The largest natural disaster in the history of the United States began when Hurricane Katrina made landfall as a category 3 hurricane near the Louisiana-Mississippi border on August 29, 2005. The damage to the area was compounded when Hurricane Rita made landfall near the Louisiana-Texas border less than a month later, on September 24. These 2 storms exacted a heavy toll on humans, animals, and property throughout the Gulf Coast region. Thousands of animals were caught in the storms, with an estimated 15,000 cattle, 6.2 million chickens, and numerous other agricultural animals killed.1,2
The number of dogs and cats affected by the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricane disaster will never be known. It has been estimated that up to 50,000 dogs and cats were left behind when their owners evacuated.1,3,4 In addition, an unknown number of stray dogs and cats roamed freely throughout the region at the time of the disaster. As an indicator of the number of affected animals, an online database (www.petfinder.com) listed profiles of 17,000 found animals and 22,000 pet rescue requests by October 2005.1
Temporary mass shelters for dogs and cats rescued from the hurricane disaster area became operational within days after Hurricane Katrina hit. Ultimately, more than 11,000 rescued animals passed through makeshift shelters in Gonzalez and Monroe, La, and Hattiesburg, Slidell, and Tylertown, Miss.1,5,a An additional 1,700 animals that were evacuated with their owners were cared for in a temporary shelter in Baton Rogue, La.a Most of the temporary shelters were closed by the end of October, and thousands of animals that had not been reunited with their owners or adopted into new homes were sent to animal welfare groups throughout the United States and Canada. In addition, a large, but unknown, number of dogs and cats was removed from the area by unaffiliated agencies and individuals.
The scale of the disaster necessitated an unprecedented response. Public health agencies and animal welfare groups quickly developed guidelines for rescuing, decontaminating, sheltering, documenting, and exporting animals from the Gulf Coast region.6 Preventive health care guidelines regarding testing for infectious diseases, parasite control, and vaccination were developed to protect both animal and human health.6 To facilitate the emergency response, some jurisdictions relaxed health certificate and importation regulations. Nevertheless, control of contagious diseases was a priority, both in the temporary shelters and in the locations where animals were transferred. Staff at temporary shelters implanted identification microchips, provided routine vaccinations, and administered firstaid care prior to transferring unclaimed animals with their medical records to animal welfare groups outside of the Gulf Coast region. In general, however, much less documentation was available for animals removed by unaffiliated agencies and individuals.
In previous studies that evaluated the risks that pet owners would leave their pets behind when evacuating during a rapid-onset (ie, a chemical spill)7 or slow-onset (ie, a flood warning)8,9 disaster, ownership of multiple pets, a lack of preparation, low attachment to one's pets, and a lack of previous veterinary care were found to be associated with an increased risk of pet evacuation failure. If failure to evacuate pets during the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricane disaster was similarly associated with a lower rate of previous veterinary care, then it is possible that rescued animals were at increased risk for diseases routinely controlled by chemoprophylaxis (ie, dirofilariasis), neutering and vaccination (ie, FeLV and FIV infection), and testing (ie, dirofilariasis, FeLV, and FIV infection). The purpose of the study reported here, therefore, was to determine seroprevalence of dirofilariasis in dogs and seroprevalences of dirofilariasis, FeLV infection, and FIV infection in cats that were exported from the Gulf Coast region following the 2005 hurricanes.
Bevan L, Southeast Regional Office, Humane Society of the United States, Tallahassee, Fla: Personal communication, 2006.
Excel 2003 SP2, Microsoft Corp, Redmond, Wash.
Epi Info 2002 Revision 1, CDC, Atlanta, Ga.
SPSS release 11.5.0, SPSS Inc, Chicago, Ill.
Nelson T, President, American Heartworm Association, Batavia, Ill: Personal communication, 2006.
Interim guidelines for animal health and control of disease transmission in pet shelters. CDC Web site. Available at: www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/hurricanes/katrina/animalhealthguidelines.asp. Accessed Sep 3, 2006.
Heath SE, Voeks SK, Glickman LT. Epidemiologic features of pet evacuation failure in a rapid-onset disaster. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;218:1898–1904.
Heath SE, Kass PH & Beck AM, et al. Human and pet-related risk factors for household evacuation failure during a natural disaster. Am J Epidemiol 2001;153:659–665.
Heath SE, Beck AM & Kass PH, et al. Risk factors for pet evacuation failure after a slow-onset disaster. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;218:1905–1910.
Scoles GA, Dickson SL. New foci of canine heartworm associated with introductions of new vector species, Aedes albopictus in New Orleans and Aedes sierrensis in Utah. Proc Am Heartworm Soc 1995;27–35.
Hudson LC, Berschneider HM & Ferris KK, et al. Disaster relief management of companion animals affected by the floods of Hurricane Floyd. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;218:354–359.
Watts KJ, Reddy GR & Holmes RA, et al. Seasonal prevalence of third-stage larvae of Dirofilaria immitis in mosquitoes from Florida and Louisiana. J Parasitol 2001;87:322–329.
2005 guidelines for the diagnosis, prevention and management of heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) infection in dogs. American Heartworm Society Web site. Available at: www.heartworm society.org/AHS%20Guidelines-Canine2005PF.htm. Accessed Sep 3, 2006.
Devastating hurricanes: treatment recommendations for preventing evacuated pets from spreading heartworm disease. American Heartworm Society Web site. Available at: www.heartwormsociety.org/katrina.htm. Accessed Sep 3, 2006.
Knight DH, Lok JB. Seasonality of heartworm infection and implications for chemoprophylaxis. Clin Tech Small Anim Pract 1998;13:77–82.
Levy JK, Snyder PS & Taveres LM, et al. Prevalence and risk factors for heartworm infection in cats from northern Florida. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc 2003;39:533–537.
Berdoulay P, Levy JK & Snyder PS, et al. Comparison of serological tests for the detection of natural heartworm infection in cats. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc 2004;40:376–384.
Snyder PS, Levy JK & Salute ME, et al. Performance of serologic tests used to detect heartworm infection in cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2000;216:693–700.
Levy JK, Scott HM & Lachtara JL, et al. Seroprevalence of feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus infection among cats in North America and risk factors for seropositivity. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2006;228:371–376.
Levy JK, Crawford PC, Slater MR. Effect of vaccination against feline immunodeficiency virus on results of serological testing in cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2004;225:1558–1561.
Animal protection groups support heartworm cure for 725 Hurricane Katrina pets. American Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Web site. Available at: www.aspca.org/site/PageServer?pagename=press_073106. Accessed Oct 30, 2006.