Jan 07

How to Help Wildlife In The Fires

The fires in Australia have already caused an estimated half a billion animal lives lost as per the University of Sydney, and so many more ill, injured or left without access to food and water.

In an ideal situation, it is critical that animals with fire related injuries and burns receive Veterinary treatment as quickly as possible. Dehydration, shock, severe burn and smoke inhalation injuries cannot be managed without intensive specialist care, and can take weeks, even months to recover.

Sadly, many people can’t access a Vet, and sometimes wild life rescue groups can’t get in, as they are cut off by the fires.

Here are some tips for first responders to help the best they can until rescue groups and Veterinary help can be accessed for the animal:

  • Call the local Vet or wildlife rescue professional to get species specific advice – there are great info sheets at WIRES here. Even if they can’t access the area you can get help over the phone.
  • Assess the situation from a distance, write down the location etc, and use appropriate measures so that you are not bitten.
  • If you can safely do so, placing the animal in a darkened (and ventilated) cardboard box can help decrease stress.
  • Handling and physical restraint can be very stressful for wild animals. When they are already unwell, the extra stress can be enough to tip them over the edge. Handling should be minimised and stopped if the animal is becoming distressed.
  • Straight to the Vet clinic – let the wildlife rescue group also know which Vet the animal is so that they can follow up directly with the Vet.

If you cannot immediately access a Vet or professional carer, here are some tips:

  • Animals who are alert and can swallow, may be given access to fluids orally. In a shallow bowl best – it can be dangerous to pour water into their mouth in case some enters the lung.
  • Most wounds in wildlife patients are dirty and infected, wound management requires professionals and often sedation due to the stress of handling on a wild animal.
  • Hyperthermia can occur with overexertion, excitement and the fires. The animal may be panting, have open-mouth breathing, red gums and they are likely dehydrated. Stress must be minimised, provide a safe, quiet cool place with water and you can spray water on the feet and mouth (only on mouth if they can swallow).
  • Confine in a safe, clean space with water, and appropriate nutrition, and see Vet as soon as accessible.

Note: that in the cases of severe fire burns – smoke inhalation causes internal burns and injuries – early oxygen is one of the best treatments – and even a few minutes of oxygen at the scene of a fire can make a big difference.

Who to call for wildlife help?

What else can you do for wildlife?

  • Donate to above wildlife rescues
  • Check out WIRES’ advice for helping fire-affected wildlife here. Few major points:
    • Leave out shallow bowls of water for wildlife
    • Keep cats indoors and dogs under control wherever possible so that wildlife can flee safely through your yard if needed
    • Keep a cardboard box and towel (ideally 100% cotton) in the boot of your car in case needed
    • Swimming pools
      • Drape a secured heavy rope over the edge so that animals have a surface to grab hold of and climb out
      • Place bricks on pools steps to make it easier to climb out
    • Don’t approach snakesmonitor lizards (goannas), bats (flying-foxes or microbats)large macropods (kangaroos or wallabies) or raptors (eagles, falcons or hawks). These need trained professionals to safely rescue.

About The Author

Claire is a QLD graduate with 19 years experience as a neighbourhood Veterinarian in Australia and the UK. Animal lover and the founder of VetChat, born from a passion to help pet carers everywhere access trusted advice earlier, for healthier, happier pets. Grateful to be carer to her beautiful Red-dog.