Katherine Miller once lost her kitten inside her studio apartment. "I was panicked. She was only 8 weeks old, and she just disappeared," Miller says. "She was gone for the entire day, and I couldn't figure out what was going on." Fortunately, "that evening, I heard this tiny meow and realized it was coming from my dresser." Her kitten had climbed through a small gap at the bottom of the furniture and was trapped inside a drawer.
That's why it's so important to scrutinize your home for problems before a kitten or puppy arrives, says Miller, director of applied science and research at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
See the world at pet eye-level. "Pets definitely explore their environments by tasting, and they put everything in their mouths. We think children are bad -- but that's nothing compared to what a pet will do," says Bernadine Cruz, DVM, a veterinarian in Laguna Hills, Calif., who recalls hearing about one Labrador puppy that swallowed 13 golf balls. Get down on the floor and check every room for hazards, she says. Look for exposed electrical cords, poisonous house-plants, and small objects, such as earrings, hair scrunchies, and toys.
Train your petto chew on acceptable objects. If you catch your puppy or kitten chewing on your leather boot, clap your hands to interrupt the act, Miller says. "No punishment, no anger," she says. Just make it a teachable moment. "Direct that behavior onto an appropriate object: a chew toy, a rawhide -- something that's safe and rewarding."
Give your kitten a scratching post. It's useless to punish a kitten that claws the sofa, because scratching is a natural behavior, Miller says. Instead, provide a scratching post or pad. "Cats like to scratch when they wake up. It's part of their waking up, stretching routine," she says, so station the post or pad near where your cat likes to sleep.
Exercise your dog: Just 30 minutes of vigorous exercise a day can tire her enough to slow down the destructive behavior.
Safety First for Pets
Here are more pet-proofing pointers from Cruz and Miller:
Tuck electrical cords well behind or under furniture, or confine them within plastic cord protectors.
Screen all windows tightly. So many cats and small dogs are hurt or killed falling out of unscreened windows that veterinarians have a term for it: "high-rise syndrome."
Keep out of reach all cleaning supplies, insecticides, medications, and other potential poisons. Protect dogs and cats from rat bait and ant traps, too. Best spot for safekeeping? A closed cabinet that is out of your pets' reach.
Close up trash cans, which can be full of toxic items, sharp objects, and human foods harmful to pets.
Avoid draperies with long cords and tassels that can strangle a pet. Beware of mini-blinds, which can get dented badly if a dog rushes to the window.
Trim your pet's nails regularly to prevent damage to leather and vinyl furniture.