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06.02.20

Make your home safe and comfortable for furry, feathered, and finned friends, they’ll appreciate it, says Iain Why

Pets are more than just animals. Our furry, feathered, and finned friends require time, attention, and as safe and comfortable a home as we do. "Most people don't think about pets when buying or building houses—not even the pet owners themselves," says pet psychologist David Beard: "Over half of all homes have pets living in them, but animals are still an afterthought when it comes to home improvements," he explains. "What we really want to get across is much more than just creating the world's most pet-friendly house, it's about making people think of pets with importance rather than as possessions."

When you're planning a home for both you and your pets, consider their particular needs. Think about whether you're putting your door-dashing dog on a high-traffic street. Will your protective puppy go postal on guests? How can you make your multi-story home comfortable for your elderly dog? What common household items are hazardous to pets and not humans? (Last year, the RSPCA handled more than 140,000 cases of pets exposed to toxic substances and hazardous things in their own homes.) Keep reading to learn what you should be looking for, and how a little planning can go a long way to help you streamline your daily routine and keep your pet safe and happy.

Try to think like your pet to get a sense of what might be dangerous to them. The pros at Purina suggest that the best way to start is by taking "a puppy's eye-view" of things. You have to put yourself in your pet's place—and get down on all fours—to take a look around. Make sure you inspect areas that your pet can access by way of climbing or jumping. You'd be surprised at the dangers a periodic inspection of your home can reveal. Here are some hazards to look for (although they may not be all you find):

  • Look for choking, strangulation, electrocution, and suffocation hazards. Keep window treatment cords short and cut through any loops, and unplug or cover wires and electrical cords.
  • Don't leave human foods and medications where pets can access them. Eliminate "ladders" that curious pets can climb to access elevated areas like countertops and tabletops. Discard perishable trash daily to keep pets from rummaging through it. Between trips to the curb, keep trash odours (and pet temptation) low with baking soda and a tight-fitting lid. One pet-owner favourite is the stainless steel foot-pedal bin.

If pets get into the trash, they can chew chicken bones into shards, get to choking hazards like fruit seeds and cores—and your house is going to be a mess. Note that many fruit seeds contain natural contaminants that can result in potentially fatal cyanide poisoning in dogs: Grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure, caffeine in coffee grinds and chocolate are also toxic, sugar-free foods and gums containing Xylitol can cause liver failure, and nutmeg can cause tremors, seizures, and central nervous system damage.

  • Make sure indoor plants are varieties that are pet-safe. Lilies can cause kidney failure in cats. Other common, but toxic, plants include amaryllis, poinsettia, mums, and aloe vera.
  • Pets can often manoeuvre cupboards open to access home cleaning products, pesticides, fertilizers, and other hazardous items. Consider latching them shut. Keep rooms where you set out rodenticides and traps off limits to your pet.
  • Keep your toilet lid down, especially if you use automatic bowl cleaners, to eliminate risk of poisoning. Keeping the lid down also eliminates a drowning hazard.
  • The number of cats that fall out of windows is so high, that the veterinary profession has coined the term High-Rise Syndrome. If you must open windows, make sure that screens are sturdy and properly installed. Window guards are not adequate protection for cats, who can easily fit through the bars.

Kittens and puppies will sneak into an opened dryer (or other small, dangerous places) the first chance they get. Give them their own space and you won't have to worry about them seeking refuge where they don't belong. A hazard-free zone, with a cosy bed, water source, and safe toys will do the trick. Other convenient features include a sink to wash feeding bowls, and adequate storage for accessories. Remember that well-exercised pets are less likely to get into trouble, and more likely to rest well at night instead of barking or whining for attention. If it's possible, create a pet area in a mudroom with cat or doggy door access to a fenced-in yard, corral, or dog run so that they can head outdoors at their leisure.

Litter boxes should be placed away from feeding areas and in a place that's private, but not too isolated. If your pet doesn't feel safe or comfortable using a litter box, he won't. Elderly pets should be given an area on the ground level. Consider placement of ramps to furniture if you allow your elderly pet that kind of access. If you're not home for most of the day, you're presented with a special set of concerns: Consider a pet fountain so that fresh water is readily available. Leave your pet with sturdy toys that won't break to reveal small parts. Interactive treat toys made of high-impact plastic, will keep your pets occupied and stay in one piece. If your pet is especially curious, consider crate training him or blocking off a small, safe area with a baby gate.

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