Ways to pet-proof your home

Joan Fieldstone

October 10, 2016

By: Joan Fieldstone, Home Improv Advocate


I've lived in my own home for more than five years with a dog and several cats. When I left it recently to put it up for sale, I moved across country to stay temporarily with my dad.

The dog and one cat accompanied me. Unfortunately, my dad has lived alone for the past six years and doesn't have any pets. The grandchildren are grown. So when I arrived, I quickly realized my living arrangements were not ideally suited for harboring my fur babies.

I expect my visit here will be brief -- just until I find a new place nearby -- but meanwhile Dad's home poses hazards for the pets. I want to keep the separate space the "wee ones" and I inhabit safe and clean with the least amount of fuss and worry. Unfortunately, I can't do a major overhaul without upsetting my 90-year-old father's routine.

With regular caregivers coming and going and my pets becoming anxious around strangers, I have to keep them sequestered or there is the danger they may panic and run out of the house. The dog acts up when there is too much commotion; he has accidents. The cat hides as soon as he hears anyone besides me approaching; he scoots under Dad's reclining chairs -- a disaster waiting to happen if someone engages the mechanism while sitting down or getting up.

Dad himself is a danger when he backs up his mobility chair. He sometimes drops his medication on the floor, and we don't always find it right away. In this situation, I have no choice but to confine the pets to my room, play with the cat as much as I can and walk the dog several miles a day until he's exhausted.

If you plan to add a new pet to a household that doesn't currently have other pets or small children -- especially a vulnerable kitten or puppy or a rescue animal whose behavior you don't know -- pet-proof your home before they arrive. Here's some advice to prevent mishaps and help save your sanity.

Pet-proofing the house to protect your pets

  • Eliminate dangling cords -- electrical wires they can bite or window treatment pulls that could strangle them.
  • Put all medications, household cleaners and cosmetics in cabinets with child-proof locks. Move hazardous chemicals to high shelves. Don't forget the garage or backyard. Clean up spilled antifreeze; it tastes good to pets, but it can kill them.
  • A great many flowers such as lilies and tulips, other plants and just parts of certain plants are highly toxic to cats. That also pertains to some of your favorite natural remedies, for example, essential oils such as tea tree oil.
  • Keep your garbage in a can with a locking lid or in a locked cabinet. Many human foods are toxic to pets including chocolate, garlic and onions. They may give you indigestion but your pet may have a far worse reaction.
  • Keep toilet lids closed at all times or close the pets out of the bathroom when you're cleaning the bowl.
  • Check inside hampers before dumping laundry in the machine. Ditto for dryers before turning them on - or any other appliances, for that matter. I once found a kitty licking plates in the dishwasher after turning away from loading it for only a couple of seconds.
  • Cats love ingesting sewing thread, dental floss, yarn, mylar strips and plastic bags. All dangerous, especially the thread when a needle is attached to it.

dog and cat chillin'
Even the dog can be toxic to the cat after his flea treatment

This is only a partial list. The American Humane Association has one that's more comprehensive, but you really have to learn to think like your pet to anticipate potential dangers even they don't mention.

Pet-proofing to protect your possessions

Getting angry at your pets because they get into things or have an occasional accident due to our poor pet/person communication skills only ratchets up the tension. It can make them more likely to repeat the unwanted behavior and that aggravates us further. Put away or give away your most prized possessions if you love having pets more. The stress and hours of extra cleaning is not worth it.

Substitute pet-proof materials to decorate your home.

  • I'm a huge advocate of waterproof flooring like vinyl plank -- looks good and cleans easily.
  • Drape an inexpensive, washable throw over upholstered furniture or favorite quilts.
  • Replace the good stuff with bargain décor until your pets get trained.
  • And don't make the mistake of buying drapes as I did a couple of years ago.

As I search for a new place to live in the coming months, I'll definitely be thinking of what features keep maintenance easy with two animals as housemates -- and how to keep worries at a minimum.


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