The last thing we want is for our pets to be in danger during a fire when both smoke and flames can endanger them.
So what should you do in case your alarms go off and your furry (or fin-bearing) friends are also in harm's way?
Have a Plan in Place
The best way to protect pets if your home catches fire is to include them in your family plan. Sarah Wooten, DVM and Pumpkin Pet Insurance veterinary expert, says leaving matters to firefighters is important, but making sure your pet is documented ensures they'll be prioritized and brought to safety.
A decal or sign on a window or door can let first responders know how many pets and humans are in the house, says Maja Drodz, a veterinarian at Goldsmith Veterinary Clinic in Denver.
Don’t have a family plan for fires? Ready.gov has a great template.
Microchip Cats and Dogs
Wooten says keeping identification tags or microchips updated in the event your cat or dog gets lost during a house fire will dramatically increase the likelihood they'll be found and returned to you.
It is best to rely on these backup plans in case of separation, but there are also ways to transport the pets out safely when you have to evacuate your home.
Have Appropriate Travel Preparations on Hand
Wooten advises keeping several cat and dog leashes around your home in case you ever need to escape a fire.
"Carry your cat or dog with a towel to make sure they don't inhale too much smoke," Drodz adds.
Along with carriers, pet owners should make an emergency kit for their dogs or cats with extra leashes, a first aid kit, a week's worth of food, litter and disposable trays, food and water bowls, copies of medical records, and toys.
Carriers also apply to smaller animals, Drodz says, as carrying rodents or lizards in a small transport kennel should be part of an evacuation emergency kit.
The kits should also include food, bottled water and a bowl, baby wipes for cleaning, paper towels, heat bulbs, spray bottles, and a blanket to deal with cold and stress.
Make Firefighters' Jobs Easier
Wooten cautions against ever re-entering a burning home if your pet didn't come with you. That should be left to the firefighters, she says.
"If your pet didn’t make it out with you, as much as you might be tempted, you will endanger your own life [if you re-enter]," she says.
Instead, create an exit point by leaving doors and windows open, and continually call your pet’s name to help them navigate their way out, she says.
How To Prioritize Fish Safety
Wooten suggests keeping two nets near your tank and several plastic bags that fit the size of your fish just in case.
"That way, in case of a fire, you can quickly scoop the fish up and into the bags," she says. "Turning the light off in the tank helps to confuse the fish so they are easier to catch."
Drodz agrees and says to have the fish-safe plastic bags ready filled with one-third water.
"If you have more time, a 5-gallon bucket with a lid and hole for air pump that can be plugged into car power adapter is also good to have on hand," she says.
Reptiles Also Need Rescuing
Keep a small plastic transportation container near the enclosures of reptilian pets that you can use in case of an emergency for transportation, Wooten says. It is helpful to also have a store of food, medicine, and other supplies as well to store in the container.
"If you are exiting a home with small pets ... place the animal in a large pillow case or cardboard box and carry them out in a pillow case or box," she says. "Pillow cases can also be used to transport animals down from heights if you tie a knot in one end."
Prevent Fires in the First Place
Wooten suggests fire-proofing your home to ensure curious and active pets don't knock over things in the first place.
She cautions against using open flames. If they are open, keep them supervised, out of reach, and extinguished before leaving the home.
Stoves accidentally turned on by a pet bumping into a knob are also a common way pets accidentally start home fires, so she suggests removing knobs or covering them.
Wooten says this is the best way to protect your pet from fires.