Pets & Climate Change

Friends and colleagues who know me well tend to associate me with cats and wine, due to my extensive experience and fascination with both. People who know me really well probably also associate me with another topic: climate change.

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So, why a post (Northwest Pets DC’s inaugural post, in fact) on pets and climate change? How does the latter have anything to do with the former?

During a recent online course for pet first-aid, I learned of a documentary titled “Mine” about the pets and humans who lost each other in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. I have not yet watched the film myself, but when the course instructor pointed out that people need to have an emergency plan in place for their pets due to the increase in severe weather events caused by climate change, I was struck by the fact that I have never really given much thought to the ways that pets might be adversely impacted by climate change. Hence the catalyst for this post, in which I would like to briefly discuss some ways that our pets are being impacted by climate change; some things that we can do to minimize those impacts; and finally, an appeal to start taking action to mitigate climate change itself, so that all creatures will have a shot at a more livable world.

When extreme weather strikes, things tend to get chaotic. Unfortunately, when faced with a life-threatening situation, we may not always have the luxury of being able to rescue our pets while we’re busy attempting to rescue ourselves and our human family members. Our chances of being able to rescue our pets and care for them in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster are increased greatly if we have pet carriers, leashes, blankets, emergency stashes of food and drinking water, medicine, flashlights, and a first-aid kit on hand in a central, easy to access location. Please be sure to share the location of these items with your pet sitter, and make sure s(he) has your most updated emergency contact info. I urge you to have a systematic evacuation plan in place for you and your pets, should a worst-case scenario arise, especially if you live in an area that is prone to fire, earthquakes, tornadoes, or flooding (flooding in the DC area tends to occur mostly in the southeast quadrant, and earthquakes are relatively rare, but house/building fires are a risk against which we should all remain vigilant) . Also, if your pet has not been microchipped, please consider doing so, and make sure that you update your information on the appropriate pet recovery website whenever you move. Although tags are also a good idea, your pet can become separated from his or her tags in chaotic conditions, making it more difficult for rescue personnel to track you down. Finally, take pictures of yourself with your pets, and post them on social media. The documentary I mentioned above details the long separation that so many pets and their people had to endure because the animals were carrying no identification. Many of Katrina’s pet victims were adopted out to new families, and by the time their original owners tracked them down years later, the pets and their new families had bonded. So much lost time could have been avoided had these pets been carrying identification, and had they been photographed, so that authorities could match them to their owners more easily.

Excessive heat is another factor brought about by climate change that can be problematic for our furry friends. An increase in the number and duration of heat waves means that it is often just too hot to take our dogs for those walks that many of them live for, especially in the middle of the day. Some dogs have a harder time dealing with the heat than others (pugs, bulldogs, boxers, Saint Bernards, and shih tzu’s fall into this category), but it’s important to be on the lookout for signs of heat distress regardless of the breed. This article provides a good summary of how to identify potential heat stroke or hyperthermia in dogs; how to take action if you suspect a dog is suffering from a heat condition; and, most importantly, how to avoid it in the first place.

There are additional impacts that I could go into, but I think I’ve covered the two that are most likely to affect our pets here in the DC metro area. And as I don’t want to make this inaugural post all doom and gloom and scary stuff, I’ll wrap things up by telling you about a group of people I know who are doing some very important work to try to solve the climate change problem.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby empowers individuals to influence their elected officials to take action on climate change. The organization works with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to push for legislation that will grow the economy, cut emissions, and save lives. I won’t go into more detail here, lest you think I’m making a shameless plug for a personal cause (I am), but please do consider taking a look at CCL’s website, and let me know if you have any questions or thoughts.

Finally, please feel free to share any ideas for future blog posts you might have! My office staff and I would love to hear from you.

Northwest Pets DC Staff