A new pet is more than an adorable bundle of fur; it's also a big responsibility. That pesky puppy or curious kitten can find lots of ways to get into trouble, and — contrary to popular opinion — pets don't always intuitively know what can be potentially harmful to eat or drink. A pet's safety always comes first, but you'll also want to take steps to safeguard your furniture, carpeting, and other belongings (including that favorite pair of shoes). Read on for tips that will help you pet-proof your home.
Pet Safety: Gates and Latches
"The most common injury in new pets that I see in my practice is puppies falling off beds, sofas, and other high furniture," says Ernest Ward, Jr., D.V.M., the founder and chief of staff at Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, North Carolina, and a regular guest onThe Rachael Ray Show. To prevent such falls, keep your pet off high furniture — a rule that holds for kittens too, says Ward.
It's also important to restrict a new pet's access to your home by shutting off rooms with a closed door or child gates. "This not only prevents accidental injury but also can help curtail house-soiling problems," says Ward. Establishing boundaries for your puppy or kitten early on leads to a well-trained adult animal.
Household Cleaners, Chemicals, and Plants
While your pet is still getting accustomed to its new home, install childproof latches on cabinet doors and keep household chemicals and cleaners — such as bleach, ammonia, and antifreeze — well sealed and out of your pet's reach.
For dogs, the most dangerous common toxin is antifreeze, says Dr. Louise Murray, D.V.M., director of medicine at the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City and author of Vet Confidential: An Insider's Guide to Protecting Your Pet's Health. "A dog may lick it off the floor while its owner is working on a car," she says.
For cats, the most dangerous toxin is the lily, which can cause fatal kidney failure if even a leaf is nibbled. Other common houseplants are also toxic to dogs and cats; ask your veterinarian for a list.
"People Food" and Other Common Pet Dangers
Ward recommends that animals of all ages be kept away from "people food" — onions, garlic, chocolate, and raisins, in particular, are harmful to pets.
Pet medicine is designed to taste good to dogs, which can tempt them to chew through the bottles, leading to overdose. Some owners give their pets medications meant for people, such as ibuprofen, a hazardous practice that can cause damage to pets' intestines and kidneys. Murray recommends keeping human and pet medications separate and keeping both safely stored away.
For further information on poisonous household items, visit the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control FAQ.
Electrical cords are another potential hazard, says Ward, because teething puppies enjoy chewing on squishy wires. Unplug unnecessary cords and purchase protective covers for outlets and power strips.
The Great Outdoors
Many pet owners believe that their new pets' instincts will keep them away from harm, a common assumption that can seriously endanger pets left free to roam outdoors. "Their instincts were designed for a world we don't live in today," says Murray.
Letting dogs and cats run loose outside can lead to fights with other animals, as well as injuries from cars and people. Murray recommends keeping dogs on a leash at all times outside. Cats should be kept indoors for the most part, although they can be allowed to venture into a backyard if they're kept on a leash under their owner's supervision.