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Make Your Pet Feel More at Home

Make your house a haven for your cats and dogs. Here's the gear they should live with -- and how you can live with it, too.
Martha Stewart Living, September 2011

There's a certain irony in suggesting that you encourage your dog or cat -- which may be sprawled across your sofa right now -- to feel more at home. But it is important to consider your pet's environment. "The right surroundings help reduce boredom and keep your pet relaxed, healthy, and better behaved," says Greg Kleva, a trainer at Bark Busters and the host of "It's a Dog's Life" on Martha Stewart Living Radio. Here are some things your pet needs to feel comfortable and safe and tips on how to integrate them into the home you share.

Catching Some Z's

For most dogs, a crate with a soft liner is a great escape from the occasional chaos of a busy household. Just don't alienate the animal. "A lot of owners put unsightly cages in the basement or in unused rooms, but this isolates the dog, and loneliness can create behavior problems," says Melinda Miller, hospital director at Smith Ridge Veterinary Center, in South Salem, New York. Instead, place the crate away from high-traffic areas but near the family. If you want something more stylish, opt for a crate in wood or wicker.

You have more than one spot to relax in the house, and your pet should, too. Whether to let animals on furniture is up to you, but if they are allowed, a towel or blanket can protect the upholstery. You can also place beds where family members spend the most time, such as the den and bedroom. Choose cushions that suit your pet's sleep style. Dogs that sleep curled into a ball often prefer fluffy round beds; those that stretch out like longer, flatter beds; and dogs that rest their heads will find a bed with bolsters along the side coziest.

In addition to a cushioned bed, a cat might like a window perch or a tiered "cat condo" for climbing and snoozing.

Dinner is Served

A pet's eating area should be away from commotion, such as in an open pantry. Cats and short-nosed breeds of dogs do best with wide, shallow feeding bowls, which accommodate the shape of their heads better than deep, narrow bowls do. All dishes should be fixed in a holder or heavy enough to not move and frustrate your pet (and scatter food, which frustrates you).

Let's Play

To keep your pet stimulated and your home neat, rotate out a third of your pet's playthings every few weeks. For safety, don’t leave out toys with small removable parts or long strings. Place other toys in an open bin or basket on the floor. This lets dogs and cats get them at will; plus, it helps you with a quick and easy cleanup. "Many dogs can even be trained to put their toys back in their toy chests at night," Miller says.

Climb In for a Catnap

Some animals like the secure feeling of an enclosed bed. This one is handsome enough to put in any room. Handwoven pet basket, $185, olivegreendog.com.

The Right Stuff

A few good-looking and hardworking pet accessories.

Throw a durable blanket over furniture, or use it as a travel bed. Quilted throw blanket, in Leaf Green, $135, utilitycanvas.com.

Use a mat under food and water bowls to catch spills. Fish-shaped mat, in Wheat, $35, chilewich.com. Ridged Happy Cat bowl, in Creme, $22, georgesf.com.

Store kibble in a container that doesn't have to be hidden. Bon Chien medium food-storage can, $54, harrybarker.com.

Let pets help themselves to their toys. Toy storage bin, $10, and fleece chew and crochet squeak toys, from $8, by Martha Stewart Pets, from petsmart.com.