Ask the Vet

Treating Cattle That Are Wildfire Survivors

A cow near Miami, Texas, suffered burns from the recent wildfires. (Photo courtesy of Ryan McCoy)


I see a lot of livestock producers affected by the recent wildfires have been trying to figure out what to do with the animals that have burnt hooves, udders, eyes/eye lashes, smoke inhalation in their lungs, etc. How do you assess the severity of burns on livestock, and how do you determine whether they can be treated or if it's more humane to euthanize the animal? Do you have any advice on how to treat them (re: ointments, etc.)?


Fires can cause severe injuries to cattle. Ashland, Kansas, veterinarian Randall Spare dealt with their experiences in 2017 when wildfires affected producers in his area. He said foot problems were commonly seen. A few days or a week after the event, the hoof can separate at the coronary band. There's a poor prognosis for these animals.

It's also hard to treat those animals with large amounts of skin damaged, but each cow will need to be evaluated individually, as these damages will be different for each animal.

"Slow down and back up to look at the big picture," Spare said. "Each animal needs (to be) evaluated on its own. Check the mucocutaneous junctions of the eyes, mouth, vulva, and anus, as these are sensitive areas."

He said to check the udder even if the teats don't seem damaged. The udder could have been damaged and will get hard. These cows may not produce adequate colostrum or milk. It's important for calves to have colostrum, and he suggests giving colostrum to new calves of these cows who have been through a fire if there is any question.

In some cases, calf ranches, 4-H or FFA students could better care for the orphan calves, so producers can focus on recovery.

"Some slaughter plants may take some of the cows, and they could be worth more than the Farm Service Agency Indemnity," Spare said. "In any case, producers should get in contact with their local Farm Service Agency to see what assistance may be available."

Bulls should be examined at prepuce and for damage to scrotal skin. Even if they sustained minimal damage to the scrotum or testicles, semen can be affected for up to 60 days from any heat.

The cattle Spare dealt with in the 2017 Kansas wildfire showed very few respiratory and pneumonia issues. Very few were treated. Long-acting antibiotics and bland ointments can be helpful to burnt cattle, but checking with local veterinarians for specific recommendations is important.

Extra note from Dr. McMillan:

This is a very emotional time for all the cattle producers who have been through these fires. These animals are not just property, they are a life's work. Caring gives hope.


Editor's Note:

Please contact your veterinarian with questions about the health of your herd or other animals. Every operation is unique, and the information in this column does not pertain to all situations. This is not intended as medical advice but is purely for informational purposes.

Email Dr. Ken McMillan at