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Pet Owner Alert: Preparing for a Power Outage

Pet Owner Alert: Preparing for a Power Outage

Story at-a-glance -

  • The winter months often bring wild weather and with it, power outages. Preparing in advance to keep your pet safe during a loss of power can mean the difference between life and death.
  • Dogs and cats should be kept calm, warm and indoors as much as possible, with plenty of fresh water, food, cozy bedding and potty spots.
  • Aquarium owners should have on hand ahead of time either battery-operated tank equipment or an alternative energy source that can continue to run the pump, heater and filtration system.
  • If you own an exotic bird or a pocket pet and your power outage may be lengthy, it’s advisable in most cases to allow a knowledgeable friend or family member to take care of your pet in their home until things are back to normal in yours.

By Dr. Becker

In many parts of the country and world, including here in the Chicago area, winter weather often brings not only wind, snow and freezing temperatures, but also widespread power outages.

The problem with losing power, of course, is you never know how long you'll be without it.

Loss of electricity for an hour or two is manageable for most of us.

Much longer and things can go downhill fast, especially in homes with pets.

When it comes to the reality of living without power for several hours or even days, having a plan already in place is priceless.

Knowing what to do and having the tools to do it will insure you and your pets weather the storm in reasonable comfort.

If You Have a Dog or Cat

The four-legged members of your family will pick up immediately on your mood and stress level, so try to remain calm while riding out a power shortage.

If your kitties live entirely indoors, which I certainly recommend, there's not much you'll need to do for them. Make sure you have plenty of clean litter and cat food on hand, and warm bedding kitty can curl up in.

If your cat is an indoor-outdoor pet, my advice is to turn him into an indoor-only pet – at least until the weather is warmer. Cats allowed to roam free outdoors meet up with all kinds of potential dangers, not the least of which are extremes in temperatures.

If you have a dog, lousy weather can create potty problems. Most little dogs don't enjoy the feel of cold, wet snow on their belly or bottom when they go outside to eliminate. Bigger dogs don't mind the snow so much, but regardless of size, when your pet is finished going potty outdoors, you'll have a cold, wet pup re-entering a home with no power.

One solution could be to prepare an alternative potty area in the garage, under the carport, or in a location outdoors close to the house and protected from the weather, like a covered porch or patio. You can buy a bag of mulch and have it on hand to use in your makeshift potty area if the need arises.

If your dog gets out into the weather, have towels on hand and dry her thoroughly when she comes back in to prevent her from becoming chilled.

Keep plenty of pet toys on hand, especially for large dogs who may not get their normal daily exercise while you're dealing with a power outage. Puzzle toys like the Clever K9 can be especially helpful because they keep your dog's mind stimulated, which can ease boredom.

If you think you might need to evacuate your home during a power outage, this article provides very useful information about how to plan ahead for the safety of your pet and also includes a pet supply checklist.

For Aquarium Owners

In the event of a power outage, you'll want to have a back up method to supply oxygen, heat and filtration to your aquarium.

You can use battery operated equipment, an emergency power generator, or even an uninterruptible power supply (UPS).

Here are a few additional tips from

  • Wrap the tank in blankets
  • Withhold food to reduce activity in the tank, which in turn conserves oxygen
  • Fish can survive for about 12 hours in 60-degree water
  • If the situation is dire, move the fish to a plastic bucket filled with tank water and place the bucket near a heat source. Most fish can survive about 48 hours in this environment.

If you have reptiles like snakes or lizards, they will need to be kept warm with heat lamps – either battery-operated or plugged into a generator or UPS.

If You're a Bird Enthusiast

Move your bird's cage away from drafty windows and doors, and also fireplaces and space heaters. Smoke and vapors from space heaters can irritate your bird's delicate respiratory system.

Also make sure exotic birds are given sufficient humidity in their environment. During cold winter months it's easy to dry out the air in your house, which is unhealthy for birds designed to live in the tropics.

Cover your bird cage with blankets to warm the interior.

If the power outage is long-lasting or you can't keep your bird warm away from dangerous heat sources, consider leaving your pet with a friend or family member until things are back to normal in your home.

Due to the delicate nature of pet birds and the heightened potential for illness or injury during a crisis like a power outage, I recommend you opt to evacuate your bird to a safe location sooner rather than later. Since not everyone is familiar with caring for birds, I also recommend you have a knowledgeable friend, relative, avian vet or rescue facility identified well ahead of time in the event you need to put your pet in someone else's care temporarily.

If You Have a Pocket Pet

Extra bedding and nest material to burrow in should be enough to keep most hamsters, guinea pigs, rats and other small pets warm and comfortable during a relatively brief loss of power.

Make sure the cage is away from all drafts. If the room the cage is in can't be maintained above about 60ºF and your power outage won't be resolved right away, I recommend you make arrangements for your pet to stay with a family member or friend temporarily.