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Dog Showers (Yes, Dog Showers), Catios ("Cat Patios") and More Home Renovations for the Truly Pet-Obsessed

Architects, veterinarians and pet hotel designers share home improvement tips to benefit four-legged family members

When Dr. Lisa Aumiller got a house call to a two-bedroom condo in New Jersey, she knew the family she was visiting might have to split up, or make significant changes to their living arrangement. Aumiller, a veterinarian who spends her days making housecalls in a mobile veterinarian clinic, had been called in by the homeowners to mediate a territorial standoff between the residents: four domestic shorthair cats.

 

A male cat had been harassing one of the females, who sought permanent shelter atop a kitchen cabinet. The owners had been forced to sequester the aggressive cat in a bedroom. "It's like if you don't like someone and you have to see their face all the time," Aumiller says of the cat's territorial issue. "Can you imagine if you had to stay in your house with someone you didn't like?"

 

Instead of removing a cat from the home, Aumiller, a veterinarian of 18 years and owner of four cats and four dogs, recommended a relatively simple, inexpensive and pet-friendly home renovation: building perches on windows and adding shelves to walls. These minor improvements gave the cats better views (to improve visual stimulation) and elevated routes, which allowed the cats to bypass each other. The territorial fighting stopped almost immediately, Aumiller says.

 

Whether it's a simple modification or a major plumbing and construction project, recommending home improvements for pets is common for Aumiller. She says it's unusual to find a pet owner who hasn't made some type of modification for their animal.

 

Considering a custom home renovation or pet home improvement project? Therese DuBravac, a design consultant at a Portland, Washington, remodeling firm that regularly tackles home remodeling jobs for pets, says homeowners need to strategically review how a pet's preferences and limitations might conflict with the layout of a home. Here are a few remodeling solutions for some of the most common pet issues.

Helping Indoor/Outdoor Pets Stay Clean

 

One of DuBravac's clients installed a dedicated dog shower to curb muddy post-walk prints all over the house—a common problem in rainy Portland. "She wanted an area in the mudroom where she could hose them down," says DuBravac, who designed a step-in shower with a half-wall enclosure that allowed her client to spray the dogs from overhead. Pet tubs or showers can be installed outside near entry/exit doors in warmer climates, but consider an inside bath if you live in a colder region, says Mirabelli. "If you're bathing a Great Dane during a New Jersey winter, you need a tub inside to clean them."

Three Essential Considerations for a Pet Cleaning Station

 

Material: Opt for porcelain tile or stainless steel. Both are water-resistant and durable options for pet shower/tubs.

 

Design: Consider the pet's size and mobility before selecting the style of pet shower or tub. If the pet can't walk up stairs or may eventually have hip issues, avoid an elevated or staired cleaning station unless the pet is small enough to easily pick up and place inside the tub.

 

Resale: A full stainless steel grooming tub might work for pet owners living in their "forever" home, but DuBravac advises homeowners to think about resale value and appeal when designing or building a pet-specific home feature, particularly if you plan to move in the next five years. Case in point: the client who installed a dog shower sold the home, and the new homeowners contacted DuBravac to remove it.

 

Whether it's a simple modification or a major plumbing and construction project, recommending home improvements for pets is common for Aumiller. She says it's unusual to find a pet owner who hasn't made some type of modification for their animal.

81 Percent

Homeowners who said pets played a role in home-buying decisions.
- National Association of Realtors

Minimizing Damage From Muddy Paws, Sharp Claws

 

Nicole Mirabelli, an architect for a Florida-based firm specializing in animal shelter design, says selecting pet-friendly construction materials is the first step in any home build or remodeling project where pets live.

 

"Finish, durability and the ability to sanitize are the most important things," she says, noting this goes for everything from the countertops and flooring to drywall, depending on the scale of the renovation.

Countertop Materials

$69 Billion

The estimated amount Americans will spend on pets in 2017.
- American Pet Products Association

Solid, seamless surface

Solid (seamless) surface

Price: $35-100 per square foot, installed

 

Pros: Non-porous acrylic and polyester resin prevents bacteria growth, resists scratches; variety of finishes mimic stone. No sealing required, scratches can often be sanded out.

 

Cons: Artificial appearance; low heat tolerance

Granite

Granite

Price: $35-100 per square foot, installed

 

Pros: This beautiful, natural stone can be extremely durable and resistant to scratches.

 

Cons: Granite is porous and needs to be sealed occasionally (approximately 1/year for high-traffic areas) to prevent staining and damage.

Plastic Laminate

Plastic laminate

Price: $40-65 per square foot, installed

 

Pros: Laminate countertops are made by gluing together layers of resin-coated paper and attaching to particle board. It's less expensive and high-quality laminate can resist minor scratching.

 

Cons: Older, inexpensive laminate may be prone to scratching, peeling and water damage.

Floor Materials

Wood seems like a practical, durable choice, but Mirabelli notes it scratches easily and can retain water (think: pet accidents and spilled water bowls), which causes rot and mold problems. Likewise, carpet can harbor bacteria and mold—a potential problem for pets, owners and home resale value.

Ceramic or porcelain tile

Ceramic or porcelain tile

Price: $2-5 per square foot, installed

 

Pros: Scuff and scratch resistant and non-porous. Porcelain is slightly denser than ceramic, so it can be slightly more water-resistant. Styles can mimic appearance of wood or stone.

 

Cons: Tiles require grout, which stains and retain moisture. Proper installation, cleaning and maintenance required. Pro tip: grout formulated with an epoxy additive can be more resilient.

Laminate flooring

Laminate flooring

Price: $2-3 per square foot, installed

 

Pros: Holds up to minor scratches, inexpensive, can mimic wood or stone, easy to install.

 

Cons: Laminate can't be refinished; heavily scratched or water-damaged laminate would need to be replaced.

Wall Materials

Non-porous drywall

Non-porous drywall

Price: $12-14 per 4x8 sheet

 

Pros: Most brands sell a mold-resistant drywall option, which is ideal for keeping bacteria growth at bay (especially for pet owners who have cats that spray).

 

Cons: The finish of drywall isn't as smooth as plaster.

Paint

Paint
(VOC-free options)

Price: $25-50 per gallon

 

Pros: VOC-free paint does not contain volatile organic compounds that can be harmful to a pet's sensitive nose.

 

Cons: VOC-free paint can cost $15-30 dollars more per gallon than standard paints.

Keeping Pet Stuff Out of Sight or Out of Reach

 

With resale value in mind, DuBravac says home modifications designed to accommodate a pet should be multifunctional. In a kitchen she's currently designing, the homeowners wanted an extra set of slide-out cabinets next to the trash bins for bulk pet food storage. If a new family moves in, the cabinets can be used for kitchen storage. Adaptable pet home improvements also enable homeowners to repurpose a custom feature as household needs or a pet's health change.

 

Easy-to-access, but discreetly hidden cat litter box zones top the list of home improvements DuBravac's cat owners ask for. Homeowner Holly Guglielmo converted a small entryway closet into a mudroom bench with a low archway cut into it—a convenient solution to keep her three-legged cat Moody's litter box out of sight and arm's reach of her active two-year-old son. Guglielmo and her husband eyeballed the size of the entry cut-out to ensure Moody could comfortably access the space.

 

Aumiller notes another common pet health problem solved with smart pet home design: dog-proofing cat food bowls. Because high-protein cat foods can cause major gastrointestinal issues for dogs, DuBravac has been called in to design custom, cat-sized entryways in the door of a pantry or closet lined with rubber material (for easy cleaning) to keep the temptation out of reach for large dogs and maintain a stress-free dining experience for cats. "It was kind of fun to rethink something as basic as a cat door," says DuBravac.

Letting Indoor Cats Experience the Outdoors

 

With indoor cats, a lack of mental or physical stimulation can contribute to health issues like obesity and destructive behaviors caused by anxiety and boredom. Aumiller recommends creating a safe, enclosed space for cats to experience the outdoors—what cat enthusiasts call "catios" (cat patio), which cats can access through an exterior door or window.

 

Whether you're building a custom catio or assembling from a ready-made kit, Cynthia Chomos, a general contractor, designer and founder of Catio Spaces, recommends cedar for its durability and an escape-proof 16- or 14-gauge galvanized (rust-proof) welded wire with 2" x 3" or smaller holes. She warns against using chicken wire, which won't protect a cat from outdoor predators or other other cats and dogs, and isn't very durable.

 

A few other cat recreational area tips:

 

  • Catios must have a human entrance in case of an emergency.
  • Chomos recommends taping the catio entrance open to allow the cat to explore the space and slowly acclimate.
  • Avoid keeping cat food in the cat patio—it attracts bugs and other critters

Providing Extra TLC for Anxious Dogs

 

Sensory overstimulation—too many things happening at once, the sound of fireworks or thunder, the sight of other dogs or cats—is an issue for some dogs that can lead to destructive or disruptive behavior, says Aumiller. These home improvements and modifications can help an anxious dog stay calm.

 

Set windows facing a street higher than the dog's standing sight-line or cover existing windows with blinds a dog can't easily move aside, like plantation shutters, says Mirabelli. "In shelters, we stagger the kennels a few feet apart so dogs can't see each other because it makes them nervous," says Mirabelli, who owns two special needs dogs.

 

Owners of one-third of the 70 million dogs in the U.S. reported that fear of loud noises is a problem their pet, according to a study conducted by animal health company Zoetis. A closet or laundry room retrofitted with sound-buffering acoustical cotton panels offer noise-sensitive pets a quiet oasis during thunderstorms and fireworks season.

 

In a small space, panels spaced a few inches apart on the wall to allow for noise absorption can reduce noise by about 30 percent. Cotton panels cost approximately $240 for a four-pack of 2' x 2' panels. Acoustic tiles made of polyester can be applied directly to a ceiling and cost approximately $2 per square foot.

 

Hard surfaces in a home, such wood or tile floors, also increase reverberation noise. Laura Badraun, an architect intern alongside Mirabelli at the Bacon Group, tore out her own carpets and put down rugs for her black lab.

Making Life Easier for Aging Pets

 

When Makenzie Smith's pet, a Great Dane named Magnum, could no longer walk stairs to the second floor of her childhood home, her parents relocated their own bedroom downstairs to the living room. Finding ways to accommodate an aging pet doesn’t have to be so extreme, she says. A few things to keep in mind:

 

Heated floors (about $6/square foot) can ease the aches and relax muscles in geriatric pets with arthritis and joint issues, according to Mirabelli, who installed them in areas with tile for her own arthritic dogs, a Maltese and a Yorkie. "Heated floors are great for any pet—and they're also great for your electric bill," adds Aumiller, who recommends tackling this project when replacing old flooring.

 

For pets with mobility problems, Mirabelli recommends ramps and steps specially sized to the animal's gait. She wrapped her own steps in memory foam, in case one of her five-pound dogs slips and falls. Ramps should be tall enough to reach a sofa or bed, and depending on the pet’s agility, with an incline angle of 16 degrees (easy), 22 degrees (standard) or 26 degrees (for pets that can climb).

 

Approximate Stair Sizing

For small pets up to 12 pounds:

  • 3 to 3/8" high, 5" deep and 10 to 14" wide

 

For medium-sized pets up to 50
pounds:

  • 6.5" high, 6.5" deep, and 17" wide

 

For large dogs up to 200 pounds:

  • 7" high, 10" deep, 17" wide