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House fires affect 500,000 pets a year: Here's how to protect your dog or cat

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According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, about 40,000 pets in the U.S. die in residential fires each year, mostly due to smoke inhalation, and 500,000 pets are affected overall. In some instances, pets can be the cause of those fires.

Here's how often pets cause house fires and what you can do to ensure their safety in the event of an emergency.

How often do pets cause house fires?

The National Fire Protection Association estimates there are 790 house fires started by animals each year. However, this statistic includes animals other than pets. That includes chipmunks and squirrels that chew through electrical wires.

While house fires caused by pets are rare, they could happen to pet owners who tend to leave open flames around their homes, said Julia Conner, a humane education specialist at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department's Animal Care & Control unit in North Carolina.

"If you're the type of person who likes to leave candles out on coffee tables or side tables that cats and dogs have access to, there is always that risk that it could get knocked over," Conner said. "And it could start a fire."

How to protect your pets from house fires

If your house catches fire, it's important to make sure your pet is in a place where you have easy access to them, Conner said.

"You want to keep items close to them like a leash so you can run out of the house with them," she added. "If you have to let them out of the house, that's a better option than fumbling trying to find a leash and put it on them, especially if they're terrified and freaking out."

The American Kennel Club offers these additional tips on how to keep your pets safe from house fires:

Extinguish open flames: Don't leave your pet unattended near an open flame, like a fireplace or candle, and make sure to extinguish any flames before leaving your house.

Pet proof your house: Ensure areas where fires can easily be started, like stoves and loose wires, are inaccessible to your pet.

Secure young pets: Keep puppies and kittens away from potential fire hazards.

Keep pets near entrances: When they're home alone, leave your pets in rooms near entrances so firefighters can easily find them.

Practice escape routes: Keep collars and leashes handy in case you have to get out of your house quickly in the event of a fire.

Use monitored smoke detectors: These are connected to a monitoring center and can provide an added layer of security beyond battery-powered smoke alarms.

Use a pet alert window cling: Write down the number of pets you own and attach the cling to a front window to save rescuers time when locating your pets.

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