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  • Karen Ostenried

What happens to pets and horses after the fires.

When I sat down and wrote my first article for people involved in the fires I thought it would be just one piece but there is so much more information required to educate those affected, those who are going into the regions to help, and those that are connected to those affected. My medical science background came in very handy after the fires but I am not a qualified vet so all I am going to write about are more general things to look for and easy home remedies. I strongly advise people seek veterinary advice. I wanted to explain and let you know what to look for in pets if not the obvious.


As you have all seen our native wildlife, livestock as well as beloved pets are often involved in bushfires. Without a doubt there is the obvious horrific deaths and severe burns. Native animals do not have very good coping mechanisms for burns, in fact many can't even sweat and will overheat, go into severe shock, get deadly infections and die from what might be considered minor injuries. For stock and pets there are also hidden conditions which appear later on and can be life threatening too. All animals experience shock, just like us but they may exhibit it in a different way.


Many people who had pets, who didn't get injured or burned, failed to notice the first signs. Pets become very lethargic, disinterested and their immune systems maybe depressed and therefore they will be more open to infections including lung infections. Many who have been exposed to a lot of smoke may develop a cough, which needs to be checked out and monitored. If they are in shock or even morning the loss of others, they may go off food or may become very thirsty and drink excessively and may go into hiding. They like their humans will not be business as usual.


  1. I suggest whether your pets appear normal or only slightly affected it is best to give them some form of electrolyte to boost the minerals in their bodies, rehydrate them and also may boost their appetite. When I came up into the area I had brought with me a horse product called Recharge, which is liquid electrolyte formula to give horses after excessive exercise or training. I walked around the streets and gave doses to friends and neighbours to add to their pets drinking water at the calculations that I worked out based on body weight. It made a big difference to dogs in particular and horses. This is not the only type of thing they will need.

  2. If they have any injuries or burns you can dress them with aloe vera gel and bandage if they will let you. They will be in extreme pain so even the most docile dog or cat may be very defensive and like the horses it was very difficult to apply even the gel to their burns.

  3. I of course also advised them to seek vet advice as soon as possible as there are many different gels and lotions to treat specific species and injuries. Unfortunately our horse float was destroyed along with the car to tow it and vets weren't allowed in the area for several days.

  4. It won't hurt though to try and get some Vitamin C into them somehow if they seem OK. For horses, dogs and cats and possibly birds you can mix Rosehip shells or granules into feeds. Rosehips are a high source of Vitamin C and I know most animals will accept them in their food. Vitamin C is a great boost to the immune system and can be use to combat infections, and bites but is not a miracle worker. If you dissolve Vit C tabs into water they will reject it as it tastes horrible and bitter.

  5. Most horses that survive may have burns to their legs, feet, soft areas such as their bellies, faces and genital areas. Our pony Sugar, had burns to about 40% of her body including a burn through her chest which was so deep you could see the muscle wall. She also had severe burns to all four legs and her face including inside her mouth, around eyes and nose. Being a pony she was closer to the ground and flames. We worked out she went deaf for almost a year following the fires. Duke is a 15 hand cross breed, had burns to his feet, face, and groin. His face had been sliced open on one side by a piece of corrugated iron but because the iron was burning hot it cauterized the incision so no blood loss thank goodness.

  6. Early On. In the days and weeks following many horses were transported to vet hospitals by volunteers with floats and were treated there. When animals are in shock or extreme pain they will usually not want to move, be hunched over and in bad situations be shivering or shaking due to the shock and pain. The vets and vet nurses and volunteers did an amazing job and we can't thank them enough. The biggest worry with horses is their feet. Many had to be euthanized weeks after the fires as they would lose the hoof wall which means their feet were unsupported or protected but it depended on prognosis and expense for recovery and how many feet were involved. Others never cleared lung infections and with their immune systems down they just couldn't clear the problems and their quality of life was greatly reduced.

  7. Injuries. Sugar, had most of the veins in her legs burnt and this affected her circulatory system and she couldn't control her body temperature, so we would have to constantly put her rugs on and off as the weather and temperature changed all year round for the next 5 years. The hole in her chest wall healed very quickly. She was deaf for a long time so when we approached her we needed to always come from the side so she wouldn't get a fright. She couldn't lick normally as her tongue was badly burned so she learned to lick using the underside of her tongue. Her hoof walls cracked but luckily they remained attached. Every time she got the smallest of scratches, they resulted in massive infections and I became even more skilled at IV and IM injections but the vet bills were horrendous. Unfortunately as our finances dwindled we got to a point where we could no longer look after Sugar and returned her to her original owners and she unfortunately passed away last year. Duke had plastic surgery on his face, his tear ducts were damaged so I had to flush his eyes regularly and treat a number of eye infections. His legs were not burned as badly as Sugars and they healed normally, however the soles of his feet have never fully recovered and so in order to take him out of the paddock on a dirt track or path we have to put protective boots on all four hooves. Trimming is a bit tricky too.

  8. The mental health was another issue but the story behind this healing is what led me to what Duke and I now do for others. Duke's behaviour before the fires was not great but I had only had him for eighteen months and he had been out of action for twelve of those months but was improving with training. After the fires he became so fearful that he was becoming dangerous and many people were telling me to get rid of him. I felt I had let my horses down by not being there to save them on the day so there was no way I was going to let him down again, plus he had been a fantastic patient in his recovery.

An Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) program called Horses For Hope started running in the area and I was offered a place, I thought, to fix Duke's behaviour problems and make him safe to be around again. I quickly learned that Duke was responding to my high levels of adrenaline and cortisol which were stuck on overdrive release since the fires. This is common after disaster for humans but it is not good. These hormones had been pumping into my body for so long I didn't notice it and took it as feeling normal. The other features like not sleeping, digestive problems and memory loss and raised heart rate were all symptoms associated with chronic stress which was a fight or flight response to the fires.


Horses are so sensitive they can monitor our heart rate, and the reason why he was so terrified especially around me was that my body was signalling to him that we were both in imminent danger, and this sent him in fight or flight mode, which on occasion meant running through me and rushing and jumping around. Through the EAT program I learnt to manage my fight or flight reaction and calm my heart rate down so that allowed Duke to do the same.

The effect was so dramatic and almost magical it probably saved my life as prolonged stress can lead to permanent damage to the brain, heart attack, stroke and other life threatening events. When I finished our six or 8 sessions Duke continued with them as their therapy horse helping other humans get control of their emotions and learn to manage their energy again. I was so impacted by the way a horse could change human responses that I later made it my mission to somehow apply it to create a business.


After doing a lot of research I became qualified as an Equine Assisted Facilitator in March 2017 and to this day, Duke is our number one equine teacher helping people in many areas of their lives. I hope this helps in your understanding of what to expect after the fires are gone. If you would like to find out more about our recovery or Equine Assisted Learning and it's applications for individual and team growth and resilience please contact me via our website or social media. Karen


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