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All About Pet-Proofing Your Home

In order for our pets to lead happy, healthy lives, we must keep them safe from the dangers that abound in the average home and yard.

Pets Nat Rea

Talk about pet friendly! About 85 million U.S. households have animal family members, according to the 2019-2020 American Pet Products Association survey. And boy oh (good!) boy, do we spoil them, to the tune of some $73 million a year. But for our pets to lead happy, healthy lives, we must keep them safe from the dangers that abound in the average home and yard.

So living with our 43 million cats and 63 million dogs (curious kittens and puppies especially) is a big incentive to control clutter, as these guys will chew and swallow all kinds of random items, including thread, buttons, coins, clips, twist ties, paper, and plastic. What they don’t ingest, they may simply destroy—and no one wants to discover a torn-up sofa or soiled carpet, bemoaning, “This is why we can’t have nice things!” to uncomprehending Muffin and Happy (code names: Mayhem and Havoc).

Read on, then, for room-by-room pet-proofing guidance, sanctioned by the ASPCA and American Humane, plus creative remodel solutions and DIY projects sure to bring greater creature comforts to all.

Trick Out a Pet Den

Giving pets a room of their own can keep them comfy and out of trouble (particularly when the humans are away). If planning a remodel, consider carving out a spot for Spot; if not, see where you can dedicate an animal area, with sturdy gates if not walls, perhaps in a mudroom or basement. Pooch parents may particularly want to put in a dog-washing station to clean up your pup before he has a chance to track mud through the house.

In general, the pet den will be an easy-to-clean place to feedfurry friends and store their food (use food-grade containers, if buying kibble in bulk), maintain the litter box (a good distance from food and water dishes), stow a bed, crate, cage, and/or pet transport carriers, and put fundamentals like toys, leashes, a scratching post, et cetera. This haven should be adequately lit, temperature controlled, and above all free of the potentially harmful items discussed below.

DIY Idea: Create a space for your pooch in style with an attractive, solid wood gate.

Keep a Pet Safe Kitchen

To discourage begging, refrain from giving pets “people food” from the get go. If you can’t resist, know that some items basic to your diet may be toxic to your best friend’s; follow the ASPCA’s list of Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pet.

Latch cabinet doors securely (particularly those lowers ones that often hold cleaning supplies) and employ a pullout trashcan or a sturdy metal model with a step-on lid release. If you suspect a pet has eaten something hazardous, call the ASPCA Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 without delay.

If a remodel is on the horizon, consider adding conveniences like a toe-kick baseboard drawer for water and food bowls or a second fridge in the island for the fresh fruits and veggies parrots copiously consume. Also install easy-clean flooring such as ceramic tile, laminate, or linoleum, as even finicky feline and canine diners can be messy.

DIY Idea: Build a handsome feeding station with storage below an elevated platform for bowls—which is easier on your pup’s back and neck.

Pet-Proof the Bathroom

Access to tempting toxins is the biggest danger here, so store all medications, makeup, lotions, and cleaners—as well as hair clips, elastics, swabs, et cetera—in latched cabinets.

Also, eliminate drowning risk by draining the tub and sink promptly, and close the toilet lid; you don’t want pets drinking from that bowl, either. Should your cat enjoy lapping from the faucet (some do disdain standing water), nip the habit with a bubble-up drinking fountain.

And if you prefer to bathe your pets instead of paying a groomer, consider shower attachments designed to do the job more easily and effectively.

Establish Bedroom Boundaries

Love your pets—and like your stuff? Separate them, stowing clothes and shoes behind closet doors and relegating cosmetics, jewelry, small electronics, and the like to boxes and drawers. Note that mothballs are highly toxic, so don’t let little wet noses anywhere near them. And with all this door and drawer closing, be mindful not to accidentally shut a kitten or puppy inside.

Hitting the hay with pets is a pleasure for many, so you may ultimately opt to offer older dogs with mobility issues a ramp up to the bed. However, a recent Mayo Clinic study found that 20 percent of pet owners suffer disrupted sleep due to noises, movements, crowding, and allergies to their furry buddies. If that’s your plight, ban pets from the bed, providing proper accommodations elsewhere. Fluffy and Fifi may in fact prefer an enclosed snoozing spot, be it a crate or a bed with padded walls, so don’t feel guilty.

With other pets, you may need to get creative. If kids insist on having Harry the Hamster in their bedroom, install a silent wheel (nocturnal critters like to exercise at night). Turn off aquarium lights at bedtime; it will inhibit algae overgrowth and foster shut-eye (yup, some fish have day/night cycles just like we do).

DIY Idea: You don’t want to look at or trip over Bowser’s bedding? See directions for building a pint-sized Murphy bed that folds tidily into the wall when not in use.

Welcome Animals Elsewhere

Make the living room, den, and media room safer for free-range pets. Cords and wires must be carefully tucked away, and knickknacks should be minimized. Consult the ASPCA’s database of Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants if you like having greenery about. Be sure to use a fireplace screen and watch out for fire-starter sticks, which dogs may find irresistible.

When redecorating or renovating, choose materials with pets in mind. Leather and vegan alternatives are rugged, wipe-clean staples, while Crypton is a germ- and stain-resistant synthetic gaining popularity with pet parents. Brushing regularly is a great way to bond with pets—and keep fur off your furniture.

In terms of flooring, carpet is less than ideal (especially if Boo-Boo is prone to accidents), but if you must to go wall-to-wall, pick a product with a performance rating of 3.5 or higher in a shade that matches your pet so shedding won’t show. Also consider carpet tiles that can be easily replaced.

Bamboo is a smart choice, wood-wise, as it’s rugged and stain-resistant. While hardwood with an adequate urethane finish can bear up under a small dog’s nails, pooches with greater poundage could mar the floor; be sure to trim pets’ nails to minimize damage. Microfiber mops and vacuums designed to pick up hair are musts in a multi-pet home.

DIY Idea: A cool piece of furniture you’ll be proud to have in your living room that happens to be a secure spot for a hound to sack out? Learn how to build a dog crate.

Pet Proof Utility Areas

In the laundry room, store detergent and other supplies in latched cabinets, and block any nooks and crannies behind appliances where pets could crawl and get stuck.

Note that kitty may consider the dryer a nice place for a nap, and pups are notorious for chewing towels and socks. Between chemicals like antifreeze, sharp tools, and a plethora of screws, nuts, bolts and nails, the garage is a danger zone that should be off-limits to Lucky and Lady.

Pet Prep Your Outdoors

Animal care organizations do not condone leaving pets alone outdoors without shelter for extended periods, and some local ordinances prohibit it. While a good fence can keep dogs in the yard, cats are incredible climbers who can quickly get lost in the big bad world. Window screens are essential with felines, who are often injured or killed by falls, and it’s a bad idea to leave pets unattended on a balcony or terrace. It’s also important to have your pets microchipped lest despite your best efforts they get loose or run off.

Prevent pets from ingesting common outdoor toxins such as lawn chemicals, pesticides, mulch, fertilizer, compost, lighter fluid, and poisonous plants (which include azaleas, some ferns, and ivies, daffodils, and daylilies). Keep critters away from mowers and other garden tools, fire pits, swimming pools, ponds, and hot tubs (though many animals can swim, drowning can occur if they can’t get out of the water).

Finally, attend to flea and tick protection and control. Not only do these pests sicken pets, their eggs, pupae, and larvae can hitch a ride on your buddy—and into your house.

DIY Idea: Don’t let your pooch develop a pot! Run him through an outdoor agility course, complete with a jump, weave poles, and a teeter-totter.