Evacuating animals in emergencies

Page last updated: Wednesday, 11 December 2019 - 9:30am

It is the responsibility of owners and carers of animals to ensure their safety and survival during an emergency. These include livestock, horses, companion animals and wildlife.

The most important priority in the short term is to ensure animals have access to a safe place with good quality water and food, which may mean evacuating the animals to a different location.

Owners and carers of animals should take measures to ensure they can protect their animals without putting at risk the safety of both themselves and emergency responders.

In the event of an emergency, you should act as soon as possible to minimise the risk to lives and property and to ensure ample time to evacuate. Animals respond differently to emergency situations, and may become frightened and stressed. A previously prepared emergency plan will help guide response activities.

As an owner or carer of animals, it is your responsibility to ensure their welfare in case of emergency. Where possible and safe, preference is for animals to be evacuated to ensure their safety.

Animals should only be left behind when it is impossible to move them in advance or to take them with you. If you are unable to evacuate your animals please see our page on Safer areas for animals in emergencies.

Coordinating a safe evacuation

Remain calm

  • Animals can sense panic and distress on humans and become unsettled.
  • Ensure you coordinate timely evacuations and minimise the risk of injury to yourself or your animals in the process.
  • Always follow the directions of the emergency response cordinators.

Prepare to leave

  • The safest option is to leave early as late evacuation can be deadly. On a day of extreme bushfire risk consider leaving the night before or early in the morning (Bureau of Meteorology fire danger ratings are available up to four days in advance).
  • Early evacuation of animals, particularly larger ones such as cattle and horses, is essential. Traffic congestion and access to routes for evacuating larger animals may become more difficult as the emergency severity increases.
  • Be aware of emergency warning information such as Emergency WA and decide early when to start your evacuation. 
  • Locate and confine animals to be evacuated. Smaller companion animals may hide or flee so should be brought inside, and larger animals such as horses should be moved to a stable or confined paddock as they may become increasingly difficult to contain. Animals instinctively react to extreme conditions such as fire and storm with nervousness and panic, and may become aggressive or resist capture.
  • Enlist any available help to handle nervous and difficult animals.
  • Prepare and attach identification information to each of your animals so you can be contacted should you be separated.
  • Check your transport options – including vehicles, trailers, horse floats etc – are roadworthy and ready for evacuation. Fuel up, check tyres are inflated and remove any unnecessary cargo.
  • Have your emergency kit and supplies ready to go (see what to pack).
  • Remain aware of emergency status updates, especially when severe or extreme weather events may cause flash flooding, or when a fire warning has been issued.

Make your move

  • Always carry maps of the area you are entering and know the exit routes.
  • Load your animals for transport, and pack your animal evacuation kit into your vehicle along with any additional supplies you might need. Don't forget your smaller animals or pets; ensure you have an emergency kit for them, they are identified and can be contained safely (e.g. lead, carry cage etc).
  • Trailers and trucks must adhere to the maximum number of animals permitted to avoid animals becoming injured en route.
  • Coordinate relocation of domestic animals and livestock with neighbours, friends or livestock associations as early as possible.
  • Know which evacuation routes you will take to reach evacuation sites. Call ahead to your pre-arranged evacuation site to let them know you are coming.

Finding shelter

  • If you don't have a pre-arranged evacuation site for your animals, head to your local council evacuation location and request further information when you get there.
  • Due to health and safety considerations, animals are generally not permitted inside community evacuation centres with the exception of recognised assistance animals. Those accepted may require appropriate evidence of registration, accreditation and identification.
  • In some instances, evacuated animals may be required to be sheltered with other animals. Where this is the case:
    • ensure your animals have some form of identification
    • bring with you proof of vaccinations and/or sterilisation
    • calm animals before placing them with other animals.
  • Evacuated animals should be located in areas where they will not be harmed by building structures, falling equipment and debris.
  • Keep animals away from areas where chemical products, batteries, petrol or fuels are stored.

Additional considerations

Horses

Horses get easily agitated in extreme weather situations, particularly fire, and even well trained horses may panic or resist capture and loading into floats in high stress situation. Evaucating horses early when you have ample time to react calmly is the safest option. Frequent, precautionary evacuation of horses, where the risk is not severe, may assist both you and your animals to react in a more controlled way in the event a more severe and stressful emergency occurs. 

Some options to improve the safety of horses during evacuations may include:

  • moving paddock leaders/dominate horses first
  • temporary blindfolds
  • wetting tail and mane
  • removing flamable items (e.g. blankets, fly veils) and metals.

Sheep and cattle

Road closures, access to properties and traffic congestion may hinder the ability to evacuate livestock. Any plan for evacuation should be agreed to early to avoid hindering other evacuation efforts or access for emergency responders. 

Traceability of livestock movement remains important for food safety and disease control reasons. Livestock owners should ensure that when animals return from temporary agistment or if they are moved to a livestock shelter (e.g. saleyard, abattoir) from temporary agistment, that they use a valid waybill and record the movement on the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) database as soon as reasonably practicable.

The department’s helpdesk supports livestock owners with any questions about property identification codes (PICs) or NLIS database issues. More information can be found on the Livestock ownership page, or by contacting DPIRD on 1300 926 547 or at NLIS@dpird.wa.gov.au.
 

Read further on Agisting livestock.

Companion animals

Companion animals can easily become confused, hide or get lost in emergency situations. When evacuating with your companion animal or pet:

  • ensure you are calm before handling the animal as they can easily become unnerved if they can sense you are panicking or anxious
  • ensure animals are fitted with appropriate identification at all times:
    • dogs and cats should wear a collar tag with your name, address and phone number
    • microchip registration information and local council registration should be up to date
    • birds can be fitted with a leg band
    • other companion animals may be identifiable through microchip or tattoo
    • current photographs can assist in confirming identification and ownership
  • appropriately secure animals for transport and bring with you any other necessary handling equipment, for example leads, cages and crates
  • carry copies of your pet’s medical and vaccination records.

What to pack

For animals being temporarily housed away from home, they will require:

  • sufficient non-perishable pet food for several days
  • a supply of water for several days (note that animals may drink more when they are stressed)
  • feed/water bowls
  • toilet litter or old newspapers
  • essential medications and first aid kit
  • medical history and vet contact details.

Including familar bedding or scents for evacuated animals can help reduce stress. 

Anyone requiring advice on evacuating with companion animals in areas affected by natural disaster should contact their local council in the first instance.

Read further on Safer areas for animals in emergencies or Recovering for animal welfare after emergencies.

Contact information

Animal Welfare In Emergencies

Further information on reporting animal cruelty is available.

Author

Amanda Nardi-Wallace