Matt Springer has been giving presentations around San Francisco about home earthquake preparedness since 2008 (for more information about the presentation, go to his earthquake preparedness website). This Quaketips blog is devoted to posts ranging from technical "how-to" articles to more philosophical "should-you" topics. New articles will be posted at most about once a month, so people who subscribe won't be subjected to lots of e-mail.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Special considerations for pets

I decided to lift one more of the articles on my website for this blog, which makes it a quote of a quote because that web article is based on a previous article that I wrote for a newsletter.  It's timely because the CNN website just had an article about plants that are poisonous to dogs and cats.  The following is from my website (at the end, I'm adding a little bit more today). THEN I'll start sticking to my promise and post infrequently!

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 lists (several relevant lists are at that website).

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

   You’ve 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, don’t 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 here’s 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 “earthquake proofing” 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 dog’s 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, and 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 can’t fall or shed leaves in a quake, or consider getting new plants. And of course, make sure that your household cleaning chemicals can’t 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!

A couple of additional thoughts today (4/2/11):  

First, it was recently pointed out to me that all these nasty things that the dog shouldn't eat are in the garbage bin, which could easily fall over in a minor quake and spill while the dog is home alone; a real weak link in the safety chain.  Point well-taken, and so I put a loose strap around the basket attached to the wall, loose enough that it's still easy to replace the garbage bags (garbage, compost--same problems).  

Second, I've gotten occasional questions about bird cages, aquariums, etc.  I think these are best handled as furniture and braced.  That is, the biggest problem with such pet houses is that they might fall if they are loose, creating an annoyance for the bird and a disaster for the fish (although the cat may be happy).

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  1. I was recently informed about a nice website devoted to pet safety and figured I'd pass it along here. It's at .

  2. Just an update: I recently started separating out food waste for composting, so now the garbage no longer has the pet-toxic foods in it and the compost will contain those instead. I have a counter-top compost pail that I empty every day into our building's compost bin, and because the goal now is to prevent THAT from falling in a quake to where the dog can eat the contents, it is secured to the counter with quake putty.


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