit behavioral disorders. Following some simple animal management and disease control guidelines can help improve animal health and reduce the risk of disease transmission and injury between animals and people.
What follows are some recommendations for pets arriving at animal shelters. Animal Health History, Examinations and Identification

  • Each animal should be examined at a triage site. Particular attention should be paid to hydration status, cuts and abrasions, paw/hoof/foot health (e.g., pads and claws, area between toes), ear health (e.g., redness, discharge), oral injuries (may have occurred if animal was foraging for food), vomiting and/or diarrhea, respiratory disease, and evidence of parasite infestation.
  • Animals should be bathed upon entry, particularly if they may have been in contact with contaminated flood water. DawnTM dish soap can remove petroleum and some other toxic chemicals, but care should be taken during its use on sensitive species (e.g., horses). Bathers should wear protective clothing (e.g., rain suits, ponchos), gloves, and a face shield or goggles with a surgical mask to avoid mucous membrane contact with droplets and splashes that may contain toxic materials.
  • Intake personnel should ask whether the pet has been in the custody of the owner since the beginning of the evacuation, and should inquire about the animal’s health and vaccination history, paying particular attention to any current medical needs or chronic health problems (e.g., diabetes, which would signal a need for insulin injections). In addition, owners should be questioned about the animal’s usual temperament (e.g., whether the animal can safely be housed with others of the same species, whether it might be aggressive toward caretakers).
  • A health record for each animal should be created and updated as needed. Identification information for the animal should correspond to that for the owner, so that animals and their owners can be reunited. Owned animals should be clearly marked as “owned” and not “abandoned” to reduce the risk of mix-ups. Photographs should be taken, if possible. Collars (leather or nylon, not choke chains) containing readily legible identification information should be placed on all animals. Ideally, all animals should be microchipped.
  • Cages should be clearly labeled so that newly arriving personnel are easily apprised of the health status and temperament of sheltered animals.
  • Animals arriving without owners should be scanned for microchip identification. Microchips are most often placed between the shoulder blades, but earlier models were prone to migration, so animals should be scanned from the shoulder blade down to the ventral chest. All scanners are not capable of reading all microchips, so if multiple types of scanners are available, scan with each type before declaring an animal to be microchip-free. Animals without microchips should be checked for other forms of identification such as a tag or tattoo. Tattoos on dogs may correspond to an AKC registration number and this information should be used to trace the animal, if possible.

Animal Health Management and Prevention and Treatment of Zoonotic and Nosocomial Diseases

  • Internal Parasitism
  • Dogs should be treated prophylactically for internal parasites including Giardia, roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms.
  • Exposure to mosquitoes in flood-ravaged areas presents an increased risk of heartworm disease. If possible, dogs should be tested for heartworms and appropriate preventatives or treatment administered.
  • External Parasitism
  • Dogs and cats should be examined for flea or tick infestation, and treated appropriately.
  • Preventive flea and tick treatments should be considered for all dogs and cats housed in shelters.


While the American Veterinary Medical Association normally recommends that vaccination programs be customized to individual animals, in disaster situations vaccination status may be difficult, if not impossible, to determine. For this reason, administration of “core” vaccines to animals upon admission to shelters when vaccination status is unavailable or not current is considered appropriate. Vaccines take some time to become effective and will not address pre-existing exposures, so personnel are cautioned to be alert for clinical signs of disease.

  • A rabies vaccination should be administered to dogs, cats and ferrets. This is especially important for dogs and cats housed in group settings. Personnel should be aware that rabies vaccines may take as long as 28 days to become effective.
  • Additional core vaccinations for dogs include distemper, hepatitis, and parvovirus.
  • Additional core vaccinations for cats include feline viral rhinotracheitis, panleukopenia and calicivirus. Vaccination against feline leukemia should be considered for young kittens that will be housed in contact with other cats.
  • Vaccination (intranasal) against Bordetella bronchisepta and parainfluenza should be considered for all dogs to reduce the incidence of kennel cough.
  • Because leptospirosis risk is higher in flood-ravaged areas and because the disease is zoonotic, vaccination should be considered. Personnel are cautioned that leptospirosis vaccines are serovar-specific, and that the potential for adverse reactions may be higher than for some other vaccines.

Diarrheal Disease 

  • Animals presenting with (or developing) diarrhea should be separated from healthy animals (see “Facilities Management”).
  • Nosocomial agents of concern that may be transmitted by feces include parvovirus, panleukopenia, Giardia, and intestinal parasites.
  • Zoonotic agents of concern for small animals include Campylobacter and Salmonella, which are highly infectious and have been associated with outbreaks in shelters and veterinary clinics.

Ill Birds
Ill birds are usually lethargic, depressed, and inappetent. Care should be taken when handling ill birds because they may be infected with the zoonotic bacteria Chalmydophila psittaci, which causes psittacosis. Face masks should be worn when handling birds of unknown origin that are exhibiting signs of illness.

Behavioral Concerns 

  • Fear, panic, separation anxiety, noise and storm phobias, and other behavioral disorders are common problems in displaced animals. Animals that have never had these problems may develop them and pre-existing problems are likely to worsen.
  • Providing housed animals with fresh food and water on a regular basis and establishing other familiar routines will assist animals in adjusting to their new environment. Food and water should be provided at multiple smaller and dispersed stations, rather than a few large clumped stations, to minimize fear, competition and fighting among unfamiliar animals.
  • Animals without a prior history of aggression may snap, bite or hiss as a result of fear or uncertainty. Shelter personnel should approach rescued animals calmly, but cautiously. Only experienced personnel should handle animals that exhibit significant behavioral disorders.
  • Behavioral exercises and behavioral medications may be administered short-or long-term, as required, to help animals recover. Shelters are encouraged to seek assistance from qualified animal and veterinary behaviorists who can assist them in meeting these needs.


  • Animals that are irreversibly ill should be humanely euthanized by a vet. Records should be kept of animals euthanized.
  • Animals that have been previously associated with transmission of monkeypox (i.e., prairie dogs, African rodents) are under legal restrictions for movement, except to a veterinarian for care. If one of these high-risk species is presented for veterinary care at a shelter, they must be kept isolated from other animals and housed in individual cages. If this cannot be accomplished, these animals must be humanely euthanized.

Medical Use, Storage and Recordkeeping 

  • Veterinarians are responsible for making clinical judgments regarding the health of the animal and the need for medical treatment. Use of prescription drugs may be authorized only by a veterinarian.
  • Drugs and vaccines should be stored under conditions recommended by the manufacturer. Products should be examined periodically to ensure cleanliness and current expiration date.
  • Records of individual animal treatments should be kept, including animal identification, date of treatment, name of product administered, name of the individual administering product, and the name of the supervising veterinarian.

Personal Protection for Caretakers 

  • Wash hands with soap and water
  • Before and after handling each animal
  • After coming into contact with animal saliva, urine, feces or blood
  • After cleaning cages
  • Before eating meals, taking breaks, smoking or leaving the shelter
  • Before and after using the restroom.
  • Wear gloves when handling sick or wounded animals.
  • Wear gloves when cleaning cages.
  • Consider use of goggles or face protection if splashes from contaminated surfaces may occur
  • Facemasks should be worn when handling ill birds to minimize the risk of contracting psittacosis.
  • Bring a change of clothes to wear home at the end of the day.
  • Bag and thoroughly clean clothes worn at the shelter.
  • Do not allow rescued animals to “kiss” you or lick your face.
  • Do not eat in animal care areas.
  • Whenever possible, caretakers should have completed a 3-dose prophylactic vaccination series for rabies.
  • Pregnant women and immunocompromised persons should not volunteer for positions involving direct animal contact.

Avoiding Bites and Scratches in Pet Shelters 

  • Use caution when approaching any animal that may be sick, wounded or stressed.
  • If available use thick gloves, restraints or sedation to handle aggressive animals.
  • If bitten or scratched, thoroughly wash wound with soap and water and seek medical care.
  • Because the exposure histories of these animals are unknown, bites from dogs, cats and ferrets may be considered a potential risk for rabies, even if the animal appears healthy and has been vaccinated. Therefore, personnel who are bitten should be evaluated for rabies risk. Dogs, cats and ferrets that bite a person should be quarantined for 10 days and observed for signs of rabies. If an animal develops signs of rabies or dies during the 10-day period following the bite, it should be tested for rabies. Persons bitten during pet shelter operations do not require rabies postexposure prophylaxis unless the animal is diagnosed as rabid.
  • If a person is bitten by a dog, cat, or ferret that is available for quarantine, adequate identification records and contact information must be kept for both the animal and the person bitten, so the exposed individual can be contacted in the event the quarantined animal does prove to be rabid. Persons exposed to an animal confirmed with rabies, or to an animal that is unavailable for a10-day quarantine or testing, should receive rabies postexposure prophylaxis in accordance with the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices Guidelines.

Facility Management

Separation of Animals

  • Animals should not be housed or permitted in food or break areas.
  • Separate newly arriving animals from animals that have been housed one week or longer.
  • Animals of different species should not be housed together (e.g., do not place a ferret and a rabbit in the same cage)
  • Avoid caging animals from different households together. If animals of the same species come into the shelter together and the owner requests that they be caged together, this should be allowed as it may reduce an animal’s stress if it is housed with a companion. This should not be done if the owner indicates the animals do not get along with one another.
  • If animals of unknown origin must be housed together, care should be taken to not mix genders for unneutered animals.
  • Routinely monitor animals for signs of illness. Separate sick animals from healthy animals, especially animals with diarrhea or signs of upper respiratory disease. If a separate room or area is not available, animals with diarrhea or signs of respiratory disease should be housed in bottom cages.
  • People assigned to care for sick animals should care for those animals only, and should not move between sick and healthy animals.
  • Limit contact of young children, the elderly, pregnant women and immunocompromised people with rescue animals; particularly animals that are ill.

Cleaning and Disposal 

  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect cages between animals.
  • Remove and dispose of animal waste in a timely manner.
  • Double bag and remove dead animals shortly after death. A log of animals that have died or have been humanely euthanized should be kept. This log should include animal identification and/or descriptive information for each animal.
  • Identify an area separate from the shelter for carcass storage and disposal.
  • Arrange for waste removal from the pet shelter.
  • Pet shelters should have adequate lighting, water and wastewater disposal.

Environmental Security 

  • If at all possible, devise strategies to prevent wild rodents from mixing with shelter animals.
  • Keep wild rodents away from food supplies.

Additional Recommendations for Exotic Animals (including pocket pets, reptiles, amphibians, and birds)

  • Exotic animals should be microchipped for accurate record keeping, unless they are identified by other means such as well-secured leg bands or legible permanent tattoos. Leg bands are a reliable means of identifying birds and often will allow ownership to be traced. For this reason, these bands should be left in place unless they pose a hazard. Photographs of birds’ feet may also be used to identify them.
  • House each species of animal in separate areas to reduce stress from strange noises and environments. Do not house birds in the same area as mammals or reptiles because the presence of these animals can cause undue stress and may present a risk of infectious disease to avian species.
  • Make sure that diets are appropriate for each species. If the species is unfamiliar to the handler, then consult a veterinarian or handler who is experienced with the housing and husbandry of that species.
  • Ill birds must often be force-fed. Birds should only be force-fed by experienced handlers or veterinarians.
  • Minimize handling of exotic pets to reduce stress and risk of injury for animals and handlers (see Appendix A—Safe Handling of Exotic Animals)
  • Do not house more than one exotic animal in a cage unless the animals have previously been housed together.
  • Exotic pets should not be taken out of their cages except during cage cleaning.
  • Confine exotic animals to other cages or escape-proof containers when cleaning permanent cages.
  • To prevent transmission of Salmonella and Chlamydophila, designate a separate area for cleaning cages. Do not clean cages in sinks or bathrooms that will be used for food preparation or bathing of infants or other immunocompromised persons. After cleaning chores are completed, thoroughly disinfect the area
  • It is extremely important to follow appropriate hand washing techniques after handling and feeding exotic animals or cleaning their cages, bowls, toys, or other cage furniture.
  • To avoid transfer of fecal matter, feathers, food, and other materials from one cage to another, bird cages should not be stacked.
  • Many exotic pets, especially reptiles and amphibians, have special environmental needs; these needs should be an important consideration during sheltering.
  • Exotic pets tend to be escape artists. Ensure that caging is properly constructed and sufficiently secure to prevent destruction and escape.
  • Do not release exotic animals into the wild under any circumstances.

A Note on the Human-Animal Bond and the Well-Being of Pets and Owners

Separation of pets and owners is a difficult issue. Media coverage of hurricanes Katrina and Rita is replete with examples of people who refused to be evacuated from affected areas without some assurance that their pets would be saved and cared for as well. When people have lost everything, their pets can be an important source of emotional support. This is particularly true for those without family or a strong human social network. Removal of this last remnant of normality and comfort can be psychologically traumatic.
Despite the importance of the owner-pet relationship, limited availability of suitable housing, as well as animal and public health and safety concerns, will make housing pets in animal shelters or foster homes not only necessary, but in the best interest of many pets and their owners. Foster homes are an alternative that can provide some semblance of routine and reduce crowding and stress in animal shelters that might otherwise predispose animals to injury and disease.
For additional information about rescue efforts, animal health and welfare, particular diseases or conditions, or infection control please call these organizations or visit their websites:

  • Louisiana SPCA -Laura Maloney 225-413-8813
  • East Baton Rouge Animal Control -Hilton Cole 225-774-7700
  • LSU School of Veterinary Medicine -Dr. Becky Adcock -225-578-9900
  • Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association -1-800-524-2996 or 225-928-5862
  • CDC Healthy Pets Healthy People -www.cdc.gov/healthypets
  • American Veterinary Medical Association -www.avma.org
  • Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams -www.vmat.org
  • Association of Shelter Veterinarians -www.sheltervet.org
  • American College of Veterinary Behaviorists -www.veterinarybehaviorists.org
  • The Center for Food Security and Public Health -www.cfsph.iastate.edu/brm

Basic Handling Instructions for Select Exotic Species
Appendix A—Safe Handling of Exotic Animals
Many exotic pets have unique features that need to be considered when handling these
animals. Some basic guidelines for handling common exotic species follow.

  • Grasp loose skin over the neck and shoulders while directing the head away from your body.
  • Support the lower part of the rabbit’s body with the other hand.
  • Never restrain or lift a rabbit by the ears.
  • If the rabbit begins to struggle or kick violently, immediately place on a solid surface and calm the animal. Struggling often results in fractured spinal vertebrae and subsequent euthanasia.


  • Mice are generally caught and handled by their tails.
  • Grasp the tail between its midpoint and the mouse’s body
  • For more control, grasp the loose skin over the mouse’s neck and shoulders using the thumb and fingers.
  • Do not drop mice into cages. Rather lower them into the cage and release upon contact with bedding.

Guinea Pigs 

  • Gently, place one hand on the shoulders or chest of the guinea pig.
  • Use the other hand to support the animals’ hindquarters.
  • Wrap the guinea pig in a towel or hold the animal against your body to reduce any struggling.
  • Do not attempt to restrain guinea pigs solely by grasping the skin. Guinea pigs lack an ample amount of loose skin to do this safely and handling them in this manner may cause hair loss.


  • Pet birds, such as parrots and finches, may be restrained by capturing in a towel. Darkening the room prior to entering the cage will assist the handler in the capture process and calm the bird. Care should be taken with wild birds, such as birds of prey. These species should only be captured and restrained by qualified handlers.
  • Quickly grab the bird’s neck from behind the animal. Your hand should gently encircle the neck to elongate the neck between the head and shoulders.
  • Once the animal is under control, grasp the legs from the front of the animal and stretch the animal as much as possible without causing injury.
  • The weight of the towel will keep the wings at the bird’s side.
  • Ensure that the bird’s ribcage is not restricted and do not hold the bird around the body.
  • Small birds may be caught without using a towel. First, capture the bird from the rear by encircling the neck. Then grasp the feet with the other hand.


  • Hold the head firmly by grasping behind the jaw with your thumb and first finger while wrapping the other fingers around the lizard’s shoulders to control the front legs.
  • Use the other hand to grasp the rear legs and tail just below the base of the pelvis.
  • Do not grab the length of the tail. Many lizards have the ability to lose their tails as a natural defense mechanism.


  • Hold the head gently by grasping behind the jaw. Allow your hand to move with the snake’s head movement to prevent injury.
  • Providing good support support for the rest of the snake’s body will help ensure it feels secure. Multiple handlers may be necessary for large snakes.
  • Do not allow the snake to wrap the end of its tail around you or other objects.

Turtles and Tortoises 

  • Grasp the shell midway between the front and rear legs.
  • Prevent bites by not reaching across the front of a turtle or tortoise that is unrestrained.
  • Frightened animals will often urinate on handlers as the animals are being picked up.


  • Fine mesh nets or small plastic containers may be used for catching and transferring animals.
  • If the animal must be handled, protect the animal’s skin by using moistened gloves and/or a moistened paper towel or dishcloth.
  • Large amphibians such as giant salamanders, large toads, and hellbenders should have their heads restrained to prevent biting. Place their head between your thumb and first finger.


  • Grab the loose skin around the back of the neck firmly.
  • Hold the ferret up so the hind feet cannot touch the ground.
  • Stroke the animal’s underside from top to bottom to aid in relaxation.

The following references provide additional information about handling exotic animals: The University of Iowa Animal Research Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee:

DJ Harris. Avian Restraint and Physical Exam. In Proceedings, Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference 2001.

TA Bradley. Basic Reptile Handling and Restraint. In Proceedings, Western Veterinary Conference 2002.