Fire Safety for Cats
It's every cat owner's nightmare: you arrive home to find your home burned to the ground or seriously damaged by fire. What has become of your precious feline companions? July 15 is Pet Fire Safety Day, so it's a good time to review how to keep your cats safe.
Hopefully someone would save your cats if the unthinkable were to happen, but how would they know to do so? A smoke alarm will alert you to a fire if you're home, but not when you're gone. By taking a few precautions ahead of time, you can help avoid cat-astrophe (see what I did there?) and keep your kitties safe.
This may seem like common sense, but we likely all have a few fire risks around our homes. Periodically checking for them can keep not only your cats safe, but all your other possessions, as well. The National Fire Protection Association says that over 1,000 house fires each year are started by pets!
Can your stove be easily turned on by your cats walking on the countertop? Be realistic: even though you've supposedly trained your cats to stay off the kitchen counters, you know they're exploring up there when you're gone. According to the American Red Cross, "a stove or cook top is the number one piece of equipment involved in your pet starting a fire." If they can turn on the burners of your stove, make sure nothing flammable is sitting on or near those burners. And even if it's not, a cat can easily knock a flammable toy onto a hot burner. If you can remove the knobs so the cats can't turn them, do so. Stash them in a drawer so the cats won't use them for batting practice. Can't remove them? Find some type of protective cover to place over them so a cat can't accidentally turn on the burners while walking there. Or get an induction cooktop, where the burners stay cool.
It stands to reason that it's never a good idea to have open flames around your cats. If you use a fireplace, a glass door in front of the open fire will keep a curious kitty from getting too close and knocking out embers. Playful cats can easily knock candles over, starting a fire before you even realize what's happening. Kitty may not even knock it over intentionally; tails can be unpredictable. If you love candles, Old Maid Cat Lady used to sell several types of flameless candles you can use instead.
Other sources of fire danger are space heaters and halogen lamps. Both of these burn hot and can easily start a fire if tipped over. If you use either of them, never leave them with your cats unattended. It only takes a moment for disaster to occur. Consider using something like a sealed oil heater instead of an open space heater; this looks like a radiator and has no exposed heat coils.
Watch for electrical cords that may have been chewed by cats. Teething kittens are especially prone to chewing anything rubbery, such as an electrical cord. Keep electrical cords out of your a kitten's reach or put a protective sleeve you can find at the hardware store over any exposed cords. If you have a litter of kittens, keep them in a large crate when you're not monitoring their activities. Keep cords from dangling enticingly like a cat toy, and never use an old cord as a substitute cat toy. Check all your electrical cords periodically to make sure there are no exposed wires that could start a fire. Remove and replace any damaged cords. Unplug cords when not in use. Using surge suppressors throughout your house, not just for computer equipment, can also prevent a power surge from starting a fire in your home when you're away.
A danger many people don't consider is a glass bowl of water left on a sunny wooden deck. The glass bowl can act like a magnifying glass to focus the sun's rays on the deck and actually start a fire! If you leave a dish of water outside for outdoor or neighborhood cats, make it a ceramic or stainless steel one. And putting that bowl in the shade will keep the water in it cooler and more enjoyable for the cats, anyway.
Making a fire evacuation plan is important not only for your family, but also for your cats. If you have a written plan that includes a map of your house, include your cat's typical hiding places on that map so you know exactly where to look. More than one cat? Assign certain cats to the family members they're closest so that everyone is covered and the cat is most likely to be found by the person who can best reassure them. Include the cats in your evacuation rehearsals so they understand what's going to happen. Cats are highly intelligent creatures and can learn behaviors if you take the time to teach them. Explain to them in your mind what to do and envision them doing it; their ability to learn may surprise you!
Can you train your cat to go to an always-available carrier when afraid? If so, that could be a good way to make sure you can find kitty in the event that you have to evacuate the house quickly. Place the carrier somewhere protected and not in your way, but where you could easily grab it as you head toward a safety exit. The last thing you need in an emergency situation is a cat you can't find, who's hidden in an inaccessible place in your home where you can't find him! Having the cat inside a closed carrier will also be good once you've evacuated, so kitty doesn't flee in fear but remains with you so you can comfort him.
Placing your cat's crate or carrier near an exit is also a good idea in the event that firefighters have to enter your home when you're away. If your cat is in a crate or carrier near the door, they'll be more easily found.
Make up an emergency kit that contains some of your cats' food, vet receipts showing vaccinations, prescription meds, and even photos of your cats that will come in handy if they go missing after a disaster. This will be helpful not only for fire safety, but also in the event of a quick storm evacuation. Keep this kit where you can quickly grab it and make that someone's responsibility during a fire evacuation.
During a fire, you'll be running on adrenaline and in a highly excited state, and your cat will pick up on that. I can tell you to try and remain calm, but it's not always easy to remember such things in an emergency. Your emotional state and fear will likely be frightening to kitty, and may cause unexpected behavior that could be hostile. If you have to evacuate the house without your cat, leave the door leading outside open. That way, if the cat gets a rush of courage, she can run to safety with you. Call kitty's name once outside and hope that he's not frozen in fear and will come to the familiar sound.
Microchipping your cat is a good way to make sure that a frightened kitty who may run far from home when frightened can find its way back to you. A harness or collar with an ID tag including your contact information is good backup, just in case whoever finds your traumatized kitty doesn't think to take them to a vet or shelter that has a scanner for your chip.
Make sure there are smoke detectors on each floor of your home. Smoke kills more people than fire. If you have a large one-story home, place them strategically throughout it, as well. Check or replace the batteries in them twice a year: put it on your calendar so you don't forget.
Smoke alarms are great...if you're home. But what if you're gone when fire breaks out? Luckily, many home automation systems are now available to alert you if a fire should start in your home when you're away. Alarm systems can notify your monitoring service. Some also send you a message on your cell phone. Keeping these detectors and services current and functioning could save your cats' lives.
Tell Firefighters About Your Cats
Making sure firefighters know you have cats in the house is another important step to saving your cats' lives. While a sticker in a front-facing window is one way, a sign in the yard, similar to the alarm company signs you see, is even better. Then if that window gets broken, they'll still be able to see the sign. Make sure the sign tells them how many cats you have in the house, and if possible identify where they may be hiding if frightened.
While nobody can prevent a lightning strike from causing a fire in the home, many other causes are preventable. Taking the above-listed precautions and making sure you have a plan in place will help you rest easier knowing that your cats are safer, even when you're away from home