Disaster & Cruelty

Bioterrorism FAQ

After the tragedies of September 11, 2001, Americans are more conscious than ever of our vulnerability to terror attacks—including the potential use of chemical and biological agents. We've compiled the information and resources that pet owners can use to understand the dangers that their companions may face from bioterrorism.

Q: What kinds of chemical/biological agents are particularly dangerous to pet animals? Could anything contagious be spread between my family and my pets?

Chemicals that are considered toxic to people can also be hazardous to animals. Biological agents that cause disease in both people and animals are called zoonoses or zoonotic diseases. Some examples of naturally occurring zoonoses are rabies and salmonellosis. Species-specific agents, such as smallpox, can cause illness only in humans.

Q: What are the signs that my pet has come in contact with a toxic agent?

Symptoms will vary, not only with the specific substance involved, but also with the amount and duration of exposure to that substance. Animal species often vary in their susceptibility to chemical and biological agents, and may also display very different signs and symptoms. Regardless of the suspected cause of the illness, however, a veterinarian should evaluate any sick animal.

Q: If my pet comes into contact with a biological or chemical agent, what should I do?

Hazardous substances on an animal's coat may be a potential health risk to any person who comes in contact with that animal. Blood, vomit, and other bodily fluids should also be avoided. Once any existing medical problems have been addressed and it has been determined that the pet is stable, bathing and other decontamination procedures may be best performed by trained veterinary professionals using appropriate protective equipment, such as gowns, gloves, and eye protection.

Q: How can I safeguard my home and my pets against chemical and biological agents?

Measures to protect animals are similar to those taken to protect people. Preparedness is the best way to help ensure both human and animal safety when disaster strikes. Links to many excellent resources are listed below.

  • The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) website offers many resources for safeguarding your pets against poisons (including common household items that are poisonous to animals). The premier animal poison control center in North America, the APCC is your best resource for any animal poison-related emergency, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you think that your pet may have ingested a potentially poisonous substance, call (888) 426-4435.
  • Ready.gov, a website maintained by the US Department of Homeland Security, offers emergency preparedness information, publications, and videos for citizens, including resources specifically for pet owners.
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA is the federal agency whose mission is to protect the nation from all hazards, including natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters. This extensive website offers a wealth of information about disaster preparedness and response.
  • Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism is a resource that provides detailed information about all forms of terrorism, including bioterrorism.

The American Veterinary Medical Association's Disaster Preparedness Series lists the following available materials:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Emergency Preparedness & Response guide includes information on chemical and biological agents and radiation.

The Environmental Protection Agency offers the following resources: