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Fire Safety for Pets

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A dog and lady sit outside in the woods next to a campfire

Fire safety for pets may not be something that all pet parents have on the forefront of their minds. Although it may seem unlikely that your four-legged friend will be exposed to a fire anytime soon, you shouldn’t wait until the emergency is present to research, “How do you keep pets safe during a fire?”

A fire safety plan for pets should cover anything from fireplaces and bonfires to house fires and wildfires. By having a plan in place and discussing it with anyone else that lives in your home, you can better protect your best pal.

What To Do With Pets in a House Fire

When it comes to house fires, one of the best ways to protect your pet is to take the necessary steps to help prevent a fire from occurring in the first place. Walk through your home and try to spot any possible fire hazards. Items such as flat irons, toasters, and space heaters should be kept out of your pet’s reach when plugged in and unplugged the moment you’re done using them. Many cats and dogs may be tempted to chew on electrical cords, so unplugging and putting away items such as phone and laptop chargers can be helpful. With other wires that may sit out all the time, such as television or modem wires, consider your cord management options to help eliminate the temptation.

If your dog is tall enough to reach the stove, consider purchasing safety knob covers to eliminate the risk of your pup accidentally turning on the burners. Candles are another fire risk to be aware of and should be kept out of your pet's reach. Only light a candle when you're in the room. Even if you leave the space for only a few minutes, it’s best to blow out any flame before any curious whiskers or tails find it. To err on the side of caution, avoid candles entirely and use other options for room fragrances that are non-toxic to pets. Plug-in air fresheners may be toxic to pets, can be risky if consumed, and can be a fire hazard themselves.

In the home, fireplaces can also pose a significant safety hazard to your cats and dogs since the fire is easily accessible at their height. It’s best to teach your pet to stay away from the fireplace, but putting up a safety gate will ensure they don’t get too close to the open flames. On cold winter days, your best pal may be tempted to scooch closer to the fire than is safe but remember that you should never leave your pet unattended when you have a fire going.

In addition to these measures, having multiple smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, as well as fire extinguishers, throughout your home is also beneficial. Of course, though you may take every precaution, accidents can still happen, so it’s important to have a plan in place. Consider where your pet sleeps at night, where they usually hang out during the day, and where their favorite hiding spots are. If a fire were to occur, designate one person in your home to get the pet and meet outside in a predetermined area that’s a safe distance from your house.

Don’t forget to consider your different exit options, including side doors and windows. It’s crucial to have a plan in place in case you need to evacuate your house or apartment from your second story. There are many foldable ladder options that can attach to your windows to help your family get out safely. For your cats, consider a cat carrier that can easily be worn like a backpack or slung across your shoulders. There are even options available that can hold more than one cat, giving you one less item to worry about and allowing you to climb down the ladder with your hands free.

These types of pet carriers can work great for small or medium-sized dogs as well. If your family has a large or extra-large breed, you may need to consider other options. If you can safely lift your dog, you could get a large rescue harness for pets that straps around your dog’s abdomen, allowing you to pick them up or sling them onto your shoulders while you evacuate. If your best pal’s weight is in the triple digits, and they’re too heavy for you to carry, there are other harnesses and fire evacuation devices available that can secure your dog and be hooked onto a rope, allowing you to lower your pup down to the ground.

Whichever option you choose, it’s vital to test out a few different fire evacuation routes before a fire ever occurs. This can help get your pet comfortable with the fire plan, hopefully lowering their stress levels if a real emergency were to happen, along with you being able to shorten your exit time as much as possible.

In the unfortunate case a fire occurs while you’re not home, having fire safety stickers for pets can be helpful. These stickers, which you can place on windows or doors, can help inform emergency personnel which species of pets you have and how many of each. You can order these stickers from online retailers or sign up to receive a Pet Safety Pack from The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA®).

A cat sleeping on furniture next to a lit fireplace

Pet Safety on Bonfire Night

Whether you’re cooking on the open fire during your next camping trip or having a big bonfire at your next party, following these steps can ensure that your pets will be safe around campfires.

  • Never let your pet near a firepit, even if it’s not currently in use. Teaching your pets that the firepit is something they aren’t allowed to touch, even when there’s no fire, can eventually help when you have a fire going. Keep a keen eye out, particularly if your dog is a big fan of sticks—your kindling may disappear.
  • Don’t offer your pet food when you’re cooking on the fire. This can be even more significant if you have a food-motivated pet. If your pup begins associating bonfires with delicious food, they may be more tempted to get closer to the fire or try to sneak food off people’s plates or the table. As the saying goes, “Old habits die hard,” so it’s better not to let the habit of your pup begging for food at fires begin in the first place.
  • Don’t throw trash or food scraps into the fire. After the fire has been extinguished, if your pet sees some trash that catches their eye or smells the leftover burned food at the bottom of the fire pit, they could be tempted to try to retrieve it. This could pose a serious risk to their health since the food could be covered in chemicals from the nearby burning trash. Plus, the fire embers may still be hot and could burn your pet. Keeping only the items needed to build a fire in the fire pit should help lower the chances of your pet getting their noses in places it shouldn’t be.
  • Be aware of where your pet is hanging out. This is particularly important on nights when it’s windier. Even a small gust can pick up embers and drop them into the surrounding area, which is another reason your pet should never be within a few feet of the fire pit. The wind could also carry the smoke in your pet’s direction. Just as campfire smoke can cause people to cough or their eyes to water and become red, the same can happen with pets.

    Though some exposure is unavoidable, it’s essential to be aware of the signs of smoke inhalation. These can include coughing, wheezing, loud or difficult breathing, disorientation, fatigue, reduced appetite or thirst, and red, watering, irritated eyes. Although too much smoke could cause these symptoms in any pet, senior and young pets as well as brachycephalic breeds (those with scrunched noses) are at a much higher risk. Try to keep your pet upwind from the fire or encourage them to move when the winds change direction.
  • Keep any possible hazardous campfire gear out of your pet’s reach. This could include anything from an ax and lighter fluid to campfire forks and alcohol. It’s crucial that you’re aware of any hot, sharp, or toxic materials at your bonfire and where you are keeping them when they are not actively in use.

Once you establish your campfire safety plan for your pet, staying consistent with these rules each and every time can make it easier for your pet to understand what they are and aren’t allowed to do. If you have a campfire at your next get-together and your pets will be outside interacting with the guests, making a quick announcement to your friends will also be helpful. Inform everyone where campfire supplies can be found and stored when they’re not being used, and make sure they all know not to throw any waste in the fire or feed your pets “people food”—especially since many canines will try to convince your guests otherwise.

Pets and Wildfires

Wildfires can begin by natural or man-made causes, but often it’s the surrounding environmental conditions that determine how quickly they catch and spread. With low rainfall, high winds, and high temperatures, dry trees, leaves, and shrubs can fuel the fire. Although wildfires can happen anywhere conditions are right, in the western region of the United States wildfires are expected during the summer and fall, so much so that it’s earned the title of “wildfire season.”

If you’re in a region that’s affected by wildfires, staying current on the fire’s progression is crucial. Sometimes there can be mandatory evacuations in residential areas that will be directly hit, but other times it will be at your discretion whether you leave your home. Remember, once it becomes unsafe for you to be at your house, it will also not be safe for your pet.

Before a wildfire ever occurs near your home, it’s essential to have a fire evacuation plan for pets already in place so you can be prepared in an emergency. Although ideally you would be at home with your canine and feline friends, you never know what the circumstances will be. It’s helpful to have a trustworthy neighbor willing to get your pets for you in case you aren’t there.

Assuming that you will be home with your pets in an emergency, you should ensure that you have the necessary supplies ready so they can quickly be tossed into your car. These include:

  • Appropriate-sized carriers or small crates for cats and dogs. Make sure your pets have their collars on and their tags have updated contact information—it’ll also be beneficial if your pet is microchipped.
  • Make sure dogs, especially those who won’t be in a carrier, have their harness and leash.
  • Bring along any medication or supplement your pet requires. Double-check that you have their veterinarian’s number saved in your phone, just in case.
  • Remember to also bring food and water (including a bowl) for your pet, packing extra depending on your number of pets.
  • If you have cats, it’s smart to include their litter box and litter in your emergency supplies. That said, if you don’t have one already, there are many great travel boxes that are much easier to transport than the traditionally large and clunky litter boxes most people have in their homes.
  • Although you may already have one in your vehicle, a pet first-aid kit should also be included in your go bag.

Supplies such as treats, toys, blankets, and beds are not necessities, so you don’t have to include them. However, for your pet, who may already be anxious about what’s happening, these additional items can provide comfort in a stressful situation.

In the unfortunate circumstance that a wildfire damages your home and you can’t immediately return, you will need to consider your temporary housing options. Most shelters for people do not allow pets, in which case you could find a place to board them. You can also consider finding a pet-friendly hotel or even a friend or family member nearby who would be OK hosting a few new housemates.

Whether preparing for wildfire season, making an emergency plan for a house fire, or getting ready for a fun bonfire, prioritizing the safety of your pets and fire prevention can help ensure that you can stay a step ahead in emergent situations.

An ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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