How to help barn fire survivors

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Across the country, dairy fires have been responsible for killing hundreds of cattle and calves. Nearly 300 animals have been killed by fire since Jan. 1. 

Use these tips featured in a previous issue of Bovine Veterinarian to help you and your veterinarian if you find yourself having to treat animals that survived a barn fire:

  • Be prepared. Know who to call for emergency assistance. In most cases you should dial 911 for the local emergency dispatch. You will need to give complete and accurate information about the exact location of your farm, the extent and location of fire or damages and, in the case of fire, the color of smoke coming from the burning structure as well as any potential hazards like pesticide and chemical storage or fuel tanks. Be prepared to prioritize what property to save. It may not be possible to save animals once they are exposed to deadly heat, smoke and gasses.
  • Make human safety first priority. Family members and employees should be accounted for and safe. When working with animals that are frightened, injured and in pain, they may refuse to leave a burning building or run back in, once evacuated. Remind your family and employees to not become victims by trying to save animals.
  • Gather complete information. In the case of a fire or other emergency, your veterinarian will want to get as much information as possible about the situation, including the number of animals impacted, type of injuries encountered, intermediate plans for animal housing and possible treatment or hospital area. This will help your veterinarian to have the appropriate equipment and products before arriving at your farm.
  • Examine and treat affected livestock immediately. With the guidance of your veterinarian, determine which victims to treat first, which animals should be send immediately to slaughter and which ones may benefit from treatment. Include a visual exam and a check of respiration, heart rate and body temperature.
  • Develop a treatment protocol. Shock, burns, dehydration, heat stress and smoke inhalation are all potential outcomes of a fire. With the animal’s immune system compromised, infections and pneumonia are likely and an extended therapy antibiotic may be needed. In the case of lactating dairy cows, determine your ability to segregate milk, or choose products with no milk withhold.

    Treatment of fire victims can include fluid therapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories to treat shock and reduce inflammation, and an antibiotic to keep bacteria in check and head off wound infection and pneumonia.

    Depending on the number of animals to treat, and the extent of dehydration and availability of drinking water, oral fluid therapy with electrolytes may be more efficient and effective than intravenous therapy. If daily treatment with anti-infectives is not practical, consider extended-therapy anti-infectives labeled for the control and treatment of pneumonia. Disposition to immediate slaughter or euthanasia is often the most appropriate action when animals have sustained extensive burns.

This practice tip contributed by BJ Jones, DVM, Center Hill Veterinary Clinic, Darlington, Wis., and Doug Braun, DVM, Pfizer Animal Health.



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