This week’s blog will discuss pet fire safety which is observed on July 15.
A few statistics:
- 70 – 80 million dogs and 74 – 96 million cats are owned in the United States. (source: ASPCA)
- Approximately 37 – 47% of all households in the United States have a dog, and 30 – 37% have a cat. (source: ASPCA)
- Nearly 1,000 home fires each year are accidentally started by pets. (source: The National Fire Protection Association)
- An estimated 500,000 pets are affected annually by fires. (source: The United States Fire Administration)
Just like with our suggestions in our Pet First Aid Emergency blog and Nation Disaster Preparedness blog being prepared can save precious minutes. Fires are just one type of evacuation scenario with the least amount of reaction time available. You could have as little two minutes to get out of your home safely in a fire. Having a pet-friendly fire escape plan and practicing fire safety drills can aid you in the middle of a crisis. During a fire, you will become disoriented and afraid. This is normal response but will be more so for your pet who cannot think logically to know how to escape from a fire. Pets will panic at the smell of smoke and sight of fire. Your pet(s) may not be able to escape a burning home – they could be too afraid to come out, be overcome with smoke inhalation (smaller animals will be affected by the smoke quicker) or simply become trapped behind the blaze. I will be discussing the following in this blog: training, microchipping, prevention, fire escape plan, and what happens after the fire.
Training is wonderful in day to day life but can be a life-saver as well. A lot of pets will hide when they are frightened. Teaching your pet the “Come” command can help when you have difficulty finding your pet. Not just dogs can learn this command. Cats can learn the command as well – especially if they are food motivated. Say “come” and their name every time they are going to be fed. They will start to associate that word with a reward. In a fire scenario where you can’t find or reach your pet before you evacuate, leave an outside door open and call your pet’s name (and the command). Hopefully your pet will hear your voice and make their way towards you. Be persistent and loud! Don’t give up, it may take some time for your pet to work up the courage to come to your voice.
There are many reasons your dogs and cats should be microchipped but I won’t list all those reasons here. In the case of a house fire, if your pet does get out of the burning home, there will still be a lot of chaos and unfamiliar sounds, scents and sights. This will cause a lot of stress for your pet and if they are not in a secure location, they could run away. If someone finds your lost pet and your pet doesn’t have a collar and I.D. tags on, the finder can take your pet to an animal shelter or vet hospital and have them scanned for the microchip and can get your pet back to you.
While typing this blog, I kept hearing Smokey the Bear’s famous words “Only you can prevent fires.” Although, that isn’t necessarily true for all fires – there are quite a few that can be prevented if you are diligent. Most of the items in this prevention section can fall under the blanket statement of “Pet proof your home andregularly inspect the areas your pet has access to.”
- Loose electrical wires – dogs, cats, rabbits and ferrets have all been known to chew on wires. Dogs and cats could also get wrapped up in the wires and knock down appliances/lamps/etc that could start a fire.
- Do not have glass water bowls on wooden decks – the glass and water can act like a magnifying glass and generate enough heat to ignite the wood.
- Use flameless candles – At my previous place of employment, within a week and a half, I heard two separate stories of cats and regular candles. In both situations, the houses were okay but both cats sustained injuries due to the candle’s flames and wax.
- Extinguish open flames – Pets do not understand the dangers of open flames and will be curious about them. Besides candles, they may also want to investigate lanterns, stoves, fire places, fire pits, and grills. Be vigilant if you are using anything with open flames and make sure the fire is completely extinguished.
- Remove or protect stove knobs – I know this sounds like a Nationwide commercial but pets jumping up towards the stove and turning it on happens more often than you would believe and can quickly, and easily, start a fire in your home.
- Outdoor pets – If you have an outdoor animal or an exercise run for your pet, make sure their area is clear of brush, bushes or other vegetation that could act as fuel for a fire.
- Pets that require heat and special lighting – Reptiles and amphibians require special enclosures, heating and lighting. Be very careful where you place their enclosures, lights and heat source. I had to see the devastating aftermath of a house fire that had several reptiles in the home and one of their lights was knocked over and caught the whole place on fire. Only two out of the several reptiles survived and the two that did survive, had a lot of wounds and smoke inhalation issues.
Pet-Friendly Fire Escape Plan
The first step in creating an effective fire escape plan for your entire family is to think about, and explore, your home. A lot depends on your particular home floor plan and how many people and animals live in the home. As a family, you should discuss and decide a safe outdoor meeting spot and who will be in charge of gathering which pets. If you have caged animals (pocket pets, birds, reptiles and amphibians) living in someone’s bedroom, if the person is old enough, they can be responsible for getting the caged animals out of their room – make sure if it is a child, they understand that it is more important for them to safely get out of the house.
All pets have at least two favorite locations in their environment where they like to go. In a dangerous or stressful situation, your pet may flee to the place (s)he feels most comfortable. By identifying all the possible hiding places your pet could go, it could save some time later and you can restrict them from those areas when you are not home. Be thorough – your pet can easily fit into areas you might never think possible. Cats especially like to hide as high or as low as possible. I once found a cat in the basement, on the lowest shelf between jars of canned vegetables. The owner was amazed to see her 13 pound cat in such a small area.
Start making your escape plan by identifying two ways out of each room (a route and back up route). This could be a door and a window. It is recommended to have leashes and carriers close to your escape routes. In case of fires or other natural disasters in which you may have to evacuate quickly, keep your pets near entrances. It is a great idea to keep collars with I. D. tags on your pets (dogs and cats) at all times. Make sure that their collars are properly secure (you can easily fit two of your fingers between the collar and their neck without choking them). If they have a collar that is too loose, they can easily slip out of it and you don’t want them getting away from you if you are leaving in a hurry. The same can be said for a harness as well. It is recommended that dogs are crated while you are away for both their safety and easy access for the emergency crew in case of a fire. Cats can be more challenging to keep in one location when you leave. If your home allows it, close off a front room or section of your house to contain your pets while you’re away. Also in this area (or around their crates/carriers), keep a container with supplies. Your supply kit should include: their food, water, bowls, leashes (the “slip lead” kind), medications (if your pet is on any), feeding and medication schedules, their current vet records, behavior issues and the name and phone number of your veterinarian. This emergency kit will come in handy if you and your pet has to leave in a hurry and get displaced from your home.
Once you have a fire escape plan, remember to practice it at least twice a year. These practice drills should include locating your pet and finding a way outside. You can make this a game for your dog and even train them to go to your safe spot outside. Cats and other pets will probably not think this is as much fun as your dog but there are some advantages to this. It will get your pet used to the motions of you racing outdoors and you will become more familiar with the scoop and run action that will allow you to do it easier in a situation where smoke or flames can hinder your vision and breathing.
Everyone knows the importance of having a working smoke detector but that isn’t helpful to your pet if you are not home. Consider using a monitored smoke detector which is connected to a monitoring center so emergency responders can be alerted when you are not home.
Display pet alert window clings on at least two places in your home (front and back side of your house and in an easily seen location). Write down the number of pets in your home and make sure to update the number of pets listed. If you evacuated to a safe location, make sure to write EVACUATED so emergency crews are aware everyone is safely out of the home. You can get a free window cling from ASPCA website. You can also contact your local fire stations to see if they have any available.
Identify a place for your pet(s) to stay if your home is unlivable. Family members and friends are the best since your pet and the person should already be familiar with one another (decreasing some of the stress your pet will be experiencing). Boarding facilities are another option but they will require vet history/vaccines to board with them. A word of caution: if a family member or friend is going to be caring for your pets while you are working on getting a new home, it is a good idea to have a written care taker agreement that both the owner and care giver signs. Be sure to have everything listed in this agreement: who will be responsible for buying the food, paying vet bills, transportation (if needed), other care items (grooming), how long this arrangement will be for and the date when this agreement is signed. Make sure both you as the pet owner and the care giver has a copy of this agreement. I’ve heard too many stories where one party is unhappy with the arrangement and there was no written document and the poor animal is the one who suffers (and typically ends up in an animal shelter).
If you have a trustworthy neighbor, share your emergency plan with them, so they are aware of the protocol in case you are away from home when the emergency happens.
After a fire
Once you and your pets are safely out of the home (and preferably in an enclosed location), check your pet for burns (remember to look at the bottom of their feet) and smoke inhalation. Symptoms of smoke inhalation can include: gums are either cherry red, pale, or blue; reddened eyes; hoarse cough; rapid or trouble breathing; confusion; fainting; vomiting; shock; postural adaptation (positioning of the body to breathe easier); and soot in the nasal or throat passages. If your pet is displaying any of these symptoms or has burns – get your pet to the vet office immediately! Even if your pet appears okay, you should take them to have a full health check-up within a few days of the fire to make sure everything is okay with them.
Hopefully, you will have already done the prevention and fire escape plan and will never have to use it.