By Diana Bocco
When it comes to fire safety, there’s no such thing as being too careful. If you share your home with a furry friend or two, pet safety should be a priority when you’re planning for a potential emergency.
Here are six ways you can prepare to help keep your pet safe in a fire.
A reliable recall can make all the difference in an emergency, according to Sarah Birman, who holds a degree in neurobiology and animal behavior and is the national director of training and client services at Canine Companions for Independence.
“The key to a successful recall is a great deal of repetition, reward and a strong bond with the dog,” Birman says. “The ‘here’ or ‘come’ command should be taught in a fun but structured way that ensures the dog will respond and does not grow bored with the command.”
Birman recommends practicing regularly using a high-value reward such as your dog’s favorite dog treats. “It can help to have your dog on a long line leash when you practice at first, until he or she becomes more reliable,” Birman says. That way if your dog isn’t paying attention to your recall, you can remind him of what’s expected with a slight tug on the leash.
Birman adds, “start in a quiet, distraction-free environment, slowly adding distance and difficulty as your dog is successful.”
Practicing evacuation routines is very important, as pets may behave very differently in an emergency, says Dr. Deborah Mandell, VMD, member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council. “You have to know where your pet normally sleeps so that you can get to them quickly,” says Dr. Mandell. “However, many cats and dogs will become scared in an emergency or in response to a smoke alarm, so knowing hiding places your pet retreats to is equally as important.”
If there are small crawl spaces anywhere in the house where you would not be able to reach your pet, it’s important to seal them off, says Dr. Mandell. “You can press the ‘test’ button on the alarm to see how your pet reacts and follow where he goes,” Dr. Mandell adds. “Once you know the likely places your pet would be, the next step is practicing how to get them out and with you so that you can evacuate.”
When a fire strikes, you can’t waste time running around the house trying to find a dog leash or cat carrier to take your pet out safely. To avoid this, Dr. Mandell recommends that you have a leash or a carrier readily available by your bed or in a bin near doors or windows, and on every floor.
“Small blankets, towels or even pillow cases can be used in an emergency to quickly wrap up a cat or small dog and evacuate,” Dr. Mandell says. “Practice this so you know how to wrap and secure your pet.”
If you live in an area where wildfires are a concern, an extra level of preparation is necessary. It is possible that large parts of your community, including nearby veterinary clinics, could be affected. You may need to provide for your pets until you can reach an evacuation center or nearby town.
Keep paper documentation of your pet’s most recent vaccines, a picture of your pet, documentation of medical conditions and necessary medications in a small plastic bag with your evacuation items, Dr. Mandell suggests. Having access to a three-day supply of food and water and bringing bowls is also a good idea.
In addition, Birman points out that your emergency kit should include a cat first aid or dog first aid kit, a foil emergency blanket and a pet first aid book. The Kurgo pet first aid kit comes with 50 emergency items, including a thermal foil blanket and pet first aid guide.
“You should also consider including a muzzle or strips of cloth in the emergency kit,” Birman adds. “A dog without a drop of aggression in their temperament, who has never had a history of bites, may react very differently when in pain or extremely afraid, and it’s important to practice safe restraint to prevent a dog bite when administering care.”
Every major door/window or entrance way—front and back of house—should have an “in case of emergency” pet alert sticker, like the Imagine This Company “Rescue Our Pets” window decal and wallet card, that contains the number and type of pets in the house, according to Dr. Mandell. “This will help firefighters know which pets to look for in case of a fire,” says Dr. Mandell.
Make sure the window decal is up to date—if you add an extra furry friend to the household, make sure the pet alert sticker reflects that.
“We all know that pets are part of the family, and as such, need to be included in emergency and disaster planning,” says Dr. Mandell.
Being prepared in the event of an emergency includes not only knowing the best escape routes, but also things like which local hotels allow pets if you have to evacuate, which vet clinics are open overnight, and whether family, friends and local boarding facilities could take your pet if needed, Dr. Mandell adds.
“[During the family’s fire drill] practice finding and retrieving your pet outside and going to a designated area so that you find out if there are any issues along the way,” Dr. Mandell adds.
If your pet is in a crate during the day, Dr. Mandell recommends keeping the crate near the main entrance, so firefighters can get them fast. “Keeping your pet in rooms near the entrances is also a good idea while you are away, or at least away from rooms with fire hazards, like the kitchen,” Dr. Mandell adds.
It’s extremely important that your pet wears ID tags with your up-to-date contact information, says Birman.
During a fire, pets might get scared and run away, and without the proper tag, they might never find their way back to you. “We also recommend a microchip, which ensures that you can be identified and contacted even if your dog is not wearing a collar,” says Birman.
In addition, Dr. Mandell recommends downloading the American Red Cross Pet First Aid App, which can help dog and cat owners learn how to include pets in their emergency preparedness plans. “The app has locators for pet-friendly hotels, emergency pet care facilities and alternate veterinarians,” says Dr. Mandell.