Bushfires & Our Pets


Every year Summer sneaks up on us, and sometimes, we’re unprepared for what that means for ourselves and our pets. With the official start of the fire danger season starting on January 9th, I think it’s important to review your fire safety plan, and how your pets are involved. With this past Spring bringing flood waters through massive parts of the state, debris has been scattered through the bushland floors. Summer dries out the debris and it becomes tinder for loose sparks. Whilst we all hope we’ll have a safe Summer, having a survival plan can make the difference in an emergency. 

It’s important to have plan that the entire family is familiar with. Having something in place can be the difference between panic packing, leading to forgotten essentials, and being able to get out safely. Our pets pick up on our emotions, and in a mad rush to collect the belongings that have been forgotten, pets can go missing. Cats can hide under the couch, dogs can disappear into a forgotten room. Both can get underfoot.  

The Country Fire Authority (CFA) have resources you can use to build a “go box” or “relocation kit” tailored to your needs. I highly recommend, that if you live in a high danger area, you look at these resources, and modify your plan if you see fit. You can also keep abreast of the fire danger levels in your area by following this link that takes you to the CFA website. 

The most important question you need to answer for yourself, if what choice will you make in an emergency? Will you stay and try to protect your property, or will you leave early? 
If you choose stay, what will happen with your pets? The CFA recommends confining your pets early in the day. This can mean in a secure room, on lead, or in a carrier. Pets will be safest when inside with plenty of food and water. Have towels and woollen blankets available to cover and protect your pets if the need arises. 
Make sure your plans are discussed with your neighbours. In the event you are not home and are unable to get back to collect your pets, your neighbours being aware of your plans can help. If your neighbours are aware you aren’t home, it’s possible they can collect your pets if safe to do so. In this instance having a “go box” for your pets already in your car and having them somewhere secure can save precious time for everyone.  
If your plan is to leave early, make sure you have a place you can house your pets in the event you can’t return home. This could be a boarding kennel, a friend’s house, extended family, or pet-friendly camping locations/hotels. If you have pet insurance, check to see if your pet is covered for emergency boarding, as this can make the choice to leave a lot easier.  

In the event a day comes and you need to leave, having a relocation kit (“go bag”) can make packing the car a smoother experience. Here are some essential items the CFA recommends packing in your pet’s bag. 
  • A bag of shelf stable food, unopened.  
  • A container of water. We recommend more than a single water bottle. 
  • A bowl for each pet. You can buy easily collapsible bowls these days to conserve space. 
  • A spare collar and lead for each pet, and extending upon that, a slip lead is essential. 
  • Carriers for smaller pets including small dogs, cats, rabbits etc. 
  • Bedding and woollen blankets. 
  • Pet First Aid Kit- We can recommend the St John Pet Kit. 
  • Medications- If your pet is on medications, make sure to have plenty spare in the event you can’t get more. Also have a list of said medications, and dosage.  
  • Medical history. In an emergency it can be hard to recall the simplest details. Have your pet’s medical records including vaccinations in the box. 
  • A favourite toy. Any sort of comfort item might not mean much to you, but in a time of panic, in a strange place, it can mean everything to your pet. 
  • Your vet’s contact details.  
In the event a pet gets loose, make sure your microchip details are up to date. The Central Pet Records is a free resource where you can check microchip details, and follow their advice for registering your pet as lost. Don’t wait to microchip, don’t wait to update the phone number. If your pet is registered with your council, you can check these records for the microchip number. If you’d like to know more, you can visit Animal Welfare Victoria, run by the Victorian Government for more information about microchipping. 
Crate training can be an important tool during fire danger periods, giving your pets a place to be that means comfort and safety can make this anxiety filled time easier on everyone. Giving your pet somewhere safe to be during an unsafe time can ease their anxiety and keep you feeling better in the interim.  
We always hope for a safe Summer, where our friends and family are safe and sound, but being prepared can save lives. 
Now that we’ve covered what you can do in an emergency with your pets, it’s important to cover one more thing, something that is a risk wholly on its own and can be a danger to your pets without risk of bushfires.  
Heat stress. 
In dogs and cats, heat stress can occur when they’re unable to maintain their normal body temperatures. On hot days, extreme and catastrophic days it’s important to keep our pets as cool as possible, as a medical emergency on top of bushfire risk is something to avoid at all costs.  
The Animal Emergency Service states that heat stress is a type of hyperthermia, when the body heats up more than it should, creating stages of heat illness. 
There are three stages, starting with heat exhaustion where you may notice increased panting and increased thirst. If you’re unable to help them regulate soon enough, this can lead to heat stress. You can see symptoms of heavy/heaving panting, and you may notice weakness, or episodes of collapsing. Heat stroke is the most severe with symptoms of drooling, change in gum colour, vomiting or diarrhoea, muscle tremors and can lead to seizures and death.  
If you notice any of these signs during the Summer heat, the AES has a few recommendations 
  • Begin by wetting down you pet’s body with cool, but not cold water. Avoid the face. 
  • If you can, grab a fan to blow over their wet bodies as this will assist in cooling them down. 
  • Call your vet immediately. 
  • DO NOT drape wet towels over their body, as this can actually trap the heat instead. 
In order to avoid hyperthermia, make sure you’re prepared. 
  • Don’t leave your dog in the car alone on hot days. Even a mild day can lead to incredibly high temperatures in a closed car.  
  • Avoid exercising on hot or humid days. If you have to, go in the early mornings or late evenings when temperatures on the sidewalk are low enough not to burn. 
  • When outside, opt for the shady areas. 
  • Always have fresh cold water available. 
  • Short nosed breeds are especially susceptible to hot days. Use extreme caution on hot days with these breeds.  
This may have left you with more questions and slightly worried about the fire season ahead of us, but that’s good. Make a plan, act, survive.