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UC Davis Consults with U of Melbourne on Care of Horses Burned in Australian Wildfires

February 17, 2009

February 17, 2009

The wildfires in southeastern Victoria, Australia did not spare people or animals. As the University of Melbourne treats 15 horses and donkeys for severe burns from the fires, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine is helping with donations of medication and veterinary advice to their colleagues.

Professor John Madigan, who heads the school's new International Animal Welfare Training Institute, has responded with suggestions, observations and recommendations for treatment. He has more experience in this area than many vets.

"We are all very saddened about the terrible fires and losses to people and animals with the Australian bushfires," Madigan says. Since the 2006 wildfires when we treated some 1400 burned sheep, we have gained experience in the long-term care of burned hooves in livestock. We're sharing some of those lessons learned with our colleagues in Australia.

"We saw hundreds of sheep with burned feet," he recalls. "Nobody had really followed up on such long-term care before the 2006 event," Madigan adds. He says that pain control, antibiotics and diet are all important to healing. 

The institute is donating dozens of jars of a medicated antibiotic ointment, a product that Madigan found particularly effective with the burned sheep. The university may use it for their patients and send it into the field for other vets to use with injured animals; Madigan expects to facilitate more donations from the manufacturer.  

Many of the horses and donkeys involved suffered damage to a part of the hoof called the coronary band. In an e-mail message to the University of Melbourne's  Dr. Kate Savage, Madigan advises vets to prepare to feel the impact of animal suffering. "I just treat and observe--prepare to get your heart broken on some when you think things are going good and then pain kicks in. The process of damage goes on for eight weeks at least until you know what you have."

Madigan's advice is not all related to veterinary medicine. "Keep your hopes up," he says. "We had sheep completely grow back a hoof after losing it–several of them. It's just a long process."

Several UC Davis veterinary faculty hail from Australia or have professional ties there. Jane Sykes of the Small Animal Clinic is organizing some fundraising for relief and rehabilitation
of wildlife and domestic animals on behalf of fellow veterinarians here and in her home country. David Maggs, also from Australia and currently on sabbatical leave there, has also been fielding many messages from colleagues around the world, Sykes reports. 

Madigan concludes, "People wonder about the international aspects of veterinary medicine, what can be done. But when something like this tragedy occurs, we realize that we are all part of a small world. We get asked, and we try to respond to make a difference here and abroad."

Media contact: John Madigan, International Animal Welfare Training Institute, (530) 304-1212,