Emergency animal management


Ratification Date: 15 Oct 2010


Government authorities and relevant agencies should engage veterinarians in the development and implementation of local, state and federal plans for disasters and emergencies involving animals, zoonoses, public health or other veterinary-related issues.

Veterinarians have the expertise to give advice on animal welfare, animal behaviour and biosecurity in emergency planning and response. This advice includes any implications for human health and welfare.


Emergencies such as natural disasters, disease outbreaks and man-made disasters can directly affect or put at risk the welfare, behaviour and health of domestic animals, livestock, wildlife, feral animals and zoological animals.

Natural disasters

Australia is a country prone to natural disasters ranging from cyclones in the north to severe bushfires in the south. On average, 54.5 million hectares of land are burnt each year by fire1; 13 cyclones develop per year in Australian waters of which six cross the coast2; and 2.8% of properties in Australia have moderate to severe risk of flooding. 3 Other possible natural disasters include storms, extreme heat, landslide/mudslides, earthquakes, and tsunamis. Animals, the unseen casualties, are often involved or are put at risk. People attending to animals in these disasters often endanger themselves. Frequently people will remain behind in an emergency evacuation as they are reluctant to leave their animals unattended. In hurricane Katrina, when people were ordered to evacuate, over 44% of people who stayed behind, did so because they did not want to abandon their pets.4

Disaster management plans are already in place to address human safety, but many are lacking in the management of animals similarly involved. Animal management needs to be included as a component in all disaster management plans.5,6 Owners need to formulate an exit strategy or safe containment and protection plan in advance of any natural disaster.

Emergency animal disease outbreaks

Australia, due to its isolation, is a country naturally free of many diseases. Through quarantine and disease surveillance, Australia maintains its freedom from these diseases. Emergencies can occur when these exotic diseases enter Australia. It is also considered an emergency if there is a severe endemic disease outbreak that may affect the health and welfare of animals, may pose a risk to human health or may have severe impacts on trade. These exotic and endemic diseases are referred to as Emergency Animal Diseases (EAD’s). EAD’s are a constant threat to animal biosecurity in Australia. When they occur, they can impact on the health and welfare of animals, and place an economic burden on animal and dependent industries. Plans such as The Australian Veterinary Emergency Plan or AUSVETPLAN, are already in place and address many of these threats.7

Manmade disasters

Manmade disasters such as hazardous materials accidents (e.g. oil spills, chemical spills and gas leaks), manmade structural emergencies, prolonged power outages, mass motor vehicle accidents, and terrorism can also impact on animals hence animals need to be included in the relevant response plans.

In the event of a disaster, the behaviour of domestic animals and livestock can be greatly altered increasing zoonotic risk and the potential for animal related injuries. Disease-free areas can also be compromised.

The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) can call upon a diverse range of expertise and manpower from its members and is able to assist in the development and enacting of policies for emergency management response in all levels of government (local, state and federal).

Veterinary premises

As evident with the 2009 Victorian bushfires, disasters can affect veterinary premises. Emergency management also needs to be independently addressed in all veterinary premises so that the health and welfare of patients are not compromised.


  1. Ellis S, Kanowski P, Whelan R. National Inquiry on Bushfire Mitigation and Management, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2004.
  2. Bureau of Meteorology. Frequently asked questions. 2010 www.bom.gov.au/cyclone/faq/, Accessed 25 August 2010.
  3. Insurance Council of Australia. Flood insurance in Australia. July 2010. http://inscouncil.naqtechnology.com.au/Portals/24/For%20Consumers/Risk%20&%20Disaster/Insurance%20Council%20-%20Consumer%20Tips%20Flood%20Insurance.pdf. Accessed 25 August 2010
  4. McCulley R. Saving pets from another Katrina. Time Magazine 2007.
  5. American Veterinary Medical Association. AVMA disaster preparedness. 2010.www.avma.org/disaster/default.asp. Accessed 25 August 2010.
  6. Australian Institute of Animal Management Inc. AIAM position statement on disaster planning in urban animal management. October 2008. www.aiam.com.au/pages/PositionStatements.html.Accessed 25 August 2010.
  7. Animal Health Australia. AUSVETPLAN. June 2010. www.animalhealthaustralia.com.au/programs/eadp/ausvetplan/ausvetplan_home.cfm. Accessed 25 August 2010.

Other relevant policies

Humane destruction of animals


Electronic identification of animals

Animal shelters and municipal pounds

Keeping livestock in peri-urban areas

Harvesting and culling of native fauna