20 April 2011

SENSIBLE STYLE - Pet-friendly Kitchens

Curiosity actually can kill your cat. And an old dog's new tricks may leave messes around your kitchen. So how do you make this hard-working space friendly for both four and two-legged occupants? That's what this edition of Sensible Style is all about.

Since this is an area in which I have blissfully little experience-being happily pet-free for the past nine years-I decided to bring in some experts for this post. They include a veterinarian, a custom cabinetmaker and a professional organizer.

About that killer first line...

I asked Dr. Holly Trief, VMD, of San Francisco, a veterinarian for 24 years and my older sister for, well, longer than that, what kitchen-related injuries she sees most often in her patients.

These are the first three on her list, and all are preventable with some changes to your kitchen:

  • "Burns to cat paws from jumping on stoves.

  • "Digestive upset/obstructions from [eating] items in the trash, such as chicken bones, plastic wrappers, sponges, Brillo pads, and [eating] items off table and counter tops, most commonly seen in dogs but occasionally in cats too.

  • "Electric cord injuries, especially in kittens. Dogs will also chew on electrical cords.

Burn free

You can reduce the chance of your cat burning its paws by changing from gas or electric cooking to induction. An induction burner will only heat up when there's a pot covering it. It will also cool faster than an electric or gas burner.

If changing your range or cooktop is not an option right now, and you have a curious cat, you can keep the burners covered when they're not in use.

Protect your pet's paws from burning with a Burner Kover from Range Kleen

Doggone it, Fido's gotten into the trash again

Our childhood German shepherd would do this. So did my lab stepdog, on occasion. What both dogs' kitchens had in common was a tall, open trash can. It was an invitation to mayhem, if you think about it. You can minimize the likelihood of this happening in your kitchen by moving the trash to a closed cabinet. Even if Fido smells something yummy inside, chances are he can't get to it.

Consider a trash pull-out for a base cabinet as a solution. Often, they'll fit in the open space below the sink, which happens to be a very convenient spot. Pull-outs come in various sizes and configurations. A two-can model will hold both recyclables and trash. They're available online and at many home centers.

Stop your dog from trashing your kitchen with a cabinet accessory like this Rev-A-Shelf pull-out

Shockingly-simple solutions

The simplest way to save your pets from electrocution is to unplug your countertop appliances when they're not in use. This will also help save money and the planet by using less electricity. However, that won't solve everyone's problems, especially if the pet chews an appliance cord when it's in use.

Dr. Trief recommends a baby gate to keep pets out of the kitchen while you're cooking. That would greatly reduce the chance of an electric cord mishap, or a cooking burn, for that matter.

If your kitchen entrance doesn't lend itself to being closed off, (as is the case in some open plan layouts), an appliance garage could be an alternate solution. Keeping the toaster oven out-of-sight can keep your pet from hurting itself. (Just be careful not to forget about the appliance yourself if it's in use, and read the manuals for ventilation requirements!) Garages are most often installed during a remodel, and can be factored into your next update.

An appliance garage, like this one from Armstrong, can keep your cat from chewing appliance cords

More vet cautions

Dr. Trief shares these additional pet hazards:

  • "Some people bathe their pets in the sink. Be careful about drain traps that have holes that claws can get caught in.

  • "Open dishwashers can be a hazard, especially if people load them with the knife blade pointed upwards, (particularly for dogs).

  • "Fumes from overheating non-stick pans produce chemicals (polytetrafluoroethylene) can be toxic to birds. Smoke and fumes from other burnt items in the kitchen are also dangerous for birds.

  • "Cleaning products and dishwasher detergents can cause chemical burns and digestive upset, (diarrhea and vomiting). This is seen mostly in dogs.

All of these, in my opinion, speak to exercising a level of caution with your pets that you'd give to a toddler. In fact, this experienced vet points out that pet-proofing your home is not unlike baby-proofing it.

Planning around your pet

Pets, like babies, come with a lot of gear and their own set of nature calls. Some, like St. Bernards and Newfoundlands, slobber quite a bit. Others, especially pups, chew like crazy. Cats jump onto whatever they can reach. (We won't even tackle claw sharpening!) Aging pets and cuddly young ones have accidents. How do you factor all this into your kitchen redesign?

If you're planning a remodel, you just build it in. In addition to the components listed above, you have numerous other options available to you. Let me share a few off the top of my own head.

I'd select Corian for its repairability, or engineered stone countertops for their durability and non-porousness as a hedge against jumping cats and large bird claws. After all, you don't want whatever they've eaten on the top to seep into it. Nor do you want permanent damage from their claws.

I'd specify rectified porcelain tile flooring for its durability against large dog claws, and for its minimal grout lines, which also makes clean-up easier.

I would design in a place for pet food, pet bowls and other pet gear you need to keep handy, maybe even a bed if the kitchen is where you want your precious pet to sleep. More about this in the next section.

I'd also choose a scrubbable paint for your walls to easily remove pet marks.

Choosing the right paint, like Sherwin-Williams' Duration Home Interior Latex, can make pet marks so much more cleanable.

Satin and Semi-gloss are both great kitchen paint finishes. Semi-gloss, in particular, is perfect for frequently-cleaned areas like kitchens. It can also be used on cabinets, as well as walls, for an affordable update.

Designing around your pet

Just as you create spaces for your dishware, cookware and glassware, consider creating spaces in your kitchen for your pet and petware. You can achieve this with the help of a professional kitchen designer in your area--find one on NKBA.org--along with good space planning and the right cabinetry configurations.

First, consider which pet products you want to keep in the kitchen, and which pet needs you want to meet there. (Hint: I wouldn't place the litter box within sniffing distance!) Your designer can help you determine the optimum space allowance and location for your pet station. That's going to vary widely from one household to another.

You don't need a custom cabinet line to achieve your pet center either. A skilled designer can weave together elements from a stock or semi-custom cabinet line to create the storage you need.

A talented designer can create an affordable pet center, like this one using Merillat cabinets

Building around your pet

If you are using custom cabinetry, you'll have more options in creating a pet center tailored to your home and animal.

Nadja Pentic of Case 540 in Alameda, Cal. recommends MDF core with a melamine finish for the cabinet's construction. (MDF stands for Medium Density Fiberboard, a very durable, non-warping wood composite.) "I think MDF would be more resilient than particle board to constant spills and messes and give the cabinets more longevity.. Melamine is also very easy to clean."

Pentic suggests glossy laminates for a contemporary kitchen's cabinet exteriors. While laminate can be damaged by pet claws, it's affordable to replace, she notes. She also believes the glossy exterior will have less scratch-appeal. (It's also very 'in' right now for Euro-style, I might add!)
I asked her to design a pet center for Sensible Style readers, which you can see below.

Pentic-designed cat center by Case 540, with space for feeding and storage

Here's a large dog center design by Pentic, as well.

Organizing around your pet

Professional organizer Jessica Barna of Kitchens Resolved in San Diego suggests organizing your pet cabinet to hold medicines and vitamins, toothbrushes and paste, flea and tick medicines, waste bags, grooming tools, treats, food and even your pet's medical records. Locate their food and water dish nearby, too, she suggests.

Barna also suggests:

  • "Inside of your pet cabinet, group like items with like. Also, group items together that you use at the same time.

  • "Traveling supplies can be in a small box in the back of your pet area - they are needed rarely, and they need to be grouped for easy grab-and-go.

  • "Have a "vet kit" that you can grab when you are headed to the vet (or in case of an emergency). This can be a small folder or accordion file with pet history, list of meds, a few treats, etc.

  • "Are you your own pet's groomer? Have a grooming container: store brushes, nail clips and files, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. It will be very easy to pull out your grooming container, groom, and put it away."

Final thoughts from a pet-free blogger

Even though I may never need these tips myself, I'm grateful to my editor for suggesting this topic, and to animal lovers Dr. Holly Trief, Nadja Pentic and Jessica Barna for their invaluable insights.

If you're an animal lover, too, and want to honor your pet with a beautiful personalized kitchen element, consider a custom wood carving or mosaic to celebrate your beastly beloved's fine, furry, finned or feathered self.

A fish lover's stunning mosaic aquarium by New Ravenna

If you have pet-friendly kitchen insights to share, please feel free to comment below. Also enjoy my other Sensible Style posts by clicking on one of the links on the right column of this blog.


If you enjoyed this post, please check out more pet-friendly kitchen ideas at Kitchen Views, which included quotes from me and other professionals on their informative blog.


  1. You missed a scenario! What to do when your husband let's the dogs lick the dishes when the dishwasher door is open, your dog gets it's collar caught on the rack, the dog springs backward trying to untangle itself, the rack comes flying out of the dishwasher, and dishes fly everywhere in the kitchen shattering all over! True story from my house on Tuesday night this week :-)

  2. That's a good one, Leslie! What to do -- tape it for YouTube! Then buy your always-wanted-this dishware set. Gotta be a silver lining, right?

  3. Thanks so much for this great blog post, Jamie. So many times we forget that our pets are members of our family too, so we should take them into consideration when designing our homes. Your tips are very helpful and I'll keep them in mind the next time I have a client with pets.

  4. Thanks for your kind words, Sylvester! I hope you'll visit Gold Notes again soon.

  5. I love pull-out kitchen accessory for garbage bins because that is exactly m,y problem. My dog loves to dig into the trash can!

  6. Ruby, Lowe's carries those in-stock at many of their stores. That's where I bought my two-can version for trash and recycling.

  7. Enjoyed reading post on your blog.!

  8. Coming from you,Pet Friendly, that's high praise indeed. Thanks for stopping by! I hope you'll continue to enjoy Gold Notes in 2012.


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