If you're a pet lover, odds are that you care enough to add the few touches necessary to make your home your pet's castle as well as yours. In fact, nearly 90% of pet owners say their dogs or cats are members of the family, according to a December 2007 Harris Interactive Poll. And considering that nearly two out of three Americans own a pet, that's a lot of people willing to share their home with barking dogs and pouncing cats.
Here are some simple ways to move beyond the monogrammed food bowl and create the sleep spots, hangouts, and dining locales in your home that will pamper your four-legged friend and keep him or her safe.
Dogs need a designated sleep space, says New Jersey-based dog trainer Kathy Santo, author of Kathy Santo's Dog Sense. “This relates back to the times when they were den animals,” she says. More than half of the country's pet owners (69%) allow their pets to sleep with them, according to the Harris poll. But if you'd like to reclaim your sleep space, consider setting aside a part of the house that is solely for your cat or dog. This has an added benefit, as many animal experts contend that your pet needs his or her own space to rest and recoup from the stimulation of being with the family. A sleep space can be as simple as a pet bed or crate in the corner of your bedroom, or as extravagant as turning an unused closet into a pet room. “A crate really most closely approximates a den,” Santo says. “I am a fan of crates, especially for puppies and dogs that have dominance or aggression issues.”
If you see pet beds or crates as eyesores, consider remodeling a closet into a pet room. You can install a pet door into the closet door for easy access, or simply remove the door altogether. The bed can be placed inside, as well as food and water bowls. These can be as simple or luxurious as you'd like. New York City-based pet expert Charlotte Reed, owner of Two Dogs and a Goat pet care service, says she has worked on rooms outfitted with grooming tables, bathtubs, and a television for the pet's favorite programs. “The new trend is to create something opulent,” Reed says. “Some rooms have a real bed that is low to the ground, with comfortable pillows. In one house there was a closet with all of the dog's clothing.”
Giving cats a private place to do their business is more about the owner's comfort than the pet's, Reed says. But because dogs love to nose around in the litter box, concealment is a priority if you have both cats and dogs.
There are many creative solutions to this problem. One recent trend is installing hidden litter box spots in cabinetry, such as built-in sofas or entertainment units, with hideaway entry points too small for dogs to access. Reed recommends adding a sensor-operated light that goes on when the cat enters. Also, if you have a cat that sprays, make sure to line the space with plastic or linoleum for easy disinfecting. This same approach can be used with small dogs and puppies that use training pads, Reed says.
If you have a dog that lets himself out of the house when nature calls, consider upgrading your pet door. New models, such as Pet Safe's Extreme Weather Pet Door, have an insulated flap that can withstand 40-mile-per-hour winds. And a pet door doesn't need to be installed in a door. In fact, one of Pet Safe's bestsellers is a through-the-wall entry door. It's a self-framing, do-it-yourself project that is especially appealing to people with glass doors.
And if critters or other intruders are your concern, there are pet doors that come with “keys” installed on the pet's collar that automatically unlock the door when the pet approaches.
If your pet likes to spend time outdoors, consider constructing a dog or cat house. The basic requirements are that it be well-insulated against the elements and have proper drainage. It should also be large enough that your pet can stand up, turn around, and lie down. Beyond that, let your imagination take off, Reed says. Would your pooch like a shaded porch outside the house? How about building a miniature replica of your own abode, or just painting it the same colors? “Some people have even installed air conditioning and heating in their doghouses,” Reed says.
Cats are happy to just have various spaces to laze around. The Cat Veranda, by Pet Safe, allows cats to be safely outdoors. The unit is a large, screened box that extends outside a double-hung window, much like an air conditioner. “Customers are using them for feeding, too,” says Willie Wallace, Pet Safe vice president of sales and new product development. “The additional benefit is that if you have smelly cat food, it stays outside. Some people use it for a litter box as well.”
To keep your dog from roaming the neighborhood, install an electric fence. A perimeter is established around the house, either through in-ground wiring or a portable wireless system. A transmitter on your pet's collar will deliver a safe yet annoying jolt if he or she approaches the boundary line.
If your cat enjoys being outdoors, keep him or her safe with a specially crafted cat fence. One model, the Purr… fect Fence, aims to outsmart even the most enterprising cat. Its flexible material is difficult for cats to scale. But for those determined kitties, there is an added line of protection in the “Houdini-proof” arch that makes escape very difficult.
If your pet bolts out of the house once the door opens, a simple solution is at hand. Take an eyehook, screw it into the wall, and attach a leash, Santo recommends. Then, whenever you need to open the door, first leash him to the wall.
Other small touches can help “pet-proof” your home, keeping it just as safe for him as you would make it for a curious toddler. Place your trashcan in a locked under-counter cabinet or pantry so spoiled food or the caffeine from coffee grounds won't sicken pets, says the ASPCA. The same goes for cleaning products, medications, vitamins, garden and automotive supplies that can be toxic. Keep your dishwasher closed, as detergents can burn the mouth if ingested.
By making your home pet-friendly, you're letting your dogs or cats know that their unconditional love is appreciated. And when you see your pets content, you'll know that you're providing them with the care they deserve.
The Pampered Pet
To truly make your home your cat's or dog's castle, pet experts Kathy Santo and Charlotte Reed recommend adding these touches to your home:
- Arthritis and stiff joints can make stairs a challenge for older pets. A ramp outside the front door can help.
- Radiant heating systems under tile floors can keep pets warm during the winter.
- Install a pet shower in the “pet room” or near the front door. A walk-in shower, half the height of the average shower, will make washing muddy paws quick and simple. Add a grooming table if you enjoy styling and blow-drying your pampered pooch.
- A recessed shelf allows pet food bowls to be raised off the floor. This makes mealtime easier, especially for older pets.
If you have a large yard, consider landscaping a dog run. By incorporating grass, rocks, and hills, you'll encourage your pooch to stay fit and trim.