You open an upmarket interiors magazine to see a cute little cockapoo reclining on a pure white sofa, its black hair matching the cushion it reclines against. Really? As anyone who owns a dog – or cat – will tell you, in reality that white sofa would most probably feature a trail of muddy footprints and enough dog hair to give it a marbled effect. But all is not lost. It is possible to have a stylishly beautiful home and share your life with a four-legged companion. Here’s how.
The first thing to think about is that you must make your home pet-friendly. It’s a constant battle otherwise, if you have to brush your furniture every day or push your dog off the sofa every time he jumps on it. Instead, choose fabrics and carpets that won’t show up every hair or trace of dirt. Even better, avoid carpets and use stone, wood or other hard materials for floors.
Darker fabrics are obviously better but if you prefer white and cream, for an added layer of protection, you’ll have to add throws and rugs (preferably with pads underneath so they can’t slip as your dog hurtles himself after the family cat in a game of tag). A good reward system helps too, reinforcing your pet’s positive behaviour.
You also need to decide where you will allow pets to go. If you don’t want them upstairs, then keep to this rule from day one – the same goes for feeding titbits of food to dogs and cats waiting under the table as it usually ends up with food-scattered carpets.
Some people prefer to confine dogs and cats to kitchen areas which are usually tiled and therefore more practical. Wherever they are, always feed them in the same place and, if you have a littler tray, change it regularly and don’t move it.
Just as with toddlers, you have to appraise your space. Check if low-level tables could be a hazard – either for running pets, or because they could knock precious ornaments or a glass of wine off, hurting themselves in the process. Avoid lit candles at dog or cat height too. And, of course, if you’re entertaining, bear in mind that animals will try to get at tempting food on plates and surfaces. Cats are very agile, so tend to jump onto tables… there’s not much you can do about this, but again, remove valuables to a more inaccessible place.
It’s also important to make sure that electric cables and cords from curtains and blinds are out of reach – some animals will chew through anything or can become entangled. Chemicals of all types are also hazardous, so keep them locked away and try to use environmentally-friendly, gentler products on floors as dogs and cats will absorb whatever liquid is on your floor via their paws.
Even plants need to be checked. Some, such as ivy, amaryllis, tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and aloe vera are highly toxic to dogs and cats, as are certain foods: chocolate, onions, garlic, avocados, grapes, raisins, fruit stones, ice cream, salt, chicken bones and chewing gum.
At this time of year, returning home from a muddy walk can be a challenge. As well as providing a doormat to remove surplus mud, make sure you keep an old towel and even a hose outside near the door to wipe your dog down if he is wet or muddy, limiting how much dirt is trodden or shaken around the house.
Some people try to impose order with the use of a dog or cat bed, but be warned: while some animals take to them immediately, others refuse point blank (especially cats, who seem to prefer a cosy cushion or your laptop keyboard). With dogs, they are a good way of showing who’s boss, but make sure you buy beds with washable covers.
Crates or cages are another good choice for a dog, but make sure you let him or her out as early as you can in the morning to avoid whining and toilet accidents, which brings me on to my next point. As owners we also have responsibilities, so ensure that your dog is taken out on regular walks, particularly when he first wakes up and before bed. Cats, of course, do their own thing but a cat flap is essential, ideally one that is chipped so that the local felines can’t get in too.
But what to do if your dog chews through your favourite armchair, or your cat scratches that lovely new coffee table’s legs? As well as training them not to, buy a range of chewy toys and keep them in a bag or basket to bring out regularly. Reward your pet for playing with these rather than your best furniture! Cats often take to using a scratching post but if you don’t want to get one of these, try adding a few drops of citrus essential oil (they hate the smell) or sticky tape to your furniture instead.
Most of all, remember that our pets help to make a house into a home and deserve to feel happy and cosy in their own environment. With a little planning and forward thinking, it can be possible to have a pet-friendly home without tears.