Veterinary Disaster Medicine: Working Animals Wayne E. Wingfield, Sherrie L. Nash, Sally B. Palmer, Jerry J. Upp. Published by Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, paperback, 344 pages, Price £51.95, ISBN: 978-0-8138-1017-1

Whether in search and rescue, explosive detection, transport or cadaver location, working animals are a critical component of disaster response – but just like emergency services personnel, they are vulnerable to injury, exhaustion and death.

With this in mind, Wayne Wingfield and Sally Palmer, authors of the acclaimed textbook Veterinary Disaster Response, team up with Sherrie Nash and Jerry Up, to put together a guide for personnel who work with or treat working dogs and horses. The authors have all been deployed in disaster zones and bring a depth of practical experience to this subject.

The book is divided into ten chapters. The first chapters, which cover first aid for working dogs and horses, provided a basic first-aid refresher most suited to persons unfamiliar with working with these species. These chapters are easy to read and well illustrated with images, such as how to apply a bandage to the limb of a horse or how to secure a gauze muzzle on a dog. Where possible, information is supplied in table or graph form.

These are followed by a chapter on veterinary triage, which provides invaluable guidance for anyone treating animals at the scene of a disaster or overwhelming numbers of animals in the clinic or hospital setting.

The following chapters cover a range of common and uncommon scenarios, with a clear emphasis on man-made disasters, including bomb blasts and explosives, weapons of mass destruction threats, chemical injury, radiological events and bioterrorism. These chapters address canine and equine specific health concerns resulting from such disasters. There is no doubt that such information will save lives. For example, in discussing radiological events the authors point out that for every 7-fold-increase in time following radiation release, there is a ten-fold decrease in radiation. Delaying deployment of cadaver locating dogs and their handlers by a matter of days may reduce their radiation exposure to almost negligible levels.

Another chapter addresses selected animal pathogens (including their potential use in bioterrorism and zoonotic potential) and the final chapter summarises different methods of veterinary euthanasia.

Where bioterrorism and disease epidemics are discussed, the degree of risk of each pathogen to key species (dogs, horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, cats, birds and other animals) is conveyed via a colour-coded table.

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The information is necessarily general in nature – anyone working with a specific, known biological threat or epidemic will need further information to prevent and treat the condition. The quality of the information is generally good, with the odd exception. For example, the discussion on Hendra virus relies on dated sources and understates the risk of the pathogen, which has a mortality rate of 50 per cent among humans. Granted – it can be difficult to keep up with the pace of new information about these agents, particularly as many are actively researched due to their bioterrorism potential – but the information provided is a useful starting point.

The text is in point form to aid the reader in finding information quickly, although at times the authors digress which renders some sections a little too wordy. In addition, there information in the first two chapters (most notably about solutions used for flushing wounds) which is repetitive and may be better presented in an appendix to these chapters.

The book is designed for a US audience, thus the emergency response contacts directory only lists US-based organisations, however many of the websites listed provide information which is useful to veterinarians worldwide.

Because one is never fully prepared for disaster when it strikes, this book is a potentially useful addition to any veterinary hospital – the key is in reading it before disaster strikes. It is also a book highly recommended for anyone associated with working animals, particularly search and rescue animals which may be exposed to hazards in their line of duty.

Anne Fawcett

Anne Fawcett is a small animal general practitioner based at Sydney Animal Hospitals Inner West. She lectures in professional practice at the University of Sydney and contributes regularly to The Veterinarian Magazine.