October has been Fire Prevention Month, and we've been remiss in not mentioning it before! But better late than never, right? Your kitty may not jump through a fiery hoop, but cats can be fascinated by fire. So here are some fire safety tips for cat guardians.
Feline Fire HeroesMany are the stories of cats who have awakened their owners to alert them to a fire in the home, saving their families from certain death. Here are a few:
- A woman with muscular dystrophy lost everything she owned in a fire set by thieves looking to cover their tracks, but her cat, Étoile de Nuit, meowed persistently to wake up her mistress. After awakening her neighbors, she could not find the cat when she returned to her apartment, but a firefighter found her close to the building.
- A woman was at first annoyed by her cat crawling on her face in the early morning hours. When she awakened, she found her house filled with smoke. Both she and her cat managed to escape from her one-story home in San Jose, California, although the home suffered an estimated $30,000 in damages.
- A cat named Tigger, who had been adopted from a shelter, alerted his sleeping owner to a potential fire when an air conditioner malfunctioned and overheated. The woman was able to shut off the unit before it erupted into fire.
- Another air conditioner overheated and caused a fire in a couple's home, but their cat, Martini, meowed until they opened their bedroom door to find their home aflame. All were able to escape safely.
Feline Fire VictimsCats are often the victims of home fires that happen when their owners are away. And owners trying to save their cats can also become victims of fires.
- An Omaha woman died tried to save her cat from her burning house.
- A cat died from smoke inhalation when his owner's apartment burned while no one was home, despite firefighters' attempt to save him with a pet oxygen mask.
- A man who fell asleep after lighting a candle in his bedroom awoke to find his quilt in flames and his apartment filled with smoke. He escaped with burns on his hands, but his cat did not make it out.
- A cat and a dog were killed in a house fire caused by a faulty extension cord.
- A man obtained second-degree burns when he ran back into his burning motor home to save his cat. He was unable to find the cat, who died in the fire.
Feline FirestartersOur feline companions have also sometimes been the cause of fires:
- A curious cat trying to get to some chicks in an incubator likely knocked over the incubator's heat lamp, starting a fire that gutted a family's home and consumed all their possessions. Although she escaped the flaming porch, Kiki was burned on her pads and got her whiskers singed. The chicks didn't survive.
- A cat knocked two lit candles off a dresser at a senior center that caught a bed skirt on fire. The flames went up a wall and were confined to that apartment, but several others had heavy damage from smoke and water. One elderly gentleman was treated for smoke inhalation.
- A cat who enjoyed sleeping atop a warm toaster oven to escape from the family dog accidentally pushed down the toaster lever and started a fire that had to be put out with a garden hose.
- A cat that urinated in a home's windowsill to mark his territory when he saw another cat outside caused a fire when the urine ran down the wall and caused an electrical outlet below it to spark.
- In the days before electricity in homes was common, a cat knocking over a kerosene lamp caused a fire that completely destroyed its owners' home. The woman got her children out safely, but was badly burned on her hands and her hair was singed by a falling curtain rod. No word on what happened to the cat.
Feline Fire Safety Tips
To help protect your home, and your cats, from fire, there are several steps you can take:
- Never leave lit candles or burning oil lamps where your cat can knock them over. Curiosity and playfulness can quickly turn to tragedy. Instead, try the battery-operated flameless votive candles.
- The same goes for fireplaces. Cats will be drawn to them because of the warmth, but the open flames can be dangerous. Install a glass front your cat can't get through if you have a fireplace that you use often.
- Don't allow your cats to chew on electrical cords. Even if this doesn't electrocute the cat, which can happen (we've all seen National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, right?), once the cord is damaged it can continue to present a fire danger. Keep cords out of reach or enclose them in protective covers that contain a citrus scent that's unappealing to cats. With teething kittens, you may need to confine them to keep them away from soft, chewy cords that are irresistible to them. Give your cats some acceptable alternatives for chewing, and make sure they're not bored and have plenty of toys to keep their attention. Spend some time each day playing with them and they'll be happy, well-adjusted cats instead of little feline delinquents.
- Remember that cats love warm places. So keep small appliances like space heaters and toasters where the cat can't tip them over, accidentally turn them on, or catch its tail on fire in them.
- Don't try to make a makeshift heated bed for your cat; there are plenty of heated bed options that are made safe for cats.
- Keep a Pet Rescue Fire Safety Sticker in your window that tells firefighters how many cats you have and where they can most likely find them. The stickers are available free of charge from many shelters and pet rescue organizations.
- Have adequate smoke detectors on every level of your house to quickly alert you to any fire in your house. Your cat may not be as persistent as some of the heroes mentioned earlier! And monitored smoke detectors will help protect your cats even when you're not home.
- Never leave food unattended on your kitchen stove. You know how curious cats are! They will be drawn to the smell of food and may accidentally turn on additional burners or knock over a pan of grease that could easily start a fire. And with gas stoves that have open flames, there's the danger of their knocking a dish towel or pot holder into the flame.
- With the holidays coming up, we'll all be putting up lots of decorations. If any of yours are electrical, and especially if they have moving parts, keep your cats away from them. The same goes for lights on Christmas trees. Cats see a tree in the house and they want to climb it. They don't understand that it has little fire hazards all over it. In addition to having a huge mess to clean up, you may also be fleeing a house fire. Candles in Halloween jack o'lanterns can also be dangerous around cats.
- If your cats keep thwarting all attempts to control them from starting fires when you're not around, invest in a crate large enough to give them room to climb and play, and place it where they can see out a window. Include a small litter box, along with water (and perhaps food, if you're going to be gone all day), either perches or a cat tree, and a few toys for batting around. They will get used to being crated, especially if you leave the door to their crate open even when you're home. And it can make it easier for firefighters to locate your cats in the event of a fire when you're not home.
- Make sure that your family's fire evacuation plan includes plans for rescuing your pets. Cats will often hide when they're frightened, so if yours isn't one that meows to awaken you to the danger of a fire, kitty may be hiding in a closet or under a bed. Know all your cat's "safe places" so you can quickly find him and get all of you outside safely. And keep a cat carrier next to the exit door so you can toss the frightened cat in it and keep him safe outdoors.
- Here's one I bet you hadn't thought about: never leave a glass dish of water sitting outside on a sunny deck for your cat. The sun's rays can turn it into a magnifying glass that can set the wood of the deck on fire!