Urgent fire warning for Aust horse owners

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Veterinarians in the Australian state of New South Wales are imploring horse owners in bushfire areas to move their horses now or risk losing their animals.

A state of emergency was declared in NSW yesterday morning as a result of catastrophic fire conditions. Up to 100 bushfires are threatening large areas of the state and authorities have extreme fire danger warnings in place for the Greater Sydney, Illawarra and Shoalhaven and Southern Ranges areas today.

“If you have not yet implemented your disaster plan and moved your horses to a safe and secure area, now is the time to act,” said Dr Sam Nugent, President of Equine Veterinarians Australia (EVA). “If you cannot get your horses to a safe area then the ideal location is a large, well-grazed paddock or a series of smaller paddocks, with a good reliable water source and with the internal gates left open.”

Nugent said that it is critical to not lock horses in a stable, holding yard or similar environment, as they may panic and hurt themselves if confined. “We also ask that you remove all gear as well as rugs from your horse, as these could get caught on fences, melt or become very hot and cause serious burns.”

“For safety, it is most important to not let your horses out on the roads as they will be in more danger from traffic and fire,” Nugent said.

He said horses who were not identifiable by microchip or brands should have their owner’s name written on them, preferably with a grease crayon. Other means of identification included plaiting name tags into the horse’s mane.

“Forward planning can be the biggest asset when trying to protect the safety and wellbeing of your horses if you live in a high-risk bushfire area.

“These are unprecedented and dangerous times, act quickly and hopefully we can keep all of our horses safe,” Nugent said.

Being prepared with pets

Dr Julia Crawford, President of the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), said those living in bushfire zones will have planned ahead and be prepared for such emergencies.

“But we can’t stress enough how critical it is that pets are also included in any emergency plans.”

Crawford said this did not just include how to handle pets in the case of an evacuation, but also the necessary steps to maintain their wellbeing in the extreme heat.

“It’s crucial to remember that our pets can’t perspire in the way humans do and produce only a tiny amount of sweat through their footpads. They cool themselves down by panting, but sometimes this isn’t enough, and they start to overheat.”

Any pet can overheat and end up suffering from heat stress (also known as heat exhaustion or heatstroke). Heat stress can occur rapidly and if not treated appropriately can be fatal. Signs of heat stress in a pet include excessive or noisy panting, staggering, seizures, drooling, extreme lethargy and collapse.

“Heat stress can kill your pet, it is an emergency in itself, so it is critical to know the signs and get your pet to a vet as soon as possible,” Crawford said. “This might not always be possible during a bushfire, so it is equally essential that you know how to assist your pet until you can get to a vet”.

“Place your pet in front of an air conditioner or a fan and put wet towels on the hairless parts of their body, such as footpads and the groin, to help them cool down, and ensure they have access to plenty of cool fresh water.”

The AVA recommends putting together an emergency kit for pets ahead of time in case evacuation becomes necessary, including lots of non-perishable food and water in spill-proof containers. It should also contain any medications the pet may be currently receiving, so that treatment is not interrupted if you do have to leave the home.

“If it starts to look likely that evacuation may be necessary, try to confine your pets to the safest enclosed room of the house, such as the bathroom, where they can be quickly collected. Make sure you also have your pet’s carry cages and leads on hand, so you don’t have to search for these if the decision is made to leave” said Dr Crawford.

The NSW bushfire information hotline is 1800 362 361.

AVA information for horse and livestock owners

AVA information for pet owners

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