Whether it’s a new pup you now call family, or an abandoned old kitty you’ve just given a second chance to, pets have a way of making their presence known in the home, especially when they’re new to it. By pre-empting their moves, you can avoid nasty breaks and messes and help keep the peace as they settle in.
The long-term solution to domestic bliss is to train your pets to stay away from areas you don’t want them in and the objects you don’t want them to touch. A clear and authoritative command like “out” or “no” followed by a healthy treat if they obey is very effective. With repetition and patience, cats, dogs and other pets will respond to positive reinforcement using treats.
It can take a while, though, and you may need to use physical barriers before then. On the subject of safety, when pets are new to your home and don’t yet know the rules, the biggest threat to them is probably the outside world, and then the stove, and then the toilet bowl, so make sure to be extra careful not to let them get access to these in particular till they understand everything better.
While you’re habituating them to areas you want them in, you can use discipline and deterrents to keep them away from ones they’re better off leaving alone. Remember that the same goes for objects. They may learn not to gnaw the couch, but they still have gums that need a good rub. Give them special toys to chase, chew and drag around so that they can get the stimulation they need without getting into trouble.
Of course, every species has a different impact on your home.
Dogs can be small or large, and are relatively active pets compared to more sedentary free-roaming pets like Persians. They move their bodies about a fair bit, lean against the things they trust, play boisterously with each other, chase other pets or children or your ankles, and wag that wonderful tail wildly. Vases, lamps and other fragile items on or near the floor or at their back height can be bowled over by them – secure whatever you can. They also like to nibble and chew, especially if they’re pups still learning how to use those razor-sharp teeth. Look at protecting the bottoms of couches, chairs, tables and other furniture or stationary objects. You can get protective temporary coverings from your local DIY supplier or turn old fabric gathering dust in the sewing room into a throw. It is a lot cheaper than repairing or replacing prized or priceless furniture.
Cats are less likely to eat your cushions, but might chew cords, will certainly sharpen their claws on whatever they can and are definitely inclined to jump up on surfaces (often to avoid the dogs). They also make an art of swishing their surprisingly strong tails about in glee or anger and they love to rub against objects in passing (if they’re in the mood). You can avoid mishaps in a number of ways. Secure bottles, vases, and other breakables using double-sided tape or removable, non-marking adhesive like Prestick. Spritz them gently with a well-directed spray of water and a firm but unemotional “no” for the serious no-go zones (but not near anything electrical). They’ll quickly learn where you don’t want them; they’re smart felines.
The poop factor is real, and while cats take to littler trays quickly once they’re weaned, undesirable elimination of body waste can happen to all pets, and requires careful attention. It might point to a serious, underlying medical condition that your vet needs to treat. For example, we’ve explored why cats might spray uncharacteristically here.
Speaking of which, birds tend to poop without warning, so if your parrot is allowed to roam freely in a secure space, remember to cover any surfaces that might get marked by the droppings. And, of course, protect or remove anything that can be chewed.
Rats, rabbits and mice also think nibbling is nice, and have very sharp teeth, so if your pet rodent is out and about in a room (that cannot be escaped, of course), watch out for the fabrics, papers, books and electrical cords!
Remember that pets can also stand or spread their bodies out, especially when curious, hungry, angry or scared, so calculate this extra length when working out which danger zones they can reach. Mittens is about twice as tall when she wants to be.
Some wily pets can also climb. Get gates to secure staircases until they know how to ascend and descend safely by themselves, and push chairs in at counters and tables.
Let’s take a walk through the house and make sure everything is accounted for…
Close all doors. We’re talking about the ones between the house and the garden/porch, the ones to rooms you don’t want them in, and doors to cupboards, washing machines, dishwashers, dryers, etc. And keep closing them! Dryers, especially, can be inviting to a chilly cat. Always check dryers for pets before loading and initiating, and check all drawers and cupboards for exploring kittens or pups before closing.
Secure all lids. Buckets, rubbish bins, mass storage for cereals – make sure pet paws and claws can’t get into these. Use baby locks if necessary.
Put the toilet lid down. Curious kittens can fall into the toilet bowl and drown; dogs might like to drink its water. Ask everyone in the house keep the toilet lid closed. It’s also wise to switch to a non-toxic toilet cleaner in case Rover does get a gulp despite everyone’s best efforts to prevent this.
Scan the floors. If there’s anything on or near them that might get chewed, pick it up, or cordon it off or pack it away. You can also use a safe, scented spray to deter them from the area.
Baby-proof it all. Cover plugs and secure electrical cords and cupboard doors. If a nose can nudge it, a pet can probably open it. Assume your fluffy one will explore every gap and crack, and make it impossible for them to break it or hurt themselves.
Lock dangerous or toxic substances away. We’re talking about medicines, mothballs, rat poison, household detergents and chemicals. If they’re eaten, they may kill your beloved.
Stow sharp utensils. Opened tin cans, knives, razors, blades and scissors can hurt your pet. So can hair pins, clips, safety pins and even jewellery – like earrings – if they swallow or chew them. This could sever the internal organs and require surgery to extract or cause serious infection.
Top-heavy items can easily topple over, break or hurt your pet. Re-position them or bulk up the base to make the bottom heavier than the top.
Consider replacing candles and parafin lamps with LED lamps to reduce the risk of fire.
Put a fire screen or grate in front of fireplaces, both when in use and when dormant. This way no hot coals can jump out and singe an animal. And you don’t want to go up the chimney to rescue your cat, do you? Also, never leave pets unattended if a fire is burning.
Consider a barrier to keep pets out of the kitchen when you’re cooking/using electrical equipment with moving parts.
Don’t leave dangerous human food on the counter/table. Chocolate, avocado pear, the list is long. If your dog eats it, it could die, as we explored here. Make sure containers are pet proof and read how to spot a poisoned pet.
Close windows on upper floors. Nobody wants a pet to fall from one.
Outside – garden, back yard, tool shed, parking garage
Make sure your fences and walls have no holes. Pets can get through the tiniest of gaps when they want to.
Are your fences high enough? A determined dog can leap really high, and sometimes we think cats can fly…
Are your fence gaps small enough? It’s amazing how small dogs can make themselves when trying to ‘get to the other side’. Consider chicken wire around the perimeter if they’re getting past a picket fence. Some humans even submerge the fencing to keep would-be diggers from getting under them.
Keep garage, tool shed and other outhouse doors and gates closed when not in use. It’s just better if your pets can’t get in those places…
Do your gates swing closed again? Get a spring to secure this, but test that it doesn’t close too harshly, in case your pet is in the way. If it doesn’t hurt your arm, it should be okay.
Remove garden plants that are poisonous to pets like dogs, (more here). If you can’t remove the plants, isolate them, but remember that plants grow and might reach beyond the barrier you create for them.
Store sharp objects out of reach – spades, screws, nails, saws, axes, etc. A blade could be a bloody nightmare for a pet. If they’re hanging, make sure they can’t be knocked off. Snugly placed nails are a handy way to secure hanging tools.
Clean any chemical spills immediately and restrict pet access to the area until you’re 100% sure there’s no residue. Same applies for ant poison, which can ‘burn’ your pet’s paw pads.
Use solid, secure storage containers, like durable plastic boxes with clip lids. Cardboard boxes can easily be chewed or torn by talons, teeth and claws.
Unplug all electrical tools. This way they can’t come to life and cut or shock your pet. Always check electrical cords are whole before you switch anything on. It may have been nibbled and shock you…
Check for hiding kittens or pups before you drive – open the bonnet, look around the tyres, and under the car, as well as inside the car. They can be quick when they are curious…
Avoid using any herbicides, pesticides, insecticide and other toxic garden chemicals that can harm your pet. Remember, they don’t wear shoes, and they use their noses to learn things…
Old batteries are toxic and might end up in a pet’s tummy. Dispose of them safely, and not in the rubbish bin. Check with your local supermarket or council for where to dispose of them appropriately.
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