Pets and bushfires wildfires disasters planning for survival
Australian Summer

There are bushfires.  This is a part of life for many of us, a risk we accept in order to live the lifestyle of our choosing. The current bushfires along the Great Ocean Road are expected to burn all summer, and to date have claimed 116 homes, but thankfully no human lives. In Western Australia there have been tragic consequences with loss of life, homes and livelihoods.  Wildlife and livestock have suffered: vets are being called from all over Australia to volunteer in triage clinics.  These fire-ravaged areas and others around the country are a poignant reminder to the rest of us:

Be prepared.

Do You Have a Bushfire Survival Plan?

If your home is located near bush, grassland or coastal areas, it is imperative you have a Bushfire Survival Plan that includes your pets.  CFA Victoria advise that the safest option is to be well away from high-risk bushfire areas on severe, extreme and catastrophic (code red) fire danger days.

The keys to giving your pets the best chance for survival are:

Pets and Bushfires: Planning for Survival

Be Sure Your Pets are Easy to Identify

  • A collar with their name and your phone number.  If there is room include your address as well.  Put a spare collar with tag in your pet evacuation kit.
  • Ensure your pets are registered with the local council and are wearing current registration tags.
  • Ensure your pets are microchipped and that the details are up to date.  Vets regularly see microchipped strays whose contact details are disconnected phone numbers or former owners.  It’s important that the “alternative contact” you choose for the microchip is someone who does not live in the same home.  That way if you are not contactable, they may be.  The National Pet Register provides free identification for dogs and cats in Australia.

Prepare a Bushfire Evacuation Kit for Your Pets

Put together the items you might need if you were forced to suddenly evacuate with your pets.  Keep them somewhere safe and easily accessible, and ensure all members of the family know where to find them.  Check your kit periodically to ensure contents are not expired.  You can find excellent quality first aid kits in our store.

pet bushfire evacuation kit

High Fire Risk Days: Where Will Your Pets Go?

Plan ahead.

Decide if you wish to keep your pets with you or move them to a separate, safe location.  Many evacuation centres do not allow animals, including family pets.  Check with your local council about pet-friendly options.

If you intend to move them to a friend or family member’s home, discuss it with them now.

If you intend to place them in kennels or a cattery, make a list of available facilities in the area and include their contact details.  Ensure it is easy to find a number and call them in advance to check availability.  It’s imperative that all vaccinations are up to date and you have records with you, as many boarding facilities will not take animals without proof of current vaccination status.

Discuss Plans with Your Neighbours

Have a chat with the neighbours so everyone is on the same page in terms of bushfire plans.  If they are home on a high-risk day they will then be aware of your wishes for your animals, and you theirs.  There is no more important time for crystal clear communication and teamwork than during an emergency.

Practice!

Like any emergency drill, your evacuation needs to be well practiced.  It will always take longer than expected, but if you go through the motions a few times a year you will have the confidence to work through what needs to be done in a logical order.  Ensure every member of the family knows the plan and where to find the necessary equipment.

  1. If your pets are outside, bring them into the house so they are confined and easy to catch for transport.
  2. Find your pet evacuation kit.
  3. Check your pets have collars with identification attached.
  4. Put cats and small dogs in individual carriers and larger dogs on leashes.
  5. Load your pets and then your pet evacuation kit into your vehicle.
  6. Go for a drive. Practice the route you would take in an emergency.

Keep in mind that evacuation is stressful for all involved, including family pets.  Opportunities to become comfortable with carriers and transport coupled with lots of positive reinforcement can help immensely.  Bringing a familiar item of bedding and a favourite toy can also assist them in feeling calm.  When away from home ensure plenty of opportunities for toilet breaks and leg stretching and regular access to drinks of cool, fresh water.  In extreme hot weather there is a serious risk of heat stroke.

Stay safe everyone, and let us know in the comments if you have any other advice for including pets in a bushfire survival plan.

Pets and Bushfires: Be Prepared

Joanna Paul
Dr. Joanna Paul BVSc (hons) BSc Jo is a practicing small animal veterinarian based in Melbourne, Australia. Working in partnership with loving pet owners to ensure their fur-kids remain happy, healthy family members life-long is what brings her joy. Well, that and taking naps. Jo strongly believes that helping to maintain the wonderful bond between a pet and their human is reason enough for a happy dance.
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