While my wife and I love our pets, more or less, we would like to do a better job balancing their physical health with our financial health. So I called several experts looking for tips on how to walk that line with Luna (the big good dog), Pippi (the little annoying dog), Kukio (the high-maintenance cat), Yoshi (the inscrutable gecko) and the countless fish that occupy our algae tank.
My panel of experts included Bruce Kornreich, associate director for education and outreach at Cornell University’s Feline Health Center; Spike Carlsen, an author and former executive editor of the home improvement magazine Family Handyman; Amy Britton, owner of Artisan Kitchens, a design firm on Cape Cod, Mass.; and Cesar Millan, a dog behavior specialist and publisher of the website Cesar’s Way.
Their counsel: A few fairly inexpensive home modifications, at the proper time, can help pet owners save money, keep animals healthy and make the house smell and look a lot less like a zoo.
Fortunately, most of those modifications can be done indoors during a heat wave. Unfortunately, many of them involve crawling around the primary battleground between pet and owner: the floor.
For a home with puppies or kittens, my panelists suggested swapping carpet for hardwood flooring or tile with dark grout that won’t show stains. Avoid natural stone tile, Britton said, because it can stain unless very well sealed.
Another hedge against incontinence are dog and cat doors, known among the raccoon community as the Best Inventions Ever.
To be fair, they work fine for people who remember to lock them, and certain models like the Ideal Pet Products Ruff Weather Pet Door ($120 for medium-size pets) can control the flow of traffic in and out of the home.
Putting small portals on our interior doors made sense. An energy auditor last year suggested we put a cat door on the unfinished side of our basement, where we keep the litter box. That way, we wouldn’t be heating an otherwise unused room by leaving the door open.
Installation is fairly easy if you have a jigsaw. The PetSafe cat door ($17 for small cats) includes a template for tracing the outline of the hole onto the door. If you’re handy enough with basic carpentry to build a box, you can save hundreds of dollars on items commonly found in pet supply stores. Fish owners can easily build an aquarium stand, for instance.
Ramps are among the easier do-it-yourself projects, and Kornreich and Millan recommended them for aging pets. I found a handful of useful YouTube demonstrations on building pet ramps. For dogs that damage couches, a cover (Crypton’s Throver, $100) works nicely to protect spots that your dog frequents when you’re not home.
Fortunately, some pet modifications can enhance the look of a room, Britton said. She suggested cutting holes in a low shelf of an open cabinet and placing pet food bowls in them, to save kitchen space and hide food spills.
Such modifications can also help a large dog’s health, Millan said, as they reduce stress on its neck and slow its eating pace. (Bowl stands are another option; the ones made by Contempo are $15.)
For older dogs with failing joints or vision, Millan suggested clearing a room on the ground floor of the house and putting a dog bed on the floor not far from the door. (Crypton bumper bed, $124 for large dogs).
“Otherwise,” he said, “they know they can’t make it outside in time, and they feel really bad about themselves.”