House fires can be dangerous and devastating for every member of your household, including your pets. For many people, pets are another member of the family, and it’s just as important to keep them safe in the event of a fire as it is other humans. The American Kennel Club estimates that 500,000 pets are affected by house fires each year; if you aren’t properly prepared, your own pet could easily be one of these affected animals, and there could be serious and severe consequences.
However, pets also start about 1,000 house fires each year. As a pet owner, it’s your responsibility to take a multi-faceted approach to pet fire safety. Not only do you need to know what to do with your pet in the event of a house fire, but you also need to take steps to prevent your pet from starting a fire in the first place. Following general best practices for home fire prevention and safety is crucial, and by taking a few extra steps for your pets, you can better protect every member of your household.
Fire Risk Factors for People with Pets
While there are many different things that can cause house fires, having a pet can create some additional risks if you aren’t careful. While some hazards may sound obvious, such as an unattended candle, others are probably less so. It’s especially important that you’re aware of these uncommon fire risks so you can take steps to avoid them, as well as the more apparent causes. Some of the most common fire risk factors for people with pets include:
Candles are the cause of roughly 8,000 home fires each year. While having a lit candle in your home can create a cozy atmosphere, the open flame of a candle can easily lead to a fire if your pet knocks it over or catches on fire themselves. If you do choose to light candles, never leave them unattended — not even to go to the bathroom — or opt for an electric candle instead.
Electronic cords and wires are common in many modern homes to power various devices and appliances, but loose, unsecured cords are also a fire risk. Dogs, cats, and rodents who have access to electrical cords may chew on them and unintentionally cause a fire. Secure or cover loose cords and wires to make them less accessible.
Naturally, fireplaces are a huge fire hazard in your home for your pets. It’s all too easy for your pet to get into the fire or for a rogue spark to catch on animal hair or fur. Don’t let your pet get too close to the fire, and consider investing in stone or marble mantel surrounds that aren’t flammable. Alternatively, an electric fireplace can get rid of this danger altogether while still allowing you and your family to enjoy a fire.
Many pet owners leave bowls of water out for their cats and dogs so they always have access to it, but you should never put a glass bowl out on a wooden porch for your pet. Similar to how you can use a magnifying glass in the sun to start a fire, the sun can heat the glass bowl and set the deck or nearby wall on fire. Use a ceramic, plastic, or stainless steel bowl instead to eliminate this risk entirely.
The kitchen is incredibly dangerous for your pets for a number of reasons, but fires are perhaps the greatest of the many hazards found there. Cooking is the most common cause of kitchen fires, but animals who jump up on the counter and move stove knobs or interact with or disturb hot surfaces can also pose a fire risk. While you may want to consider removing stove knobs or putting a cover on them, you should also try to keep your pets out of the kitchen to reduce this risk as much as possible.
While you may not be able to completely rid yourself of these potential fire hazards, simply being aware of the risks they pose to you and your pets is an important first step in learning how to prevent and respond to an emergency situation.
Fire Prevention Plans for People with Pets
In addition to learning about potential fire hazards and how they can be heightened by your pets, it’s important to take active steps to prevent fires in your home. Prioritizing fire safety protects everyone, from young children to older adults, in your household, not just your pets.
Reduce or Eliminate Common Fire Hazards
Do your best to reduce the number of potential fire hazards in your home, and especially ones that could result in a fire caused by your pet. Every hazard increases the likelihood that you’ll have a fire; each hazard you remove reduces those chances. After all, the best way to avoid the consequences of a house fire is to prevent one from happening in the first place.
Crate or Contain Unsupervised Pets
One of the simplest ways to prevent fires in your home is to put your pet in a crate, carrier, or other confined area. Doing so is especially important for young puppies and kittens, newly adopted pets that may have behavioral issues, or any animal that has a history of getting into things they’re not supposed to. Keeping your pet contained will prevent them from getting into loose electrical cords, tampering with the kitchen stove, or engaging in any other destructive behaviors.
Pet-Proof Accessible Rooms
If you do choose to leave your pet in a room or certain part of your home, ensure that the entire area is pet-proofed. Further, keeping your pet in a crate or room will make it easier to evacuate them in the event of a fire.
Maintain Smoke Detectors
Finally, you should make sure all of the smoke detectors in your home are in working order. Though they don’t necessarily prevent fires, they are a critical safety tool to have in your house. According to the National Fire Protection Association, a working smoke detector reduces your chance of dying in a home fire by 54%; they also note that the majority of home fire deaths occur in residences without working smoke alarms. If a fire started while you were gone but your pet was still at home, they would still be in harm’s way.
A monitored smoke detector, in particular, can alert others that something is wrong, potentially saving your pet’s life and preventing the fire from worsening — even if you aren’t there.
Rescue Plans for People with Pets
As a pet owner, it’s not only important for you to figure out how to prevent fires in your home; you must also determine how your pet factors into the way you respond to an emergency situation. Emergencies happen unexpectedly, and you may be too distracted or overwhelmed to think clearly about how to care for your pet at that moment. By taking the time to develop a rescue plan that includes your pet ahead of time, you can make sure that every member of your family is safely evacuated from your home.
Create a Disaster Plan
Build a disaster response plan so you know exactly what to do if a fire breaks out in your home, and be sure to include your pets in this plan. Determine how and where you will escape, where you will go, and what you will bring with you. You may even want to practice doing fire drills in your home with your pet so that every person in your household has the chance to practice evacuating.
Further, assign roles to each member of your household, including who will be responsible for evacuating your pet. If you have multiple animals, you may want to assign a single person to a single pet, to ensure that everyone gets out safely. Remember, though you may not be able to control when emergencies arise, you can control how you deal with them, and making these plans in advance will make responding to a fire that much easier.
Build a Pet Emergency Kit
On top of a thorough disaster plan, you also need to create an emergency kit for your pet. A pet disaster kit isn’t difficult to create, and you probably have most, if not all, of the items you need on hand already. Your pet’s emergency kit should contain:
Food, water, and medications;
Food and water bowls;
A current photo and description of your pet’s appearance;
Collars, leashes, or other items used to control/transport your pet;
Up-to-date identification tags;
A blanket or towel;
Toys, treats, and other comforting or entertaining items;
Any other essential items your pet may need.
Be sure to maintain your pet’s kit to reflect any changes to their diet or medical care; further, replace any perishable items like food or medication on a regular basis so you don’t have expired items in the middle of an emergency. Store your pet’s emergency kit close to an exit so you can easily grab it while evacuating.
In a similar vein, you may also want to create a window cling to stick in your front window when building your pet’s emergency kit. The cling should provide information about the number of pets in your home, as well as what type of animals they are, what they look like, and where they’re located in the house. That way, responders have the information they need about your pets to rescue them more quickly and safely if you are unable to evacuate them on your own.
In the event of a fire, you need to evacuate your home with your pet as quickly as possible. However, if it takes too long to locate or secure them — or you cannot do so safely — you must evacuate without them. Fire spreads quickly, and even a small fire can become deadly within minutes. Never go back inside a burning house to attempt to rescue your pet. You should never endanger yourself or others to save your pet, and if the situation is truly dire enough, it’s best left to first responders. You can leave the door to the house open and call their name from a safe distance to encourage them to evacuate on their own. Otherwise, inform firefighters as soon as they arrive that your pet is still inside so they can rescue them instead.
Once your pet has been evacuated, make sure you have their emergency kit with you and can provide them with any care they may need. At the very least, be sure to have a safe way to contain or control them, so they don’t escape or get lost. The chaos and stress of an emergency situation can take a toll on your pet, so try to figure out a safe and calm place you can take them to, such as the home of a relative or friend, while you handle the fire and work with first responders.
Home fires can be terrifying and devastating, but it’s much easier to deal with the aftermath if you know that every single member of your family is safe. Pet fire safety is something that all pet owners need to take seriously. Ultimately, taking the time to prevent and prepare for a home fire could very well save your pet’s life.