Humans and animals have been cohabiting for thousands of years, but that doesn’t mean cats and dogs always know how to be good roommates. From toilet training to table manners, animals sometimes need a little help to adjust to the world of humans and their stuff. Likewise, a lot of seemingly benign things in our homes can be hazardous to pets, so it’s worth knowing what they are before your fur baby moves in. Before bringing home your newly-adopted pet (especially if it’s a puppy or kitten) here are a few easy things you can do to prepare your space for their arrival.
Cats have more than 200 million odour receptors in their noses and dogs have 300 million, compared to our relatively unimpressive 5 million. That means that they have access to a whole world of information that is invisible to us, including the contents of grocery bags, cupboards, and cookie jars. Since many foods that humans love – chocolate, for example – are toxic to cats and dogs, it’s important to keep familiarize yourself with potentially dangerous foods and make sure you keep them well out of reach of your inquisitive pet. Because cats and dogs can be surprisingly capable when it comes to opening closed doors, keep dangerous foods like these on a high shelf, or install child-proof locks on your cupboards. If you keep snacks in your purse or backpack, make a habit of putting them out of your pet’s reach when you get home.
Since chewing and clawing are natural behaviours for dogs and cats, make sure you provide them with lots of fun and interesting alternatives (like scratching posts and chew toys) to keep them occupied. Because cats and dogs tend to have their own opinions about what makes a good scratching post or chew toy (and they can take some time to be convinced otherwise) you might want to delay getting that expensive couch or dining room set until after your pet has adjusted to its new home. If you do have a couch that you’d like to keep pristine, draping it with a large blanket or slipcover can protect it from both pet hair and scratches. To save yourself and your pet a lot of stress, however, it’s worth setting reasonable expectations from the start, and accepting that your couch might end up with a few dings nonetheless.
A bit of greenery can make any space look more vibrant and cheerful, but not all plants are pet-safe. Much like that emergency chocolate bar in your purse, a seemingly benign aloe or rubber plant can pose a big danger to your pet if ingested. Since dogs and cats sometimes like to supplement their diets with greenery, it’s worth knowing which common houseplants pose a danger in the event they have a nibble. Instead of getting rid of the offending flora, you can try placing them up high on a plant shelf, or suspending them from a woven plant hanger.
Since pets walk around barefoot and clean their paw pads by licking them, the products you use to clean your floors (and counters if you’re a cat owner) can pose a hazard to your pets. To keep them from ingesting any toxic chemicals, switch to a pet-friendly brand of cleaning products. You can check your pet store for recommendations, or just save money and go with trusty old vinegar and baking soda – which usually works just as well!
Whether or not you allow your pet to sleep in bed with you is your decision, but there can be advantages to keeping one or two rooms in your home off-limits to your pets, especially when they are first adjusting to their new space. One easy way to keep your dog out of your bedroom or home office is to close it off using a hinged toddler gate, but this may not work for larger dogs, athletic dogs like border collies, or cats (who’ll quickly learn to get around it). As with most of these pet-proofing solutions, this is most effective if used in conjunction with a consistent training regimen and a healthy amount of patience. Teaching your pet to follow your house rules (within reason – they’re still animals after all) can save you both a lot of stress, and help you enjoy each other’s company for many years to come.
Jeremy Freed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. His writing about fashion, travel, food and design appears in Sharp, Harry and re:Porter magazines, among many others.
Jeremy Freed is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.