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Fire Safety for Pets

By the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Association

Every year more than 3,000 people die in house fires despite educational programs. Sadly, those who survive house fires often lose cherished four-legged family members in the infernos.
 
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there were 1.5 million uncontrolled fires a year in 2008. Though the USFA does not keep statistics about pets, it is estimated hundreds of thousands of pets are killed by house fires each year. Why are we so good at saving human lives, but our pets seem to perish?
 
One potential answer is smoke alarms in our homes.  For more than 30 years, laws have required the presence of the life-saving devices in any home or apartment.  When the alarm sounds, we know it is time to evacuate, but our pets do not have the same ability.  Worse yet, the unknown sound can scare pets into hiding, increasing our own risk of harm as we search for the missing kitty or pup. 
 
Many pets will die in house fires because they are unable to get out of the home as well.  This often happens when the family is away, as rescue personnel are frequently unaware of pets needing help.
 
The most important thing you can do to keep your pet safe in the event of a fire is to have an evacuation plan in place. Experts have said that one of the main reasons pets do not survive fires is because they are trapped in their crates. Your fire plan should account for crated pets and how to free them during evacuation.
 
Consider microchipping your pet. In the event of a fire, the microchip could help you reunite with your pet if he or she gets lost.
 
When you are not at home, keep your pet on the ground floor to increase its chances of being rescued.
 
Firefighters are now trained to look for window alert signs and make attempts to save pets. These “window clings” are available from the American Kennel Club. The signs should be kept up to date according to how many pets you have in your home.
 
Firefighters may be able to save some pets from the flames, but other dangers such as smoke or carbon monoxide can also have adverse effects. Additionally, life-saving equipment, such as oxygen masks, is usually designed for people. Because of this, some animals may die en route to the veterinarian.  
Many groups are working to improve the survival chances of pets caught in fires.
 
As with many tragedies, preventing the occurrence should be the first step.  Pet owners are urged to “pet-proof” their home and look for potential fire hazards and to always extinguish open flames, such as candles, before leaving home.
 
Smoke alarms are still a necessity, but pet owners should consider monitored smoke detection services as an extra precaution. These systems alert the fire department directly, allowing help to arrive quickly. Services like these increase the chances that your pets will be safe.
 
The North Carolina Veterinary Medical Association (NCVMA) is a professional organization of veterinarians dedicated to compassionate animal care and quality medicine. For more information, visit www.ncvma.org, follow them on Twitter at @NCVMA, or call (800) 446-2862 or (919) 851-5850