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Managing Your Dog during Bushfires & Smoke Hazards

Like many Sydneysiders we have woken up a few times this summer under a thick blanket of smoke caused by the bushfires surrounding us. Remember that if the air quality is making you uncomfortable, it’s already affecting your pet!

Living on the edge of a National Park and at the bottom of a valley, we know we are "in the danger zone" and accutely aware of bushfire dangers but still felt ill prepared for an emergency situation with 3 dogs, 1 cat and 1 chicken in tow!

We enlisted the expert help of Dr Kat Gregory (BVSc. MANZCVSc. Animal Behaviour; Anaesthesia & Critical Care) from Creative Animal Solutions who shares her advice on how to prepare and manage your dog during a bushfire emergency.

Bushfires are part of our Australian landscape, and it seems more important than ever that all of us should be prepared – not just for ourselves, but the animals with whom we share our lives. Proactive management is always the best approach – but it is never too late to start.

What can you do to prepare for Bushfire emergencies?

#1. Crate Training 


Animals need to be safely transported – and may need to stay confined at times. If they are already comfortable to enter and remain in their crate, it can help them feel secure during stressful situations.

#2. Pet Identification


Ensure all dogs (and pets) have their collars on – make sure there is identification attached to, or embroidered on the collar. 

The attached information should include your mobile number and the animal’s name. All pets should also be microchipped and make sure all contact details are up to date now (call the company that holds the data). If you aren’t sure who to call, ask your vet.

#3. Pet Bushfire Kit 


a) Prepare a basic animal first aid kit 

Photo: Total Dog 1st Aid Kit
Talk to your vet: they can advise you and may also suggest additions specific to your dog’s current health status and history. 
  • some sterile saline (bottle / bag), 
  • aloe vera gel / silver sulfadiazine, betadine
  • basic bandages, non-stick dressings. 
  • sachets of Lectade or Gastrolyte (for rehydration): these can be mixed with water if needed. 
  • Any medications your animal normally needs. Update your supply now!

b) Other essential items

  • bottled fresh water, bowl, bedding (include a woollen blanket / clean sheet)
  • favourite toy, spare collar and lead
  • your vet’s contact details. 
  • easily stored food e.g. canned, dry or dehydrated food

#4. Discuss with neighbours about where your pets are located when you are not home. Stay in touch with each other regarding plans during the fire danger period.

5. Practice how you will move your animals if you need to evacuate – and refine the process.

What can you do if your dog is burned or affected by the fire?

Pre-hospital Treatment of the burnt patient


The first consideration in treatment of the burnt patient is to stop the burning process. Flames should be extinguished and any collars or harnesses that may become constrictive should be removed (significant swelling can occur following burns). 

The skin is slow to cool and the burning process may actually continue for some time after the patient is removed from the heat source.


Cattle Dog puppy who suffered severe burns on Black Saturday (2009) and underwent many weeks of burns care 
- Photo: Dr. Kat Gregory
For this reason, burned areas should be cooled with running water for 20 minutes – then cling wrap applied. The cling wrap can help to keep the wound clean and moist, and also help to provide pain relief.

Very cold water or ice should NOT be used as this can rapidly decrease the patient's body temperature, and can contribute to increased wound depth by inducing vasoconstriction.

To avoid hypothermia during transport, the patient should be wrapped in several clean, dry sheets or blankets.

Transport your animal to the nearest emergency veterinary facility for thorough assessment. The animals will be thirsty – offer them cool fresh water or isotonic oral electrolyte rehydration fluid (Lectade / Gastrolyte).

Some injuries may not be immediately obvious and especially if your dog has a heavy coat, there can be burns you cannot see… Don't forget to also check their feet!

Additionally, even if they are not obviously burned, animals exposed to fires may have damage to their airways – the associated morbidity due to airway and lung damage can be insidious.

What are Airways Injuries?


#1. Thermal Injury: 


Air travels through your pet’s nose and mouth, into the trachea (windpipe) and through the small airways, as it makes its way into the lungs. Smoke and high heat can damage the airways acutely – causing them to constrict and become inflamed. While damage to the lining of the airways will result in the risk of secondary pneumonia. It can take 2 to 3 days for thermal damage to become apparent – so pets evacuated from fires must be carefully monitored for several days.

#2. Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: 


The concentration of carbon monoxide in smoke-filled air can be high, resulting in carbon monoxide poisoning in pets.

Carbon monoxide binds more strongly to haemoglobin than oxygen does, preventing the haemoglobin from properly doing its job of carrying oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues. When carbon monoxide poisoning is severe or lasts for hours, brain damage or death can occur due to lack of oxygen.

The most common signs of carbon monoxide poisoning in pets are an increased respiratory rate and abnormal sounds heard via stethoscope in the lungs during breathing. Some individuals will also develop cherry red mucous membranes and neurological abnormalities.

ACTION: 


Contact the nearest available veterinary team – and transfer your pet directly to the nearest appropriate facility. Your dog will need oxygen and intensive supportive care in a hospital.

#3. Delayed Complications (onset: weeks to months later)

Pneumonia: Pneumonia may develop as a result of delayed complications from smoke inhalation. When the airways are damaged, they can’t protect the lungs from inhaled bacteria and other microbes or fungal spores.

Neurologic Damage: Left untreated, smoke inhalation could show up as a neurological disorder later on. Your pet may have difficulty walking, exhibit changes in behaviour, and have seizures.

The effects can be temporary or lasting, depending on the extent of damage and the time your pet has been left untreated. Oxygen deprivation or direct chemical effects on the brain can cause neurological damage.

Treating Smoke Inhalation in Pets 


The best action to take if you believe your pet has inhaled smoke is to get the animal to your veterinarian as soon as possible. Smoke inhalation is typically treated with oxygen therapy, and the results can be good if the animal is treated quickly.


Complications resulting from smoke inhalation may not be immediately apparent, so owners should monitor pets closely. If you notice any changes after your pet is discharged from hospital – call ahead, and return with your pet to the veterinary facility.

Tips to Help your Pet Avoid Smoke Inhalation

There are preventative measures you can take if a bushfire breaks out near your home.

✔️ Keep your pets indoors if there is smoke in the air.


✔️ Forgo using heating or air conditioning in the event of smoke in the environment if you can, as they tend to draw in air from the outside.


✔️ If you must leave an area affected by a fire, look to move yourself and your pets to an area of higher elevation since smoke tends to settle in valleys.


✔️ Consider evacuating to a coastal area, as air quality is generally better in these geographic locations.

This article provides a baseline of information from which you can make a plan to safely navigate the bushfire season with your own pets.


It is by no means comprehensive and advice can change according to your dog’s individual circumstances, and as we acquire more knowledge and skills regarding the clinical management of animals affected by fires. 

Please speak to your own vet to create a good plan for now (if you are ever uncertain, call them). They are there to help as are your local CFA and other authorities.

written by Dr. Kat Gregory, December 2019 (all rights reserved).

About the writer

Dr Kat Gregory BVSc. MANZCVSc. (animal behaviour; anaesthesia & critical care) initially trained as a vet – working a large part of her career in emergency, critical care and anaesthesia. She is now works primarily as a consultant in applied animal behaviour & training.

Over the past 20+ years she has worked with people’s pets, but particularly in the zoo and aquarium industry, locally and internationally, to facilitate the creation of positive resolutions to a diverse range of problems and challenges in animal behaviour and training. She has a large focus on veterinary and husbandry procedure training – co-operative proactive veterinary care, in which the animal is a confident voluntary participant.


She believes that sharing with other professionals is valuable to improve the welfare (and conservation) of animals more broadly. Dr Kat also regularly presents interactive workshops for a range of organisations – educating / nurturing better trainers, better animal care teams and promoting the positive evolution of animal care. 

“Good training” is not just about “perfect” behaviour, the goal is to nurture reliability and confidence, and ultimately a positive resilience in the human- animal relationship. Ethical animal care, welfare and conservation must continue to evolve and improve – education is the key.

For more information, visit www.creativeanimalsolutions.com or 
request to join the Facebook group www.facebook.com/groups/creativeanimalsolutions/
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