Crazy about your dog or cat? You're not alone. Many people think of their pets as best friends or part of the family. But, as with any bestie, your dog's or cat's habits, belongings, and "decor" can be headaches to live with. Here are simple ideas for pet proofing your home to keep your house looking nice—and you, Fido, and Felix safe and happy.
Dogs love a plump place to sleep. That place is often in your bed. But it's better for your animal (and for showing who's boss) if your dog has its own bed, says Todd Langston, a dog behavior expert and owner of Pack Life K-9 Behavior Solutions in Orlando. The best dog bed is filled with cedar chips and has a washable cover, he says: "They smell good and repel fleas."
Dogs also do very well in crates or cozy closed-in spaces. It may seem cruel to confine them, but think of it like this: The way you feel in your den or reading nook is the way your dog feels in his crate--safe and relaxed. Push the crate under a table in a kitchen corner or in the basement—or build a little pet hideaway—and it won't fight with your decor.
A big part of pet proofing your home is keeping things out of reach. Many pets will chew on anything they find around (your favorite shoes, that cashmere throw), especially when they're young. The solution: Don't leave anything around that you don't want chewed. And distract your pet with his own chewy toys. Stash them in a laundry basket, canvas bin, or decorative basket, if you so choose. Your dog won't care.
One swipe of Fido's tail over a low table, and your collection is shards only. Protect your valuables (and your pet) by keeping collectibles and breakables out of the way or in rooms where your pet doesn't go. Take your animal's agility into consideration; cats are notorious for reaching high places.
Here's a key pet safety tip: Your furry friends will absorb—through their paws—whatever you use to clean your floors and other surfaces. Bleach and other strong chemicals are highly irritating and toxic. Opt for vinegar-and-water rinses instead. (They're also better for you and the environment!) Keep all cleaners up high or in a secured cabinet where Mr. Nosy can't get into the bottles.
Spend the money on a nice-looking airtight one, and you'll save you and your pet a lot of trouble. They'll be able to come and go as they please without the usual back-and-forth of "Let me out! No, let me back in!" Just be sure that your yard is fenced so your pet doesn't wander off when he leaves.
Even if your dog is perfectly potty trained, the rug will collect hair, critters, and bacteria, says Lori Gilder, an architectural interior designer in Los Angeles. Pick easy-to-clean tile, vinyl, stone, or hardwoods instead. Keep the pooch's nails trimmed to cut down on floor scratches.
After you've tripped over the dog food bowls a few times, you'll realize the wisdom of a built-in feeding system. Many cabinetmakers now offer the option. Keep dinner and snacks handy but out of sight with a rollaway drawer built inside a cabinet. Seal food inside airtight bins (Lidded garbage cans work well, too.) to keep it fresh and avoid attracting pests. If you have a particularly enterprising pet, you may need to install a latch or lock on the door.
A common and sometimes frustrating cat behavior is scratching. Unless you like fringed walls and slipcovers, get a cat scratching post. Initially, set it near your favorite perch: that's where cats want to scratch. Discourage clawing on furniture by covering the spot with aluminum foil or tape until her habits shift to the post. And skip grass-cloth wallpaper: it beckons for a scratch, says designer DeAnna Radaj, owner of Bante Design in Milwaukee.
Regular grooming for dogs and cats is a must, but sometimes emergencies call for a quick hose-down. For those days that your pup decides on a dirt massage, a mud room with a sink and built-in hosing center is the answer. If you don't have the space, a garage basin or outdoor dog wash station works, too.
Pet proofing your home extends to your pet's impact on paint. Drooling or an enthusiastic shake after rain will stain walls painted with flat paint, says designer Gilder. A nice satin paint will wipe up more easily.
A dog running can easily slide on a rug, knocking over a person, plant, or table in its way. Get a slip-proof area rug, or anchor rugs with heavy furniture, suggests designer Radaj. Don't want to buy a new rug? Rubber rug grips that stick on the bottom of rugs you already own are another good option. And get fabric colors that match your pet, because his hair will blend in.
Your dog's leash, raincoat—whatever accoutrements Lassie needs to take a stroll—will be right where you need them (along with your keys) with handy hooks. Set up a dedicated pet supply station by the door for convenient access when she's ready to go out.
A major pet safety consideration will be plants. Many plants, including aloe, ivies, and amaryllis, can be toxic to dogs and cats. For a complete list, check with the ASPCA. If you need to part with a poisonous plant, a non-pet owning friend or family member will likely be glad for the gift! If you are a plant-lover, set your (non-toxic) greenery on sturdy bases so a hearty chase won't knock them over.
Avoid drapes and blinds with long cords and tassels that pets can wrap up in. And make sure that all wires and electrical cords are firmly attached to the wall, not dangling free where they might look like a fun attraction. Electrical socket covers are also a must to prevent shocks to a curious pet.
Clear countertops of human food and keep cabinets closed. If food's out, some snout will find it. And some foods—including garlic, chocolate, splintery chicken bones, and sugar-free gum with xylitol—are dangerous for dogs and cats. For a complete list of foods dogs can't eat, see one from the Humane Society.
This is an important cat safety tip: Despite their alleged multiple lives, cats can use up all nine with one fall from a window. Secure screens, bars, and curtain rods. Make sure window locks work and that family members and visitors know not to leave a window open.
It's tempting for both cats and dogs to take a sip out of the toilet, but it's not savory stuff, especially with sanitizer in it. Kittens and puppies also love to take a nap in fresh, fluffed towels. But they may not survive a heated spin in the laundry. Good general cat and dog safety guidelines involve double checking before you close something (to be sure Fido isn't inside) or leaving something open (to be sure your pet can't get in or out).