Animal safety in emergencies

Good animal management includes ensuring the welfare of your animals before, during and after emergencies.

Events such as fire, storms and flooding can result in separation between animals and their owners, and possibly injury or death.

Planning for emergencies

  • Understand the types of emergencies and risk level e.g. fire, flood, storm or prolonged extreme heat
  • Insure your animals
  • Practice your survival plan - what are the relocation options for your animals should you be displaced?
  • Discuss your plan with neighbours, friends and family

If you own or manage significant numbers of animals, particularly livestock, you should also consider management strategies for the mass disposal of carcasses.

Related information


In 2015 alone, major rural fires in South Australia resulted in over 72,000 known animal deaths.

Despite this, evidence indicates that animal owners and managers are failing to plan ahead for such situations. Our bonds to our animals can influence our decision making and behavior during emergencies, potentially leading to dangerous or fatal consequences for owner/carers and animals.

The loss, injury or death of animals through an emergency event is not only a tragedy in itself, but can have a lasting impact on people’s emotional and financial ability to recover after an emergency event.

Therefore the consideration of animal management and animal welfare into personal emergency plans not only significantly improves protecting animals during emergency events but also the ability of people and communities to recover.

To assist you in preparing for your animals for major emergencies, Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA), has developed an Animals in Emergencies framework (PDF 1.9 MB), in liaison with other government agencies and organisations including the RSPCA, Animal Welfare League and Primary Producers SA.

Funded by the Natural Disaster Resilience Program, the Animals in Emergencies Framework is aimed at ensuring all animals are fully considered by owners, key government and industry stakeholders when planning for, and responding to, emergencies.

It is a guide on the key issues to be considered in the planning for emergencies, including your responsibility as an animal owner during such events and what assistance and services are available and where.

Getting assistance for injured animals (post emergency)

As soon as it is safe to do so, animal owners and managers should seek veterinary treatment for any injured animals.

Immediate animal relief services after the emergency are provided by a group, led and co-ordinated by PIRSA, known as Agriculture and Animal Services (AAS).

If, as an owner or manager, you believe early assessment is critical for a significant number of animals in the impacted area, please contact PIRSA for assistance.

Services provided to farmers and producers by AAS after an emergency can include:

  • assessing burnt/injured livestock
  • advising on how to access veterinary services
  • assisting with euthanasia of severely burnt/injured livestock on welfare grounds
  • inspecting livestock
  • providing advice on disposal options for deceased livestock
  • coordinating emergency fodder, water and fencing through Primary Producers SA

Organisations within Agriculture and Animal Services that provide immediate animal relief services include South Australian Veterinary Emergency Management (SAVEM), RSPCA, Animal Welfare League and Primary Producers SA.

Private veterinarians and clinics also play a critical role in the ongoing care of injured animals after an emergency.

Disposing of deceased animals (post emergency)

If you are dealing with deceased animals after an emergency, the prompt disposal of the carcasses, particularly when involving large numbers of stock, is vital to minimise any chance of disease.

If you come across wildlife and pest animals in the natural environment, you are advised to leave the bodies so they can decompose. Prompt and appropriate disposal should occur if they are found on your property.

PIRSA can provide advice on assistance for stock carcass disposal and liaises local councils, contractors, stock agents and waste disposal facilities.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has information on the methods and sites for the safe and legal disposal of animal carcasses.
Contact the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources for information on the disposal of deceased wildlife.

Other support, particularly for pets and smaller animals, is available from hired contractors, local veterinary clinics and the Animal Welfare League.

Temporarily sheltering animals (before and post emergency)

During or immediately after a major emergency government agencies will often establish relief centres which offer short term shelter, information and personal support services for affected people.

Assistance animals in most cases are allowed to accompany their owners into a relief centre but that may not always be possible for other animals.

If you have relocated to a relief centre, a safer place or other refuge with your animals you will be responsible for taking care of your animal.

If you do need to find temporary accommodation or agistment for your animals register at your relief centre, where you will be provided with a contact to the AAS who will organize for the relevant participating agency to make contact to discuss accommodation options (which may be on a fee for service basis).

Reuniting owners and animals (post emergency)

It is well known that reuniting animals and owners as quickly as possible after an emergency assists in recovery process.

Quite often for safety reasons, access to your home or property may be delayed immediately after the emergency.

In many cases residents and property owners may be able to enter an affected area earlier than the general public in order to protect properties or stock. Proof of identity or property ownership will be required in these cases.

As a result of the emergency, fences, gates and other enclosures may have been damaged, leading to animals straying onto other properties or roads, creating safety and disease (biosecurity) issues.

Once you have gain access to your home and property, and if it is safe to do so, initially search the area for any lost animals.

If your stock have National Livestock Identification System tags, PIRSA may be able to identify and contact owners of straying stock.

If your animal is microchipped, local councils, SAVEM and your local vets have microchip readers and may also be able to assist with the identification of microchipped animals.

Volunteering (post emergency and recovery period)

Following emergency events the natural response is to support those who have been affected.

People particularly want to help rescue animals at risk or to care for injured animals. As animals may be highly stressed or injured and at risk from disease as a result of the emergency, it is recommended only volunteers with prior emergency training or are a member of official response organisations such as SAVEM should be called upon to assist with animal welfare during the response period.

Untrained volunteers can hinder initial response efforts, place themselves and others at risk and unintentionally act illegally if they handle animals without the appropriate authorisation or training.

As the longer term recovery period can last months or a number of years, it is during this time when volunteers are needed the most.

The State Recovery Office coordinates recovery support services for people affected by emergencies in South Australia. You can register your skills with Volunteering SA and NT to assist with recovery efforts. SAVEM offers training in emergency management for vets and veterinary nurses interested in volunteering for emergency responses.

It is also recommended that the collection of money rather than goods occur to assist those affected by an emergency so that they can purchase what they need most. Spending money in their own communities also assists local businesses in their recovery. Check the various appeals established to assist following an emergency.

After fires and floods, emergency fodder is often required for livestock. Fodder donations are co-ordinated and distributed by Primary Producers SA, through Livestock SA.

Rehabilitating land to support livestock and wildlife

After an emergency event you will often be faced with replacing destroyed infrastructure such as troughs, fences and feeding equipment, along with pasture restoration.

You can support the rehabilitation process on your property by:

  • removing contaminated waste
  • stabilizing and replenishing soils
  • managing stock grazing to enable vegetation/pasture recovery
  • controlling pest plants and animals
  • revegetating if needed.

Rural recovery programs to assist landowners with land and ecosystem rehabilitation are often developed after an emergency with the assistance of PIRSA, DEWNR, Natural Resources Management Boards, local councils and environmental organisations.

Information on such programs are usually available at local recovery centres or through the organizational websites.

Page Last Reviewed: 24 Mar 2017
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