Many people who have cats understand that they quickly become part of the family. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand the importance of cat fire safety; in fact, it is mistakenly believed that cats will simply follow us out the door if there is danger. It is far more common for cats to have a safe place within the home and go to that place when they are afraid. This means that, if there is a fire, an animal is more likely to stay in the house than to leave through an open door or window. Firefighters often find family cats in a burned home, frozen in their final moments. It’s important to make sure this does not happen to your cats.

1. Use a Cat Sticker on Your Home

Veterinary offices or fire departments often offer cat stickers for a home with cats. This is a simple sticker that says, “Save My Cats,” with an area to fill in the number of cats, type of cats, and cats’ names. The main reason cats die in fires is because they are missed by firefighters who don’t know they exist. If a homeowner is away and a fire happens, the firefighters will look for the cat when they arrive at the scene if a sticker alerts them to do so. It’s also a good idea to list your cat’s “safe place” so the firefighters know where to look for the animal. If there is not room on the sticker for all the information, add information on a separate sticker. Typically, a family can receive as many stickers as needed for the home, especially from the animal’s veterinarian.

2. Learn How to Cat-Proof a Home

Just as a child must have a safe environment, so must an animal. Make sure all open flames are extinguished before leaving. An animal can easily knock over a candle and cause a fire to spread quickly. Train the cat to sleep in one specific area, such as a cat bed, so the animal can be picked up if you must leave quickly in a fire. Watch your cat when he or she gets scared of situations, and allow him or her to hide. This will reveal the cat’s “safe place,” and will help you find him or her in an emergency. It will also help you tell the firefighters where to look. When the family practices fire drills, include the cat. Designate a person to grab each cat, and practice with the cat at least once a month. Keep the plan consistent and practice often. Remind the responsible person to look first in the animal’s bed, then in the animal’s safe place. If possible, keep the animal’s sleeping area close to the safe place, to avoid moving through too many areas of the burning home.

3. Treat Smoke Alarms Differently

It’s always wise to change the batteries in the smoke alarm twice a year, and make sure they work once a month. However, when dealing with cats, you must treat the smoke alarm as a source of fear. While humans understand that the smoke alarm is a source of safety, it will scare animals that don’t understand its purpose. Remember to care for it, make sure it works, and understand that when it goes off, your animal will retreat to his or her safe place. You may have to look for the animal in his or her bed, then in his or her safe spot. Again, if these areas are close to each other, the task will be completed faster.

4. Inquire About Cat Oxygen Masks

Veterinarians and emergency personnel have realized that smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide are as deadly to cats as they are to humans, despite the animal living closer to the ground. In response, a number of organizations are providing cat owners with oxygen masks specifically for an animal’s muzzle. It’s important to ask if the emergency personnel has this option for your cat as he or she is transported to the veterinarian’s office. Providing extra oxygen is just as important to your cat as it is to you, and it increases the cat’s chances of survival. If the local emergency departments do not carry this equipment, consider raising funds to help them get the equipment. Alternatively, keep a bag with the equipment inside near your escape route to grab on the way out of the building.

5. Understand Your Cat

It goes without saying that we love our cats and know their personalities. However, it’s important to learn what your cat will do when he or she is frightened. It’s also important to remember that your cat is an animal of instinct. If he or she is safely outside the home, there is still a chance he or she will go back inside. The safe place mentioned before is all your cat will remember, and he or she will return to that safe place if allowed. This means that, if he or she hides in the tub during a scary thunderstorm, he or she will run back into the burning house to get into the tub, despite the danger inside. Make sure to hold your cat tightly to avoid this situation. Understand your cat, reassure your cat, and remember that he or she can feel your fear. Your cat will be as anxious as you are, so keeping him or her safe is an extra challenge in the face of a fire.