Recovering for animal welfare after emergencies

Page last updated: Friday, 21 February 2020 - 4:08pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

It is the responsibility of owners and carers of animals to ensure their wellbeing following an emergency. This includes bringing evacuated animals home only when it is safe to do so, checking on animals left at the property for illness or injury, and ensuring they have access to safe water and food and shelter.

The recovery phase

The recovery phase of an emergency can be long and may begin while active response to the emergency is ongoing. Coordination of recovery activities may occur at a State or local level and many organisations and government agencies will have roles to play. The responsibilty for recovery will transition to the local government as soon as it is suitable to do so.

As an owner or carer of animals it is your responsibilty to provide for their welfare after an emergency, and every effort should be made to source private supplies of animal welfare services (e.g. food, veterinary care, shelter).

Returning home

It helps to think ahead about what the physical environment might look and feel like when you return home. There may be a delay in returning home if the area is not safe, so it is important that you do not enter your home until emergency responders or recovery coordinators have indicated it is safe to do so.

Once you are able to return home you will need to check the environment’s suitability for your animals, which includes assessing food supply, checking for water contamination, removing debris and cleaning shelters. Animals will also need to be assessed for illness or injury sustained during the event.

In some emergencies, owners or carers may be eligible to apply for Restricted Access Permits which will allow access to a restricted area for a specifed time to undertake limited actions. This may include:

  • tending to livestock (e.g. feed, water, shelter or goods movement)
  • retrieving companion animals or personal belongings
  • assessing the welfare of animals.

For more information on Restricted Access Permits visit the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) webpage.

Visit the Tools and useful links page for a factsheet on Returning home after a bushfire

Bringing evacuated animals home

When the all clear has been given to return home, it is advisable, where possible, to first return without animals that have been evacuated so that damage can be assessed and the property can be prepared for their return.

Owners and carers of animals should bring their animals home only when it is safe to do so. After a natural disaster the environment will have changed and as a result animals may become disorientated, frightened, and aggressive during this time. Take care when releasing them and do so in a confined area to avoid their escape.

Once you return your animals home, check them regularly to ensure they are settling in well. Initially, monitor them at least daily to ensure they are eating properly, have not sustained further injuries and are settling in.

Make sure you can adequately access the areas where animals have been released so you can monitor them regularly and easily feed them if required.

Food and water

The most important consideration in the short term is to ensure your pet or animal has access to suitable, uncontaminated drinking water and a reliable food source:

  • Do not allow animals to drink water that is stagnant or fire and/or flood affected as it could contain high levels of bacteria, ash, debris or other dangerous contaminants. Dispose of contaminated water and replenish with fresh drinking water.
  • Ensure livestock have access to good quality feed and/or suitable pasture.
  • Owners and carers of companion animals should ration any existing unspoilt feed until new feed can be accessed. Be cautious of food items stored in refrigeration, as power supplies may have been interrupted and food could spoil.
  • Food could be in short supply and, with damage to roads, resupply into an area could be delayed. If food supplies are low or have run out, contact your neighbours, any local animal shelters, businesses and industry organisations to arrange food supplies.
  • If the food shortage could be longer term, consider moving your pets or livestock to a friend or family member's property if necessary.

Local government may have arrangements in place to source emergency food supplies as part of recovery operations.

Checking the property is safe

  • Thoroughly search the property to find the extent and nature of any debris. Large household goods, waste or other debris may have been deposited during extreme weather conditions.
  • Before releasing any animals into an area, remove any potentially dangerous debris from the property that could injure your animals.
  • Make sure all accommodation is clean and dry so you can house your animals safely. You will need to disinfect hard surfaces, such as concrete pads, walls and other surfaces if they have come into contact with any floodwater.
  • Check existing structures to ensure they are safe and secure. All areas designed to contain animals (e.g. fences and compounds) should be checked and repaired if damaged. Also ensure that there is adequate shelter to accommodate animals.

Sick and injured animals

  • During daylight, check your animals for any injuries and if they are deemed fit and well, release them into safe and enclosed areas. Once you return your animals home, check them regularly to ensure they are settling in well. Initially, monitor them at least daily to ensure they are eating properly, have not sustained further injuries and are settling in.
  • For animals that are sick or injured and require treatment, speak to your vet in the first instance.
  • Animals found to be starving should not be allowed to suffer and should be fed, relocated or euthanased as a last option. The decision to humanely destroy livestock should only be made on the grounds that the stock are too severely injured to survive or that it would be inhumane to keep them alive.
  • Any deceased animals must be disposed of safely. See the department's guide on deceased animal disposal. Human health concerns, work health and safety precautions and environmental impacts must be considered.
  • Any sick or injured wildlife found should be reported to the Wildcare Helpline on (08) 9474 9055.

Read further on Assessing sheep after a fire or Assessing cattle after a fire.

Lost animals

  • During emergencies including fire, flood and heavy rainfall, animals may become displaced or lost when homes, sheds and fences are damaged or destroyed. If you have found an animal without owner identification, notify your local government in the first instance. Lost animals should be returned to their owner or carer as soon as possible and given appropriate care and treatment.
  • Any sick or injured wildlife found should be reported to the Wildcare Helpline on (08) 9474 9055.
  • Any livestock that may have been displaced in the emergency need to have their movements recorded on the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS). The department’s NLIS helpdesk can be contacted on 1300 926 547 and can assist with any queries regarding the NLIS process.

If your animals are missing, check with your local government, shelters, animal control authorities and boarding facilities for missing animals. Take a recent photograph of your pets with you to help identify them.

Read further on Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements.

Contact information

Animal Welfare In Emergencies

Further information on reporting animal cruelty is available.


Amanda Nardi-Wallace