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What to do with your pets when there is a bushfire

One of the wonderful parts of Wahroonga and the Ku-Ring-Gai area is it’s wonderfully leafy. The downside of course is that bushfires are a real risk. We’ve covered what to do with your family pets in a natural disaster style situation previously.

At all times, if you and/or your pets are at imminent risk from a fire situation, you should follow the advice handed down by the Fire and Rescue NSW, SES, Ku-Ring-Gai Bushfire Brigade and/or local area command police.  This post is more about some of the responses you may see in your family pets when fire is a feature of the surrounding landscape but not an immediate threat.

Let’s have a look at how a bushfire at some distance can still impact family pets and what you can do

Heat stroke and pets

We’ve spoken about heatstroke in family pets previously. It’s appropriate to remember heatstroke as an issue when a bushfire rages nearby.

You can find the full rundown in our heatstroke specific blog but as an overview, you should watch out for signs of distress. These include salivating, excessive panting, agitation, whining and general unrest.

Also make sure you:

  • Provide access to clean, fresh drinking water for drinking and add ice cubes to the water to keep them cooler for longer
  • Ensure your pet has a cool, shaded area to rest in
  • Bring your pet inside if possible. This not only gives them shade, it also gives you a better opportunity to monitor them. It also may aid in reducing their stress levels
  • Wipe your pets down with cool, damp towels. With cats or other pets that are not fond of water, you can use wash cloths to dampen belly or even pat with wet hands
  • Provide wet towels and cool surfaces for your pets to lie on
  • Give access to bathing water for birds and dogs if you have the space

Remember, excess heat can cause all kinds of health issues with pets. Vigilance around heatstroke helps keep your family pets safe.

The dangers of bushfire smoke

You don’t have to be near a bushfire for your family pets to end with smoke-related issues. The first rule of bushfire smoke is that you and your family pets should avoid inhaling it as much as possible. This means staying indoors with windows and doors closed. Birds are particularly susceptible to smoke inhalation and should be moved to secure indoor location as soon as you know smoke may pose an issue.

With cats and dogs, you may need to limit and supervise bathroom breaks to ensure minimal exposure to smoke. You should also avoid exercising or over-exciting your family pets when smoke is present. The poor air-quality may be harmful to your pet so it’s best to wait until the smoke clears. You can also listen for Air Quality reports, so you can make an informed decision about when it is safe to exercise your pets again.

Be on the look out for the following symptoms:

  • Changes to breathing such as coughing, gagging, laboured patterns and signs of struggle
  • Asthma- like symptoms such as wheezing, tightness of chest and shallow breathing
  • Irritated eyes and excessive watering, squinting, redness, conjunctivitis in the eye
  • Excessive pawing at eyes and/or nose
  • Reduced appetite and thirst
  • Nasal discharge, sneezing, mucus
  • A loss of balance and general disorientation
  • Inflamed throat or mouth
  • Fatigue or weakness

Unchecked smoke inhalation can lead to serious issues such as fainting, coma and seizures. It may also damage the lungs. If in doubt, it’s always best to gain veterinary advice and assistance as soon as possible.

Look for signs of distress

Our family pets are incredibly cluey and can pick up on all sorts of emotional micro-expressions and sentiments from us. They also understand bushfire and what that means in terms of safety.

If we’re stressed by fire, our pets may also be affected.

You may find that your family pets are agitated and unhappy at this time. Some pets may dig more than usual as some of the instinct with animals is to bury themselves during fire. You may also find they want to hide.

Therefore, it’s important to have a good bond with your pets and to train them to come when called. Family pets that are stressed that could eventually require evacuation are much easier to handle if the training is to rely on you for answers.

Make sure you keep your pets close. Look for ways to calm their nerves.

If you are not at risk, your family pet will start to soothe. You can also try the following techniques when your pet is stressed:

  • Petting, brushing and massaging your family pet
  • Making Kongs and other puzzle style toys available to allow for distraction and stress relief
  • Keep your routine as close to usual as possible
  • Spend quality time together
  • Supervise any toilet breaks or outside activities to ensure they don’t attempt escape and to also allay fears

When bushfire strikes, it’s always safety first

We hope none of you ever face bushfire or housefire issues. If, however this is a real possibility, safety must be your number one priority.

The safety of you and your family and family pets should be of the utmost priority when dealing with any kind of natural disaster. This includes bushfires. Prevention is always better than cure.

Make sure you have an actionable disaster plan in place. Rehearse the plan with your family so that if time comes for action and evacuation, you’re ready. Pack kits that help make evacuation simple that include both human and animal alike. Include pet carriers and seatbelts to aid in transporting your pets as part of this process. Listen to local authorities and news for updates. If in doubt, always err on the side of caution.

If you or your family pet is injured by fire, whether that be through smoke inhalation, heatstroke or burns, seek medical attention immediately.

Want more advice on keeping your family pets safe and healthy? Contact Fox Valley Animal Hospital today.

About the Author
Owner and Vet Alex Brittan, Vet Katie Syms and the team of Fox Valley Animal Hospital pride themselves on quality service. Fox Valley Animal Hospital is the one you choose for your family pet when the care your animal receives really matters.