Is your dog an arsonist? Does your cat dream of conflagrations? Do you have a firebug ferret or a pyromaniac parakeet?
Okay, true, your pet probably isn’t maliciously plotting to burn your house down, unless you’re a character in a Stephen King novel. Nevertheless, pets are responsible for thousands of housefires annually across the globe, started accidentally when owners do not take necessary fire safety precautions.
The list of pet related fires is extensive. A couple returned to their Norfolk home one weekend to discover their house ablaze after their cat had scampered across the electric cooker, turning it on, before knocking a teabag box onto the hot hob. In Dartford, a boisterous Staffie was jumping around her kitchen when she accidentally turned on the hob, on which her owner had placed a microwave, quickly filling the flat with poisonous fumes and requiring immediate evacuation. A similar situation occurred in Connecticut, USA, where a dog attempted to get to a pizza box on top of the oven and started a small inferno. In New York, an escapee tortoise knocked the heat lamp in his vivarium to the floor, igniting a pile of art supplies. In one sad incident, a woman in Bletchley put her hamster’s cage on top of an electric cooker to keep it out of reach of her dogs at night, only for the hob to somehow be turned on, causing a massive fire that killed the hamster and the dogs, and left her and her son homeless. Sadly, many thousands of pets die in housefires (of their own making or otherwise) every year.
This Saturday is Pet Fire Safety Day. This day is dedicated to raising awareness of what may lead your pet to start a fire, and safety precautions you can take. The aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire is a tragic reminder of just how dangerous a fire can be, so now seems like a particularly apt time to make sure you’re aware of how to minimise the chances of your pet starting a blaze:
- Avoid open flames. Those aromatic candles may seem romantic, but they’re just asking to be knocked off a shelf by a wagging tail or feline escapade. Get yourself a lamp instead. Also, wood burning stoves may give a room a solid rustic vibe but they are perilous for pets. Get a pet screen so your dog or cat can’t get too close to them. The same applies to chimineas and campfires; never play a ball game with your dog near an open fire outdoors.
- Electric fires are a hidden hazard. Animals can burn themselves on them, and on a few occasions, dogs have managed to knock electric fires against furniture or mattresses, causing fires. Never leave your pet unattended in a room with an electric fire.
- Pets and cooking don’t go together. Pans of burning oil are a danger for inquisitive dogs, and cats can burn their paws on recently used hobs. The safest option here is to simply keep your pet out of the kitchen. For some people, particularly cat owners, this may be quite difficult, so you might want to consider investing in safety covers that fit over the oven knobs, meaning they won’t get turned on accidentally. Don’t allow your pets to become used to jumping up to take food from kitchen counters or tables, as they may do the same to food cooking on the stove.
- Electric cables are a ubiquitous feature in modern houses, but many cats and dogs (and guinea pigs and other pets if you let them out for a wander) feel an overwhelming compulsion to treat them like chew toys. Aside from the obvious threat of electrocution, frayed wires are also a huge cause of fires. The first thing to do is attempt to hide cords behind furniture and under carpets and other places where even the most determined doggo won’t be able to get at them. If you can’t hide a cable, you should think about getting a chew protector and bitter apple spray to make the cord as unappealing as possible. If a cable does get chewed you must replace it immediately. Also, choose a strategic place to put your pet’s food bowl; you don’t want to give them any temptations.
- Never let your pet sleep on an electric blanket, either by themselves or on your bed. If they chew the wires then they are exposing both themselves and you to the threat of being electrocuted. There is also the risk that an exposed wire could heat up the mattress and start a fire. If you’re adamant about your pet sleeping on your bed in the winter then you’ll have to make do with a hot water bottle.
- You could consider putting a pet rescue sign in your front window. This means that if there is a fire while you are out, firefighters will know to look for your pet.
- Don’t let your pets take up smoking. It’s a bad habit anyway.
Ultimately, use your common sense and take precautions and you will be unlikely to suffer any pet fire mishaps. As well as these tips, always follow general fire safety advice. Maintain the batteries in your smoke alarm and replace the alarm itself at least every ten years. Always have an exit strategy for if a fire does take place. Keep the phone number and address of your nearest emergency animal hospital in your phone. Also, have a current photo of your pet – just in case you get separated from them.
Take care, and have a happy Pet Fire Safety Day!