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,  including 105 calves and cows killed in a Minnesota barn fire earlier this week.

Here are tips featured in a previous issue of Bovine Veterinarian addressing how veterinarians can treat fire survivors:

  • Help your clients be prepared. Producers should know who to call for emergency assistance and in most cases they should dial 911 for the local emergency dispatch. They will need to give complete and accurate information about the exact location of their 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. Livestock owners should be prepared to prioritize 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 clients to not become victims by trying to save animals.
  • Gather complete information. In the case of a fire or other emergency, get as much information as possible from your client, including the number of animals impacted, type of injuries expected, intermediate plans for animal housing and possible treatment or hospital area. Ensure you have the appropriate equipment and products you may need before you get to their farm.
  • Examine and treat affected livestock immediately. Determine which victims to treat, which animals may be appropriate to send immediately to slaughter and which 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 should be considered. In the case of lactating dairy cows, determine the producer’s ability to segregate milk, or choose products with no milk withhold.

    For treatment of fire victims, 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 is recommended.

    Depending on the number of animals to treat, 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.