Frightening as it might be to imagine a fire in your home or neighborhood, it’s even more painful to think of your cat or dog being injured or lost in a fire. But you can help keep your pet safe by being prepared for a fire.
In honor of Pet Fire Safety Day (July 15), here are five simple steps you can take right now to protect your pet in a fire.
1. Keep All Microchip Information Up to Date
Microchipping may or may not be required where you live, but it’s the best tool available for reuniting pets and their people if they get separated. A microchip is a small radio frequency transponder (about the size of a grain of rice) used to store a unique ID number for your pet, which is associated with your contact information in a database.
When you adopt a dog or cat, have your new pet microchipped right away. Then register that microchip: you can do it for free on the Michelson Found Animals Microchip Registry, which accepts all microchips. A microchip only works if the information in the registry is current, so that you can be reached if your pet becomes lost.
Once you’ve registered your pet’s microchip, remember to keep the information updated. If your contact information changes, make sure to update your pet’s record in the appropriate registry.
If your veterinarian does the microchipping, the chip will likely be registered to the veterinary practice. If you adopt a pet from a shelter that does microchipping, that chip will probably be registered to the shelter.
Your pet’s microchip number will most likely not be associated with your name and contact information unless you register the chip yourself.
2. Designate a Secondary Contact
It’s a good idea to add a secondary contact to your pet’s microchip registration. Ideally, you should choose a friend or relative who lives outside your immediate area. In case your neighborhood or community becomes inaccessible because of a wildfire, for instance, your secondary contact should be someone who isn’t also inside the affected area.
Put that secondary contact’s phone number on your pet’s collar or tags as well.
3. Pack an Emergency Kit for Your Pet
Think of it as a “go bag”—all your pet’s important items already packed and easy to grab in case you have to get out fast. Living arrangements can be unsettled for a while right after any evacuation, so your kit should include everything you need to keep your dog or cat contained for a number of days or weeks.
Here are some items to include in your pet’s emergency kit:
- food and favorite treats
- feeding dishes and water bowls
- crate or collapsible pen
- leash and collar
- travel litter box (e.g., shallow plastic box with a lid)
- pet first-aid kit
- bedding, blankets, towels
If you can’t return to your home right away after a fire, you may need to board your pets or find another temporary arrangement. Decide ahead of time where you will take them:
- Choose a temporary caregiver outside your immediate area who is willing and able to house your pets.
- Ask your veterinarian to recommend appropriate boarding facilities or kennels.
- Ask local animal shelters whether they provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets.
- Identify hotels or motels outside of your immediate area that accept pets.
4. Make Sure Your Pet is Carrier-Ready
In a fire, everybody needs to get out quickly, so your cat’s or dog’s life may depend on how easily they go into a carrier. Have a fire escape plan already established, and do practice runs to make any evacuation procedures feel familiar to your pets as well as to your family.
Taking your pet’s carrier out several times a year and putting toys or treats inside will help them associate positive feelings with it. But if your pet is difficult to put into a carrier, consider training them ahead of time. With clicker training, for example, you can help your dog learn to go into a carrier calmly and on command.
Cat Tip: If necessary, a cat can be put in a pillowcase for evacuation—and later safely transferred to a carrier or crate.
All carriers should be clearly labeled with your full contact information as well as your secondary contact person’s phone number.
5. Put a Pet Alert Sticker Where Firefighters Will See It
In a scary situation like a fire, pets actually tend not to run away or try to escape. They’re much more likely to hide in a spot that seems safe to them. A Pet Alert sticker or window decal will let firefighters and others know there are animals in your home.
The National Fire Protection Association estimates that about 40,000 pets die in house fires every year, mostly from smoke inhalation. Alerting firefighters to the number and types of pets in your household can save critical time. During and after a fire, firefighters who know exactly what to look for often find pets still hiding in the house.
You can order a free Pet Alert window decal from the ASPCA online, purchase one at a pet supply store, or create your own poster. Include the name and phone number of your veterinarian. And post your Pet Alert sticker where it will be seen right away by rescue workers—on or near your front door, for example.
The American Kennel Club and ADT Security Services originally established National Pet Fire Safety Day to make people aware that pets sometimes cause fires.
Every year, about 1,000 house fires are started by pets. Of those, the greatest number are caused by pets accidentally turning on stove knobs.
To learn more about protecting your home and your pets from potential fire hazards, check out these pet fire safety tips.
And for more on how to prepare your pets for fires and other disasters, see these online resources:
- ASPCA’s disaster preparedness webpage
- Saving the Whole Family, a pet disaster preparedness guide from the American Veterinary Medical Association
- FEMA brochure “Prepare for Emergencies Now: Information for Pet Owners”
And finally, a big tail wag to Philadelphia’s Red Paw Emergency Relief Team, a nonprofit created specifically “to provide search and rescue, shelter, and emergency veterinary care for animals injured in fires and other disasters.” We hope similar services will be available soon in many other cities.