Texas A&M veterinary team is helping animals affected by wildfires


An emergency response unit has been deployed to the Texas panhandle to care for animals in crisis and support local shelters

Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team

The Veterinary Emergency Team is shown during preparations for deployment to the Texas panhandle, where wildfires are burning. (Photos: Rachel Knight/Texas A&M University)

An emergency response team from Texas A&M University School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (VMBS) has been deployed to the Texas panhandle, where a cluster of wildfires are affecting animals. The largest of 5 fires in the region, the Smokehouse Creek Fire, was spread over 850,000 acres on Wednesday, according to VMBS; and 60 Texas counties were placed under a disaster declaration by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this week.1

“Fires are unpredictable and often enter a community without warning; when this happens, more people and animals are likely to be affected,” Deb Zoran, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, Veterinary Emergency Team director, said in a news release.1 “In these situations, it’s critical that we begin helping to take care of affected animals and support the local veterinary community as quickly as possible.”

Natural disasters like wildfires can cause animals to become displaced, injured, or in need of temporary care with shelter and food. In the Texas panhandle, government agencies and other entities are assisting animals in need through a variety of ways. Animal supply points are receiving and distributing items, a hay hotline has been established by the Texas Department of Agriculture, and the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) is working to reunite found livestock and stray cattle with their owners.2

Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team

VET members load a trailer in preparation for deployment.

The Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) aims to provide resident animals and search and rescue dogs with veterinary medical care, and support local animal shelters. Nine individuals, including 5 students, were deployed to the Texas panhandle on Wednesday. Additional members of the team—comprised of VMBS faculty, staff, and students, as well as other volunteers—are expected to join the deployed group today.1,3

Among the working canines are a dozen dogs deployed with the Texas A&M Texas Task Force 1. “Working dogs are critical to the success of search and rescue efforts, and our role is to make sure they have the nutrition, post-work rehabilitation, and veterinary care they need to continue providing hope and answers to loved ones of those in the affected area,” Zoran said in the release.1

For all species, the TAHC is urging the public to monitor their animals and consult with a veterinarian if signs of fire-related injury are presented. These signs may include distress, fatigue, lesions, and exertion.2

Animal owners can also be advised about caring for their pets and livestock in areas where smoke caused by wildfires may affect their health. American Humane and the American Veterinary Medical Association recommend owners take precautions as follows:4

  • Limit the time dogs and cats spent outdoors.
  • Keep birds indoors at all times when smoke or particulate matter is present.
  • Keep doors and windows shut.
  • Avoid strenuous activity and exercise for all animals. This includes playing fetch, going for a jog, or taking a long walk.
  • Take your pet outside for short bathroom breaks and come immediately back inside.
  • Bring outdoor water bowls inside so it doesn’t collect airborne particles associated with the smoke.
  • If pets have to be outside, mornings are preferred, as the weather is cooler.
  • Livestock need a 4-to-6-week period to recuperate after the air quality returns to normal is needed. Attempting to handle, move, or transport livestock may delay healing and compromise these animals’ performance.

Through social media, the TAHC is also advising livestock owners to allow their animals to have movement. In a post on X (formerly Twitter), the agency suggested opening gates, cutting fences and herding livestock to help ensure the safety of these animals.

Students deployed with the VET team are receiving real-world, hands-on experience in providing emergency care to animals and managing their safety during a crisis event. Funded largely by donations,1 this Texas A&M team is part of the VMBS emergency preparedness rotation that draws students from around the world. The rotation educates students about basic preparedness and threat analysis and includes a visit to a Texas county, where students conduct a risk assessment and collaborate with regional leadership to develop a disaster plan.3

The VET team was previously deployed in Texas 19 times—and 26 times overall—responding to wildfires, hurricanes and tornadoes. In addition to working throughout Texas, the team's deployments have sent volunteers to California and Florida.3 According to Zoran, although no 2 deployments are the same, the team’s responses share similarities.1

“When we deploy in response to wildfires, we know we’re going to see burn victims, we know we’re going to have to work hard to keep the search and rescue dogs safe, and we know that the hope we provide by supporting the search teams,” Zoran said, in the release. “Helping reunite a family with a beloved pet is invaluable and more than worth the hard work that goes into disaster response efforts.”1


  1. Knight R. Texas A&M veterinary emergency team deploys to Texas panhandle in response to wildfire. News release. Texas A&M University. February 28, 2024.
  2. Natural disaster: animal preparation and response. Texas Animal Health Commission. Accessed February 29, 2024. https://www.tahc.texas.gov/emergency/naturaldisaster.html
  3. Knight R. Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team shapes how future Aggie veterinarians prepare to respond to disasters. News release. February 7, 2024. Accessed February 29, 2024. https://vetmed.tamu.edu/news/press-releases/vet-clinical-rotation/
  4. Keeping pets safe from wildfire smoke. dvm360. June 8, 2023. Accessed February 29, 2024. https://www.dvm360.com/view/keeping-pets-safe-from-wildfire-smoke
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