If cozying up by the fireplace on a chilly autumn night -- a cat gently purring on your lap, a golden retriever sleeping at your feet -- sounds idyllic, chances are you probably have a pet or want one.
But as pet owners will tell you, day-to-day living with one (or more) underfoot is another story, unless you pet-proof your home.
"People think that child-proofing a house can be a challenge. Pets take it to a whole other level," says veterinarian Bernadine Cruz, a consultant for HGTV and the host of "The Pet Doctor" on PetLifeRadio. "Pets, in general, explore their world by sniffing, tasting and touching -- all marvelous ways of getting into trouble."
Pet-proofing can be as simple as putting obvious hazards -- for example, dangling window blind cords, electrical wires and houseplants -- out of reach. But it also may mean installing gates, pet doors, calibrated pet collars, protective furniture, mattress and carpet pads, pet-friendly flooring, and even high-powered vacuums, experts say.
Heidi Ganahl -- CEO and founder of Camp Bow Wow, a national chain of dog day and overnight care and training services -- recommends getting a pet's-eye view of your home. "Get down on your hands and knees," she says, and scan floors "for anything that can be potentially hazardous to an unaware pet," including thumbtacks, loose paper clips and floor lamps that could topple. Look at your surroundings, too, Ganahl adds, pointing out that houseplants -- especially those in the lily family -- fruits, chocolate and some nuts can be life-threatening for pets.
Traditional metal pet gates and childproof cabinet locks work, too, if you want to keep a pet from rummaging through your house. Furniture covers -- such as Sure Fit's machine-washable sofa and chair pet covers, Therapedic's Always Fresh, a set of pet odor-eliminating sheets sold exclusively at Bed Bath & Beyond, and carpet pads and carpeting with a special coating that prevents spills and pet urine from seeping into the carpet pad or flooring -- lessen damage to your home and furnishings caused by pets.
Technology has put a new twist on pet-proofing, with advances in signal-generating collars that can open pet doors or train a cat or dog to avoid a room or area of the home that could bring harm.
Plexidor, a manufacturer and worldwide distributor of pet doors, recently introduced an electronic pet door that activates only when a pet wearing a waterproof, shock-proof collar embedded with a radio-frequency identification chip wants to come in or out. No batteries are needed. "Having a technological tool like this is great for the health and comfort of the pet," says Plexidor President Joe Ambrose.
Invisible Fence Inc., the company that developed an exterior perimeter electronic pet containment system nearly 40 years ago, has just introduced PetFree, a wire-in or wireless training system that can keep pets outfitted with computerized "containment collars" up to six feet away from "pet-free zones" in the home, as well as specific outdoor spaces.
If you're building a home or renovating, you may want to consider pet-friendly flooring options. Hardwood and laminate floors can be slippery or hard underfoot for dogs and cats. Cork floors or rugs are more resilient, but like wood, they are not impervious to scratches or damage from spills without waterproof underpinnings. Stone flooring and ceramic tile flooring are about the only type that can resist scratches. Several websites and books offer comprehensive looks at pet-friendly flooring options, among them "Ortho's All About Floors and Flooring," BuildDirect and Discount Flooring.
Pet-proofing your home can be especially challenging if you opt for more exotic pets, such as reptiles, which require extra attention to cleanliness because they can be a source of the deadly bacteria salmonella, notes Cruz. "Children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems can become ill after being exposed to surfaces where the pet has visited or from sinks or bathtubs used to wash their habitats."
Birds that are let loose indoors can have a fatal encounter with a ceiling fan or fumes from overheated Teflon pans, she adds, and pocket pets, such as hamsters, can "steal away into your walls."