Caring for livestock after a wildfire

From the Washington State Department of Agriculture, August 2017

Like humans, livestock also face health risks from wildfires. Animals suffering pain, shock, and long-lasting complications from burns or inhaling smoke particles are concerns for livestock owners.

Prepare for wildfires

  • Establish a wildfire evacuation plan.
  • Limit exercise. Don’t force livestock to perform strenuous activities that put stress on their lungs.
  • Provide plenty of fresh water. Keep water near feeding areas. Drinking maintains moist airways and helps breathing. This allows the windpipe and large and small airways to remove smoke particles and prevent disease.
  • Sprinkle or mist livestock holding areas and provide low-dust or dust-free feeds. This limits dust exposure and reduces particulate matter.
  • Provide recovery time. Airway damage from wildfire smoke can take several weeks. Allow livestock time to recuperate. Handling or transporting animals can worsen their condition.

Work with your livestock veterinarian to help you triage

  • Severely burned animals experiencing skin damage and shock may need to be euthanized. Emergency euthanasia options include captive bolt gun, firearm gunshot (laws and regulations may apply), or barbiturate overdose from a veterinarian.
  • Burned areas of skin become leather-like and slough off in the first weeks post-burn. Keep wounds clean while maintaining minimal contact.
  • Keep track of feeding habits. Not eating, or going off-feed, is an indicator of possible pain or sickness.
  • Pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) can occur. Livestock that has inhaled hot gases may have a cough and frothy material discharging from the nose. If you see these symptoms in your animals, contact your veterinarian immediately.
  • Examine animals carefully. The depth and severity of burns may be difficult to see, especially if the animal does not appear pained. It is possible for burns to destroy nerve endings, meaning the animal may not show signs of pain despite severe tissue damage.
  • Check animals’ progress daily. Burn injuries may worsen for up to six weeks following injury.
  • Daily reassessment of each and every burned animal is extremely important.
  • The condition of an animal that has been burned or exposed to smoke can change drastically in the days and weeks following a wildfire. Some damage might not be evident upon initial inspection.
  • Please consult with your veterinarian to discuss pain relief options.