Here's How to Make Your Home Safer for Your Pet in Case of a Fire
Making pets a part of your home doesn't just mean giving them a cozy place to sleep and a belly full of delicious food. It also means doing what you can to make your home safer for your pet in case of a fire.
In recognition of National Pet Fire Safety Day on July 15, we spoke with Luisa Rapport, information specialist at the Santa Clara County Fire Department in California, and Stephanie Austin, DVM, medical director at the Upper East Side branch of Bond Vet in New York. The following tips can help you improve home fire safety for yourself and your pets, both in terms of preventing fires and minimizing harm to you and your precious animals in case of an emergency.
Preventing Fires When You Have Pets in the Home
Pets and wild animals have a part in starting around 750 house fires each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Because our pets are curious creatures, it's important to take safety precautions and fireproof your home as much as you can.
Be Extra Cautious With Open Flames
It may seem obvious that some of the biggest fire risks in your home are sources of open flames like candles, stovetops, and fireplaces. But when you have pets in the home, these items deserve extra caution. A small scented candle on your coffee table may be safe around humans, but it doesn't take much for your excited pup's wagging tail to accidentally knock it over.
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Depending on your pet, keeping open flames up high and out of reach is a strong solution. But "pets are a little like moths to a flame … They're going to investigate and they don't know there are boundaries," Austin tells Daily Paws. So, if you have a curious climbing cat on your hands, always be sure to keep a close eye when flammable objects are present. In some cases, it may be best to eliminate the unnecessary open flames in your home entirely.
Recognize Household Items That Pose Unique Fire Risks When Living With Pets
Sources of open flames aren't the only items that pose fire risks in our homes. "It's important to know that some household items that are otherwise safe for us can cause a dangerous hazard when pets are present," Rapport says. If you know your dog or cat has a tendency to chew on things in your home, make sure to hide loose wires. Things like kitchen equipment, grooming products, and electronics can also easily be disturbed by a pet and potentially cause a fire, so be careful with the placement and overall presence of these items. And be sure to turn them off and unplug them when they're not in use.
Use Monitored Alarms and Cameras
As much as you might try to keep your adorable companion out of harm's way, sometimes fires do occur despite your best efforts to keep your home safe. In that case, you want to be prepared whether or not you're home.
Smoke alarms are a must in any home, and the U.S. Fire Administration recommends replacing yours every 10 years and testing them at least once a month to ensure they're ready. But if you're not home, an alarm alone won't help your pet to safety. So consider monitored smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that directly alert emergency responders like firefighters (or at least send a notification to your phone) in case smoke or gas is detected.
Likewise, pet cameras not only help you catch cute clips of your pet napping while you're out, but they also can alert you if and when alarms go off and help instruct firefighters where your pet may be located during a house fire. They may also help you notice something that looks risky, like an electrical cord that's been chewed or an appliance that has been left on accidentally.
Tips on Evacuating a House Fire with Pets
While you can't get your pet to recite back an evacuation plan (unless you have a talented bird), you can still practice with them. Rapport advises all pet parents to have an emergency plan, and practice escape routes with your pet. "Include all members of the family in this plan, and make sure they know what to do and where to go," she says. It's especially important to know how your pet might react when an alarm is blaring or when you try to lift them out a window. Being prepared for their reaction will help you be ready to help them to safety.
Know Where Your Pets Nap and Hide
Rapport advises pet parents to know their pets' favorite sleeping and hiding places. Knowing where they may be more likely to hide or take a snooze can help you quickly—yet calmly—locate your pet and get them out safely in case of an emergency. "Remember that pets can be very difficult to round up if they sense stress—especially cats," she adds.
Practice Using Crates and Carriers to Evacuate
Knowing where to find your pets in an emergency is only half the battle. Then you need to be able to get them to safety.
Always know where you keep your pet's leash (or keep an extra one near the evacuation route) in case you need to access it quickly. During a stressful situation, your dog or cat may try to run, so keeping them on a leash while evacuating and waiting outside will keep them safe.
Putting your pet in a carrier or crate could be a good way to get them out of your home safely, but you need to practice this in advance so they can get comfortable with the space and the process. Getting your pet into their carrier can be hard enough on its own. "Imagine trying to do that when you're freaked out during a fire," Austin says.
To avoid delays keep your pet's carrier somewhere that's easy to access rather than stuffed away in storage. As always, practice and preparedness are key, so organizing a fire drill for your household that includes this step could help you and your furry friends get more comfortable with the process.
How To Help Firefighters Locate Your Pets
In case you're not home, or if you're unable to evacuate with your pet, it can be helpful to preemptively let first responders know you have pets at home and improve your chances of reuniting through tags and microchips.
Make It Clear There Are Pets in the Home
Austin says one way to do this is by placing stickers on doors and windows that say how many and the types of pets you have in your home. She also suggests keeping items like a leash or carrier near the front entrance so they're visible to first responders who may enter. That not only can help you locate the gear quickly in an emergency but also signals to first responders that you live with pets.
Keep Tags and Microchips Up-to-Date
Items like collars and name ID tags (even for cats!) do more than just help your pet look stylish and meet new friends at the park. They're also useful if you're unexpectedly separated from your pet. Austin notes that in an emergency situation like a home fire, if all you can do to stay safe is open the door and let your pet run outdoors, then having a tag on their collar is better than nothing at all. It's also always a good idea to have your pet microchipped—and make sure the chip and their tag include your up-to-date contact info to increase the chances that you are able to reunite.
Following these tips could help you prevent a fire or even save your pet's life in case an emergency does occur. Preparing ahead of time for pet fire safety can go a long way toward reducing your risk, so you can enjoy more snuggles with your companions ... just maybe not in front of a fireplace.
A previous version of this story included reporting by Jake Safane.