Protect your pets this bushfire season

October 20, 2015

Erica Honey with her dog Jake

Erica Honey with her dog Jake

A Murdoch University emergency vet nurse is urging pet and animal owners to be bushfire ready this season.

Erica Honey, nurse supervisor at the University’s Murdoch Pet Emergency Centre (MPEC) says fully prepared owners will help to reduce risks such as injuries and deaths to themselves and beloved family pets and livestock.

“Research has shown that people will risk their lives to save animals so including them in your bushfire survivalplan will help to reduce the risks,” said Ms Honey, who originally became interested in emergency planning after volunteering to help manage injured and displaced animals after the 2005 tsunami in Thailand.

“The best advice is to plan, evacuate early, and take animals on the first trip because you may not be able to re-enter your property again. Always have enough crates or equipment to place your animals in so you can take them with you.

“Many emergencies occur quickly, there can be many things to organise and the situation can potentially be overwhelming and stressful. The key is to plan and practice what your family and neighbours will do before the emergency takes place. It is a community effort.

“The plan should include what your triggers are to evacuate or actively defend, and provide contingencies if you’re not at home at the time of the emergency. You should also include contact details of your vet.”

Ms Honey said advice for animal owners as they prepared to evacuate during a fire threat included:

* Keeping smaller companion animals like cats and dogs inside in rooms they can’t escape;

* Bringing birds inside with their cage covers kept nearby. Birds can be very sensitive to smoke;

* Bringing horses (or hobby farm pets) closer to the house so they are easier to catch. Halters are put on and lead ropes ready but not attached;

* Placing livestock in areas with low vegetation and a body of water. Hose the areas down or turn on sprinkler systems if possible. If there are large numbers of livestock consider opening internal fencing on the property so the animals can flee safely but it is not recommended to open external fencing as roads need to be kept safe for those evacuating and emergency services;

* Ensure animals are appropriately identified where possible by microchipping. Owners can also write their mobile phone numbers on them.

Ms Honey also urged owners to be aware of weather conditions by checking the Bureau of Meteorology website, listening to ABC local radio for emergency warnings, understanding and acting upon the Department of Fire and Emergency Services alerts and warnings, remembering that phone networks, electricity and mains water might not be available in emergencies and to have contingencies in place.

Ms Honey said it was also important to plan for animal care after a bushfire and said many could suffer from the same conditions that humans do when exposed to fire.

“They may experience injury such as smoke inhalation, burns or trauma,” she explained. “It’s also recommended owners have first aid training so they can administer basic but vital care. Murdoch University Veterinary Hospital will be running a pet first aid course in November.

“Animals may also act differently after an emergency so it is important to settle back into a routine but if they continue to exhibit issues behaviourally or physically, they should be taken to a veterinarian.”

For more information on how to plan for a bushfire emergency, there are free planning kits available on the Are You Ready website.

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